The Ultimate French Alps Destination Guide

With around 250 ski resorts, France has some of the most extensive ski friendly terrain in the world. With such a stellar selection of different terrain and ambiance, choosing the perfect match for your favourite type of holiday can be tricky. We sat down with Antoine Toine – Frenchman, and snowboard and ski tuner at Snowcentral snowboard shop to find out all we possibly could about the French Alps. Here’s some advice from a real live Frenchman and avid skier to help you organize your next French ski trip.

When should I go?

Most of the ski resorts are open from mid-December until the end of April, although some of the highest resorts can be open from end of November until mid May (but you should consider that you will get the best snow between mid-January until the end of March.)

It’s also important to factor in price and numbers of visitors which can increase dramatically during School Holidays (Christmas-New Year / February / Easter). During some weeks in January and March you can get cheaper deals and the trails all for yourself. So you’d be better to book your holidays for these periods, avoid the crowds and enjoy the freedom!

How do I get there?

The 3 closest airports for the french Alps are Lyon Airport (LYS), Geneve Airport (GVA) and Grenoble Airport (GNB). There a lot of different options of shuttle and trains to reach ski resorts from these airports. You can also contact the ski resort/hotel you are going to, they can arrange a transport option for you, sometimes on the house.

What should I taste?

Savoie Products

Travelling in France without tasting local food is like a visit Queensland without seeing the Great Barrier Reef. If you are keen to live a real French experience, you should definitely try the French Alps dishes including Tartiflette, the Fondue savoyarde and the Raclette.

Savoie (french region of the Alps) offers a wide range of cheeses like Beaufort, Tome de Savoie, Reblochon,… and an extensive choice of meat delicacies .

Ask around, people will be pleased to have you taste these specialties.

There is also plenty of local winemakers in the Alps, so if the weather is bad, why not go for a wine tasting day!

Where should I go if I’m adventurous and I love backcountry skiing?

Chamonix MountainChamonix

Well if we have to talk about backcountry skiing in France we cannot avoid the internationally recognized Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. Reaching the Aiguille du Midi and skiing down through the Vallee Blanche is something exceptional. Be part of the legend and you will remember it all your life. The most adventurous ones among us can also choose to go for some ski touring week trips like Haute Route (which links Chamonix to the Swiss resort of Verbier).

La Meije

A less busy option is La Meije. Basically there is only one cabin lift and no groomed trails here but at this mountain there is something more beautiful – Freedom! You’re free to explore the mountain from the 3600m summit to the 1450m village. Paradise for everyone who enjoys endless turns in fresh powder.

But don’t expect any nightlife here; this is a place for people who like to go up early and ski until last light. The mountain is the most impressive thing about this place, respect it.

There are also some good backcountry areas in Val Thorens , Val d’Isere, Tignes, Courchevel, l’Alpes d’Huez, Serre Chevalier.

I’m bored of skiing the same trails, I would like to ski /ride a new area everyday.

France is blessed to have some of the biggest ski areas in the world. Here is a quick review of biggest ones:

Meribel Heart of the 3 Vallees

Meribel Heart of the 3 Vallees (1600m)

Les 3 Vallees (elev. 600-3230m) : The biggest ski area in the world with about 500kms of trails. (Green 16% Blue 40% Red 34% Black 10%) and all of that for a $80 p/day lift pass.

The ski area suits intermediate skiers but advanced skiers will definitely find some pleasure as well. There must be a resort that suits your budget here with a plethora of options from the trendy Courchevel 1850 with its’ high flying clientele, the cute La Tania with its’ wooden-chalet architecture, the so British Meribel with its’ central position in the 3 Vallees, the sporty Val Thorens the highest ski resort in Europe (2300m) or the picturesque village of Saint Martin de Belleville.

Val d’Isere (1850m)

L’Espace Killy (elev. 1550-3550m) : It will please all advanced skiers with her steep and challenging terrain spread over about 250kms of trails (Green 15% Blue 42% Red 26% Black 17%). The Espace Killy is placed between two of the most famous French ski resorts; Tignes, and Val d’Isere. If you’re feeling game you have to experience the frightening Face de Bellegarde, reputed to be one of the scariest trails of the alpine ski world championship. Ski the Grande Motte Glacier, or watch the pros training at the European X-Games snowpark of Tignes.

