Packing for a summer holiday, you can't go too far wrong. Passport, swimwear, sun cream - it's all pretty obvious. But a winter sports holiday is very different. And if it's your first time skiing, the list can be a bit daunting. On this page, we'll break down everything you're likely to need when organising, shopping and packing for your chalet holiday. Let's get started.
The first thing you need to bring on a ski holiday is a sense of humour. It really is the key to enjoying your first few days on skis or a snowboard. If you can laugh at yourself falling over, then you will love your first ski holiday. You are going to fall over many, many times. Sometimes, you will be tired and cold, and you might not feel like laughing anymore. But if you can have a good time when you're not yet good at skiing, then you will have an amazing time when you start to get good by the end of your holiday.
If you don't go into your trip with this mentality, the first few days can be frustrating. So our recommendation is that you don't shy away from this simple fact: you have never skied before so you're not good at it yet. You're here to get good at it and have a good laugh along the way.
Although some people drive to Meribel and others travel by train, the vast majority of skiers reach their destination by air. For these guests, the final stretch of the journey is usually an airport transfer, provided by a local specialist ski transfer company.
If you're are booking your holiday with an independent ski chalet company, it is very unlikely that your flights will be included in the price. So be sure to factor the price of air travel into your calculations. You should also check the availability of flights before you book your chalet, and then snap up those early bird prices as soon as your chalet company confirms your holiday booking.
Be warned: flights for peak weeks (i.e. school holidays) tend to be much more expensive. If you're travelling during a busy week, it's well worth booking far in advance.
The closest airport to Meribel is Chambery. However, most visitors are attracted by the more regular flights into Geneva, just over two hours from the resort itself. Lyon and Grenoble airports are also reachable in under three hours, though fewer flights here also means fewer airport transfer options.
To get from your chosen airport to Meribel and back, you will need a specialist airport transfer company. Using 4x4 minibuses with plenty of space for luggage, these companies not only offer a better ski-specific service than a regular taxi can, they also work out a lot cheaper. A larger group can book the whole minibus (usually max. 8 people). Smaller groups and individuals can just book the seats they need.
A few companies offer transfers on full-size buses. Although this option certainly costs less, it is not usually recommended. This no-frills service offers much less flexibility, sometimes making travel days more stressful than they would be with a minibus company. Read more about airport transfers here...
The vast majority of people who visit the Alps are looking to do downhill or "Alpine" skiing. That's where you take a lift up the hill and ski back down. In order to do this, you need to pay for access to the ski lift system, and that requires a ski pass. Also known as a lift pass.
The best way to order your ski pass is usually through your chalet company. It's the same price whether you go direct or book through your hosts but, if your chalet company arranges it, your lift pass will usually be waiting for you at the chalet when you arrive. They can also advise you about any local deals that might be available, and can offer suggestions about which lift pass might be best for you.
Lift pass prices vary a lot between different ski areas. Meribel is among the more expensive resorts, but the lift infrastructure here is second to none. If you have your first holiday in the Three Valleys, every subsequent ski trip will be a letdown when it comes to the quality, and quantity, of ski lifts.
For a six-day adult ski pass during peak season, you can expect to pay a little under €300. Read more about ski passes here...
If this is your first ski holiday, you will need to take a course of ski or snowboarding lessons with a qualified professional instructor. Skiing and boarding are unlike anything other sports you may have done before, including skating, skateboarding and surfing. To avoid injury and maximise enjoyment, lessons are a must.
Of course, you don't have to wait until you're in resort to receive your first lessons. Dry slopes and snowdomes are widely available throughout the UK and beginner lessons are a staple of their weekly timetable. Here you can cover the basics so that you're ready to get the most out of your first few days on real Alpine snow.
In resort, you can choose to join a group of around seven other learners (for the best price), you can book one-to-one sessions (for the best results), or you can form a group with 2-3 friends and have a private group lesson (for the best banter back in the chalet). Lessons usually last half a day and are usually slightly cheaper in the afternoon. Read more about ski lessons here...
For your first ski holiday, it is recommended that you rent (rather than buy) your ski or snowboard equipment. For a skier this means skis, ski boots, poles and a helmet. For a snowboarder, it's just boots and a board (for wrist guards and back protector, see the section on ski clothing).
