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?
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?
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).
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 (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.
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 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.
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
Historical 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
With 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.
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:
- Notre Dame de Bellecombe
- Le Grand Bornand
- Les Karellis
- 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 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.
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+.