Vanoise Mountains

Champagny en Vanoise village (1250m)

Paradiski (elev. 1250-3250m) : Paradiski area includes the ski areas of La Plagne, Les Arcs and Champagny giving you access to almost 400kms of trails. Paradiski fits every level of skier from beginner through to advanced skiers (Green 5% Blue 53% Red 27% Black 15%).

Here you can use the “Vanoise Express” which is the biggest cable car in the world. This double-decker monster stretches 1800 metres across and takes 4 minutes! You can choose to stay in the busy ski-in ski-our resorts of La Plagne and les Arcs or choose to stay in Champagny and Montchavin which are your typical village options.

If you love thrill, definitely go and try bobsledge on the La Plagne Olympic track. Adreniline pumping action at its best!

Avoriaz VillageAvoriaz Village (1100m)

Portes du Soleil (elev. 1000m-2400m): This Swiss/French ski area which links 12 resorts with more than 400km of trails is a family friendly resort with mellow trails where beginners and intermediate skiers can cruise in different areas almost every day. (Green 12% Blue 43% Red 36% Black 9%). However this resort is lower than the previously mentioned ones and can be affected by a lack of snow.

Megeve

Evasion Mont-Blanc (elev. 1000m-2487): The ski area of the trendy Megeve links 4 resorts to provide you up to 400kms of trails around the Mont Blanc area (Green 17% Blue 30% Red 37% Black 16%). This is probably one of the most picturesque areas to ski in in all of France. You can enjoy incredible views on the astonishing Mont Blanc from this winter wonderland.

I would like to ski and party at the same time

There is an abundant night-life in French ski resorts and there is many places where you can enjoy it.

France has a  strong tradition of “Apres-ski” which means that people are partying just after skiing with their ski outfits still on. These after-ski parties can get pretty wild and can make walking back to your chalet a challenge. Remember, drinking at altitude has quite the effect!

The best resorts for partying are Val Thorens, Courchevel, Meribel, Val d’isere, Tignes, Les 2 Alpes, la Clusaz but of course there are some more that you can discover yourself.

I’m a shredder and I will rock everything I find on my way

Avoriaz

Avoriaz’s Burton StashHistorical place of freestyle in France, Avoriaz has the best choice of parks in France. A Super Pipe, the Burton Stash which a snowpark in the woods (a must when the weather is bad), The Arare park, The Chapelle, and a kids area for baby shredders.

There is also a camera that records your tricks and sends the video directly to your mobile phone! Easly the best snowpark option you can have in France.

Vars park of l’Eyssina

vars snow parkWith seven different parks and up to 110 features for every rider level, Vars will delight you!

A girl-park with wide and pink rails, a kid park, 2 jib zones, a slopestyle with  4 lines of different skill levels, a big air, and a boarder-cross.

Vars is part of http://freestylepark.fr/. You can also learn how to shape with “Pimp my park” and enjoy a free BBQ every Wednesdays.

Les 2 Alpes Snowpark in Summer

You can ride les 2 Alpes Winter and Summer, as the park on the Glacier is still open during the warmer months. There are 7 areas in Les 2 Alpes: An easy park, Park Avenue which is a jib area with stairs, phone boxes, bus shelters etc..There is also a slopestyle, halfpipe, boarder-cross and a Big Air.

Enjoy the “Cool Zone” where you can chill out, enjoying the music, the BBQ and deck-chairs.

Other Options

Meribel has 2 international level snowparks with the DC Zone 43 and the Moon Park and it’s also possible to reach Val Thorens park quite easily as well.

Tignes and Val D’Isere have some great parks as well and Tignes snowpark was hosting X-Games Europe until 2014.

These are the best snowparks in France but you can find great snowparks in any resort; and most of the time, bigger the resort is, bigger the park is as well!

I’m looking for a peaceful and safe place for my family

If you want to bring your kids and family to a safe place where there is no super-fast and dangerous skiers/boarders, no crowds, where your kids can learn to ski in some small groups, you should go for some of these family designed resorts:

  • Praz-de-Lys/Sommand
  • Notre Dame de Bellecombe
  • Le Grand Bornand
  • Thollon
  • Combloux
  • Aussois
  • Les Karellis
  • Valloire
  • Valmeinier
  • Arêches-Beaufort
  • Saint Sorlin d’Arves

These small resort are also typically cheaper than the big internationally well-known resorts. But they are low altitude resorts so make sure you book your trip between January and mid March to make sure that you will enjoy a good snow conditions.