You should expect to spend around €120-150 for your full week's equipment hire. Read more about ski equipment hire here...
For skiers, the main thing to get right is the boots. Ski boots are big, heavy and not the most comfortable footwear you will ever put on. More to the point, they absolutely must be a tight fit. So, take your time during your fitting. If you're not happy with your boots at any point during your ski trip, talk to your ski hire company and ask for their advice.
Your hire company will give you a suitable set of skis and will customise their settings to suit your height, weight and shoe size. It is essential that you're honest with them about all three of these variables. After that, it's just two poles, a helmet and you're good to go.
While it is certainly possible to hire ski clothing, it is rare for people to actually do so. In most cases, where first-timers are unsure if skiing is something which they will repeat, people will borrow the more expensive outer layers from friends who have skied before.
You don't have to buy the most expensive options on the market, but it is recommended that you use specialist ski outer layers. For example, waterproof trousers designed for hiking will not be up to the job.
The ski jacket and salopettes (trousers) can come with insulating padding, or can be a more lightweight 'shell'. If you opt for the latter, you will probably need extra mid-layers on colder ski days. Especially for your first ski trip, a jacket with an in-built "snow-skirt" is recommended. This is a protective layer designed to keep snow from getting into your jacket when you fall over.
Base layers are thin thermal undergarments that are in contact with your skin. Thermal leggings or long johns for your legs, and a long-sleeve merino wool top are recommended. The most important thing here is to avoid cotton, instead favouring a fabric which 'wicks' moisture away from the skin to keep you dry, warm and comfortable.
Mid-layers are usually worn above the waist only. The most popular choice is a simple fleece - lightweight, warm and easy to wash and dry overnight, they're literally made for the job. Depending on how cold the weather is, and for how long you expect to be standing/sitting still, you can opt to wear one or two mid-layers. If your ski jacket is padded, one would usually be sufficient.
You're going to be spending full winter days high up on a mountain that could be twice as high as Ben Nevis. And you're rolling around in the snow. For this to be the fun experience you've paid for, you're going to need your face, fingers and feet to be warm. You'll need a ski balaklava or a good neck gaiter which can be pulled up to cover your face in the wind. For your hands, only a proper set of waterproof ski gloves or mittens will do. If you can find some which attach to your wrists on a string, then so much the better.
For your feet, you'll need several pairs of specialist ski socks or 'tubes'. These will be long and will not have interior seams which could dig into your feet in tight-fitting ski boots. For when you're not on the slopes wearing a helmet, a warm hat is a must. A pair of non-ski gloves and a regular scarf are also a good idea.
For your eyes, a decent set of ski goggles is a must. You may choose to go cheap and cheerful on your first trip, but few do on their second: this is an area where you definitely get what you pay for. If you can, borrow some good goggles from a friend. In your coat pocket, some moisturiser and lip balm is definitely a good shout.
One of the most valuable skills on the mountain is the ability to know where you are. In a ski resort, this is done using specialist maps called piste maps. Available for free from pretty much everywhere in resort, piste maps chart all the interconnected ski lifts (going up the mountain) and trails (or pistes, going down). Even if you don't think you're going to need one, you should carry a piste map in your pocket at all times.
Connecting the many lifts and trails to get from A to B is a bit like using the London Underground. There probably won't be a direct route, but you can usually get there with a few detours. But there is one big difference between navigating on the slopes vs on the tube. When skiing, you have to factor in the difficulty of the pistes you're choosing. The difficulty of the piste is graded using a standardised colour scheme (click for details ), common to all resorts worldwide. To begin with, avoiding the more technical slopes will leave you confined to a small area of the resort which is designed specifically for leaners. Read more about piste maps here...
Pistes are designated trails that have been designed for skiing. They are maintained by the resort authorities to keep them safe and enjoyable to ski on. Venturing 'off-piste' is always done at the skier's own risk and has implications for rescue and insurance. For beginners, off-piste skiing is a definite no-go.
Choosing suitable pistes is made easier by the internationally-used colour-coding system. All skiers should stick to slopes that suit their experience level.
Your very first runs will be on what's known as a 'nursery' slope. This is a short and wide-open piste with a gentle gradient. Here you will learn the fundamentals of starting, stopping and turning.
