Flt Lt Roger Cruickshank (RAF) Gets Air Over Meribel
Tri-Service

Meribel: The Mad Military Men Behind The Ski Resort

Colonel Peter Lindsay was no ordinary man. Born in Scotland in 1900 he left the safe confines of Eton to join up to fight in The Great War.

Flt Lt Roger Cruickshank (RAF) Gets Air Over Meribel

Colonel Peter Lindsay was no ordinary man. Born in Scotland in 1900 he left the safe confines of Eton to join up to fight in The Great War. Albeit, in 1918, a little too late to see much action.

Returning to his studies he was to become a successful businessman, developing an incredible enthusiasm for winter sports.

In 1936 his quest to find good snow saw him visit the Les Allues valley in France, a trip that was to change skiing history.

The legend goes that Lindsay only stumbled upon the area having spurned the increasingly Nazi-dominated slopes of Austria.

His son David, writing in an article in 2009, says the truth is a little less sensationalist: "It is more likely that he was advised by Arnold Lunn, the most famous of all ski pioneers, who had been commissioned to visit and survey the Savoie and Dauphiné regions in 1925 and who had reported that the three valleys of St Bon, Les Allues and Les Bellevilles had enormous potential with well exposed slopes and controllable avalanche risk."

What's not in question however is that Peter Lindsay fell in love with the hills after slogging up them in order to ski an off-piste 12 kilometre downhill run. 

Smitten, a chance meeting with a French Count, Jean Gaillard de la Valdenne, saw the pair team up to create what eventually was to become Meribel.

Five years older than Lindsay, the colourful La Valdenne had been an air ace in World War One and was married to a Spanish tennis star, Lily Alvarez, who was a three times Wimbledon finalist in the 1920s. 

The Count stumped up the cash while the canny Scot came up with a plan - the first lift opening in 1938. Named the Red Dragon, it consisted of 19 metal chairs bolted to a tractor-engined sled that pulled itself up a rope to climb the mountain. 

The first accommodation was built at the same time and the resort started to blossom but everything came to a crashing halt as Europe was once more consumed by war.

Leaving France ahead of the invading German forces a 39-year-old Peter Lindsay managed with some difficulty to enlist in the Irish Guards.

He later joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a clandestine British organisation set up to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe and Southeast Asia against the Axis powers, and was sent to Burma to aid local resistance movements.

Considered too old to return to combat Count La Valdenne meanwhile was dispatched by Admiral Emile Henry Muselier to North Africa to find avaitors willing to fight for the Free French Forces.

With the war over the Count and the now Colonel Peter Lindsay arrived back in their beloved Meribel in 1946, the latter still sporting his Army uniform. His son recalling that "Peter declined to collect his DSO and the British Consul in Lyon eventually had to drive it up to Meribel."

"He'd had come to Meribel to take over from La Valdenne for “six or nine months” until a full-time manager could be found. He stayed for twenty-five years until his death in November 1971."

Eighty years after that first magical downhill expedition Meribel now plays host to the annual Combined Services Inter Service Snow Sports Competition - showcasing the best of sporting talent from the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Colonel Peter Lindsay and Count La Valdenne - Forces TV salutes you. 

Watch: Inter Services Winter Sports: The Best Of Ten Years At Meribel