 I would like to ski and enjoy the best “French cuisine” at the same time

There is many high profile restaurants on the side of the trails, there is a short list of some famous ones:

La Bouitte (Saint Martin de Belleville) : Only on-trail restaurant who has 3 stars of distinction from the famous “Guide Michelin”, la Bouitte (which means “Home” in local Savoie language) offer you a wide range of french gastronomy.

L’Oxalys (Val Thorens) : Restaurant of the iconic Jean Sulpice, L’Oxalys restaurant will delight you with his surprise menus and his creative cuisine.

Le Chabichou (Courchevel) : Really creative cuisine from both chefs Michel Rochedy and Stephane Buron. Best restaurant in Courchevel!

L’atelier d’Edmond (Val D’Isere) :Benoit Vidal gastronomic restaurant will please your taste buds with inventive cuisine.

The Chalet Host (Morzine) : Do you dream to have your own chef, cooking at home for you every meal? If yes, give the Chalet Host a try.

Flocon de Sel (Megeve) : Run by famous chef Emmanuel Renaut, the Flocon de sel provides a great experience of local food. And if you like your meal you can also book a cuisine lesson to get to know how to cook this meal at home!

I am looking for the most trendy ski resorts

Courchevel 1850

Courchevel was originally built after WWII to create a social resort for underprivileged people.But after have been let down by government, investors created a resort with an unseen levels of comfort : luxurious hotels and shops, auditorium, spas, altiport…

In 2013 Tripadvisor stated that “Courch’” is the most expensive ski resort in Europe, where Emirs, Russian oligarchs, famous actors and wealthy jet-setters come and spend there holidays.

Megeve ChaletMegeve

Created in 1920 by Baroness Noemie de Rothschild, Megeve was at the time one of the most luxurious resorts in the world. Really appreciated by French aristocracy, Megeve is now a world famous place choca-block full of wealthy guests who want to enjoy the beauty of the village.

Some helpful tips before you go

  • Bring the right clothing as it can be cold in France (it can reach -20 degrees in high altitude resorts). Make sure that you have warm and waterproofed clothing and good quality gloves.
  • Make sure that your skis/boards are tuned before you go and enjoy our wonderful “molybdenum wax” glide
  • Check that your passport does not expire soon.

We hope that our guide has been helpful to you and you have found some good information for your next French ski trip! If you have any questions feel free to hit up Snowcentral on Google+.

The End of Snow?

As far as winter sports enthusiasts are concerned their favorite winter resort will always have that deep natural snow cover.  Always.  Period.

Will climate change prove them wrong?  Studies have shown that this might very well be the case.

snow melt a problem for snowboarders

Climate Change and Snow

The relationship between climate change and the basic science on how snow is formed is fairly simple.  The increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and its oceans causes more water to evaporate into the atmosphere and warmer air holds more water than cooler air.  In fact, with each 1 degree Celsius or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, the air’s water-holding capacity increases by 7 percent.  When the air is warm, it becomes supersaturated with water which brings about torrential rainfall followed by flooding.  If it’s cold enough, snow would fall instead.

Less Snow, More Snow

Is it the end of snow?

According to scientific studies, that may very well be the case if global warming persists.  And it has a very high chance of occurring based on the report made by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  The average temperature around the world increased by 0.8 degree Celsius or 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, much of it in the recent decades.  Melting snow off mountaintops is a reality.  A good example is Montana’s Glacier National Park which had 150 glaciers in 1910 but is now down to 27 glaciers.  Back in the 1800’s, the total glacier volume of the European Alps was at 230 cubic kilometer.  It is now down to one-third the original amount.

If less snow is expected, why is there an intensification of the snowfall extremes in some parts of the world?  The answer is, again, climate change.

In February of 2015, an epic blizzard hit New England.  Climate scientists explain that the main cause of this blizzard is the fact that it is winter.  Remember the “warm air sucking up a lot of water”?  Since it was winter time, these mega-loads of sucked-up water turned into snow and got dumped in heavy and intense deluges.

The blizzard that hit Buffalo, New York in 2014 accounting for 8 feet of snow was supposedly caused by the “lake effect”.  Typically occurring between the months of November and February, the “lake effect” snow event happens when cooler air passes over a warm body of water, takes up the water, freezes it, moves toward where the wind is blowing and dumps the snow as soon as it hits land.  In the case of the Buffalo blizzard, the warm body of water was Lake Erie.  Days after the lake effect snow event, warmer temperature took over the area which caused the rapid melting of the snow which, in turn, caused minor flooding.