Once you have grasped the basics you will graduate to green slopes: nice gentle descents where you can find your feet. Almost one-tenth of Meribel slopes are green (in relative terms, that's a lot). You can tell when you're on a green slope because all the marker signs will be green.
Once you begin to gain confidence, you will progress from green runs to blue. Now the 'real' skiing begins: blue slopes can be long, challenging and lots of fun. Once you have started 'cruising the blues', you will probably never go back to the green runs again. And you'll be in good company because a great many skiers never feel the need to graduate beyond blue pistes to the more technically demanding reds.
Designed for experienced, confident skiers and boarders, red slopes tend to be steeper, narrower and more technically challenging than blue runs. With nightly maintenance called "piste bashing", the skiing surface of reds is kept smooth just as it is on blues and greens. But their gradient makes them much faster with less margin for error when it comes to turning and stopping. Red runs are not for beginners.
For expert skiers only. Black runs are steep, narrow and technically very difficult. Unlike other pistes, black runs are rarely "bashed" meaning their surface is usually very bumpy. These bumps are called "moguls" and they demand a different style of skiing to what you might see on blues and reds. On black runs, even experienced skiers will generally go quite slowly, enjoying the technical challenge more than the adrenaline rush.
If you are taking young children with you on your first ski holiday, you will likely want to consider paying for some form of childcare. This is simply because it is almost impossible to learn to ski while looking after children yourself. Read more about family ski holidays...
One option is simply to bring the grandparents or other relatives along for the ride. Lots of people enjoy the many comforts of a winter chalet holiday without ever actually going skiing. Ask them to look after the kids during the day, then give them first refusal on the hot tub each evening.
Like most ski resorts, Meribel has many specialist nannies and childcare companies. They know the resort like the back of their ski gloves, from the best local ice cream sundae to the best place for a snowball fight. They will also drop the kids off to their ski lessons and pick them up. If you want them to, they will even stay with you in the chalet until the kids go to bed, allowing you to switch off and enjoy your holiday in style.
The state-owned ski school (ESF) operates a nursery in Meribel for children aged 18 months to three years. Morning sessions run 9am to noon, and afternoon sessions are 2pm to 5pm. Optional supervised lunches are also available from noon to 2pm. For more information, visit www.esf-meribel.com.
Run by the state-owned ski school (ESF), Mini Piou Piou Club is a snowy kindergarten playground complete with ski lift, playground characters and merry-go-rounds. For children aged three to five years old. Morning sessions run 9am to noon, and afternoon sessions are 2pm to 5pm. Optional supervised lunches are also available from noon to 2pm.
From age four and above, children can take ESF ski lessons. In the "Ourson" class for four-year-olds, they learn how to use ski lifts, how to start/stop, how to turn and so on. By the time they graduate to the "Flocons" cohort (for five-year-olds), you'll be amazed how good they start to get — and how hard it can be to keep up with them! Morning sessions run 9am to noon, and afternoon sessions are 2pm to 5pm. Optional supervised lunches are also available from noon to 2pm.
Holiday insurance is always a good idea. But never more so than on a ski holiday. In fact, here at Delicious Mountain, our booking terms require that all guests have adequate liability, medical and cancellation insurance for a snow sports holiday.
Let's be honest: skiing and snowboarding are not without risks. It's a very small minority of people who sustain injuries while skiing but, when accidents do happen, you're stuck on a mountain covered in snow. You will likely need help, and that's where insurance comes in.
Although it's actually quite cheap for a single trip, snowsports insurance is a total game-changer for the small number of people who do suffer injuries on a ski holiday. Ask your insurer to see just how much they can do for you in the unlikely event of an injury.
When you order your ski pass, you have the option to request the "Carré Neige" SkiInsurance add-on for around €3 per day. For the very few unlucky souls who need help to get off the mountain, this additional insurance is a real blessing. It means you don't need to pay for the mountain rescue service upfront and reclaim it from your holiday insurance later. This isn't essential, but it can feel like money well spent when you don't have to fill in forms and look up card details when you're cold and sore.
This isn't a pool-side summer break and you're going to need a lot more than your passport, your bathers and your flipflops. (Though all of those things may still come in handy.) Here's a handy packing a preparation list to get you ready for your arrival in Meribel.