The Dilemma

Whichever way the wind (or warm air) blows, winter resort operators have to deal with a lot of challenges ahead of them.

For the Less Snow scenario, the obvious solution is to make your own snow which could prove to be very expensive and detrimental to the environment.  The first major resource needed is water.  Seventy-five thousand (75,000) gallons of water are needed to cover a 200 x 200 foot area with 6 inches of snow.  To cut on costs, some resorts would re-use the run-off water from the slopes collected in the reservoirs.  This practice, if not done responsibly, may cause soil erosion and soil pollution due to the contaminants that the water encounters in the run-off.   Next would be power consumption. A large air compressing pump requires a lot of energy.  Likewise, the water pump system uses, more often than not, diesel fuel which contributes to air pollution.  Last but not the least in the expense department is labor cost.  Another solution is a bit less expensive but more labor-intensive.  Resort operators in the Austrian Alps have resorted to covering snow fields with white fleece to delay the melting of the snow.

Covering glacier to prevent melt

In the More Snow scenario, a blizzard is the star of the show and it brings with it lots and lots of snow which, in some cases, is nothing to be happy about.  It translates to cancelled flights, collapsed roofs, downed lifts, avalanches, resort personnel unable to go to work and a lot of other things which cost money.

At the end of the day, the cost of meeting these challenges would impact on the end-users, the winter sports enthusiasts. That’s right, you guys. If you love to ski or snowboard then it is time to start thinking about the small things you can do to reduce your impact on the environment.

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 European Snowboard Destinations

1. DAVOS, SWITZERLAND

Davos is a year round resort village in Graubunden, east of Switzerland.  Easily accessible by train, bus or car from Zurich, Davos is a top international destination for ski and snow activities.

davos switzerland

For snowboarders, Jakobshorn is the place to be.

Jakobshorn is part of the Albula Alps and is one of the five skiing regions of the Davos Klosters Mountains.  In December 2014, Jakobshorn opened its new state of the art gondola lift which makes it easier for winter sports enthusiasts to reach the mountain from Davos Platz.  Once on the mountain, the “pistes” or ski runs may be reached via the chair lifts, cable car and T-Bar.  Dubbed as the “Fun Mountain”, Jakobshorn is renowned for its range of restaurants and a compact, versatile and perfectly groomed park with short, intensive runs which offer more than 20 elements including kickers and rails.

  1. VERBIER, SWITZERLAND

Verbier is a village resort in the Swiss Alps, south west of Switzerland.  Accessible by bus or train from Martigny which is a 2 and a half hour drive from the nearest international airport in Geneva.

Verbier Switzerland

Oftentimes compared to Chamonix, Verbier offers extensive and challenging slopes with a lot of off-piste and long bump runs.  Verbier forms part of the “Four Valleys” ski area with Thyon, Veysonnaz and Nendaz and together they offer over 410 kilometers of ski runs.

For freeriders, the Verbier Xtreme Competitions sponsored by various companies are considered to be the most technical and most demanding by all riders.  Held at the North Face of the infamous Bec des Rosses, most routes down the face are angled at 55 to 60 degrees and are strewn with rock outcroppings for good measure.

For freestylers, the snow park at La Chaux has three separate lines and a number of rails, jumps and corners.  The extreme natural terrain with hundreds of rock drops make up for the lack of a pipe.

  1. ANTON, AUSTRIA

Sankt Anton am Arlberg or St. Anton for short is a village which lies on the Tyrolean Alps.  It is part of the Arlberg area of ski resorts.  St. Anton is accessible by car or train by way of Munich or Switzerland.

St Anton, Austria

Once only known to insiders, the Stanton Park at St. Anton, has been likened to a big arena with an innovative park design and has, thus, become the freestyle mecca in the Arlberg region.  The varied terrain, huge amounts of powder and the 180 kilometers of marked off-piste runs set St. Anton apart from all the other resorts.

  1. SERRE CHEVALIER, FRANCE

Serre Chevalier is part of France’s Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region.  It is accessible by train or car from Geneva, Turin in Italy and Grenoble in Paris.  Serre Chevalier is the largest resort destination in the Southern Alps.  Comprised of 13 mountain villages, it offers a variety of ski terrain which runs for 250 kilometers and off-piste runs with tree-lined powdered fields.

serre chevalier trails
Serre Chevalier

 

For expert boarders, Serre Chevalier is considered a natural playground with its tight open trees to weave around in, the extreme drop-offs and innumerable bowls, banks and gullies.  The Cucumelle slope and the areas around the Rocher Blanc are littered with natural obstacles that provide plenty of scope for experts.

  1. CHAMONIX, FRANCE

Chamonix is a commune in the Rhodes-Alpes region of southwestern France.  Chamonix-Mont Blanc is comprised of 16 villages and hamlets.  The nearest international airport is in Geneva and from there, Chamonix may be reached by car or train.chamonix

Chamonix has an allure for the hardcore boarders because of the challenging lines that it offers.  The Chamonix area boasts of amazing snowboarding terrain, both off-piste and on-piste.  If you’re into tricks, the natural kickers at Le Brevent and La Flegere are worth checking.  For beginners, the pistes at Le Tour and Les Houches are most accommodating.

 

Expert or beginner, Chamonix never disappoints.

 

3 Techniques to Help you Become the MacGyver of Snowboarding

Now your not going to be launching out of halfpipes and crushing the 50ft kickers in the whistler park straight away, let’s be honest. But, as you progress in your ability, the best thing you can do is master the basics. These techniques cover how not to look like an ass when lining up for a lift (skating), How to make your way safely down a hill without breaking yourself (gliding), and how to link your turns so you can carve like a champ!

SKATINGhalfpipe tips

Skating requires balance and attention to detail (of the terrain) and at first, you may find it not very comfortable, but with practice and perseverance you will learn to love it! Below are some tips on skating:

  • With your back foot free, attach your front foot to the bindings of the board.
  • Place your front foot ahead of you as you use your back foot to propel forward to form the ‘skating motion’. Sliding/skating on your snowboard with one foot attached is an action used frequently in snowboarding (used whenever entering/exiting a lift or when traveling short distances uphill) and therefore must be learnt properly.
  • Practice skating around the area but always ensure that your back foot is behind your front foot at all times. Only take small steps with your back foot.
  • As you progress and improve, you will be able to take larger steps and learn how to kick off with your back foot.
  • Keep your front leg slightly bent, your front foot should bear most of your weight -this maintains balance.
  • With improved skill comes improved speed. Eventually you will be able to use your back foot on the snowboard stop pad or use it to press against the snowboard binding in the event that you do not have a stop pad.
  • Challenge yourself later on and make an effort to keep both feet on the board as much as is possible, also,try to crouch down and then ease up as you glide on the board.

GLIDING

Gliding is an essential skill to be learnt before progressing onto other snowboard practices. It is a basic movement which will aid you in familiarising yourself with weight shifts in a forwards direction and in gaining control of the board. Additionally, gliding is helpful in riding chairlifts, by being able to turn out of a glide, you will be able to unload from a chairlift with control.

STEP 1: Firstly, find yourself a gentle slope with minimal traffic and maintain a balanced standing position (if required, spread out your arms to stay upright). When ready, and once the coast is clear, position your back foot slightly in front the the back snowboard binding.

STEP 2: To begin moving downhill, lean forward and point your toes downwards in order to move forward. To slow down or come to a stop, simply shift your weight in the backward direction. Keep your gaze focused on the direction you are heading and not at your board.

carving on a snowboard

EDGE SWITCHES

Toe to Heel: Considered easier to execute than heel-toe, this method involves dropping onto your knees and resting your hands in the snow. For extra support, you can move your elbows down to ease the roll onto your side. As you tuck in your right shoulder, move your upper body in the direction of the roll. Once you have got your snowboard up into the air, ease it around slowly. By this stage you should have your snowboard in midair as you lie on your back, now, place your snowboard down and use your hands to push up into a seated position. The movement from toe to heel is complete.

Heel to Toe: Begin by sitting on the slope with slightly bent knees. Lie yourself down and place hands by sides. Try to get your snowboard into the air by placing your hands behind your knees; once in the air, turn the board once and place the tail/snout into the snow. Continue rolling onto your side until the board is onto its toe side and you are facing uphill. The move from heel edge to toe edge is complete. Make use of your hands to support you into a standing position.