From the heights of Mont Blanc to the less-crowded peaks of the Pyrenees, France offers a winter wonderland of reliably snowy slopes and cosy chalets all year round. The perennial snows, easy access and high altitude make the French Alps the most popular from the UK. In this guide to France skiing holidays we’ll give an overview of what to expect and where to go.
Globally speaking France has the most skier days of any country, with 55 million in 2012 compared to Austria and USA both having around 50 million. Although year to year this changes due to snow conditions, local economy and various other factors, France skiing holidays are clearly some of the best on the planet.
The Three Valleys with 650km of piste is the largest lift linked ski area in the world. Paradiski with 425km, Les Sybelles 310km, Espace Killy 300km, and Milky Way (Italy and France) are all in the top 10 biggest ski resorts in the world. Portes Du Soleil is just outside the top ten as its 650km of skiing is not quite lift linked – my point being is that skiing in France is vast.
It is not just large ski areas but the resorts in France are world famous. The likes of Chamonix, Morzine, Avoriaz, Les Gets, Les Arcs, La Plagne, Tignes, Val d’Isere, Meribel, Courchevel, Val Thoren, Alpe d’Huez, Les Deux Alpes and Flaine are well known. Even the less well known ski areas such as Sainte Foy, Les Carroz, Samoens, Megeve, Sainte Gervais, Chatel, Peisey Vallandry, La Tania, Montgenevre and Isola 2000 are well worth a visit.
Access from the UK is easy with flights into Lyon, Chambéry, Geneva, and Grenoble or Eurostar service from London to Bourg Saint Maurice, Lyon or Geneva. It is easy to see why France skiing holidays are so popular with us Brits. In fact, with a lot of ski property for sale at reasonable prices, owning your own piece of the Alps is becoming more common.
The Three Valleys and its 650km of piste are accessed from Meribel, Courchevel, La Tania, Val Thorens, Brides Les Bain, Les Menuires and a few other small resorts. Courchevel is studded with Michelin starred restaurants and six-star “palace” hotels, is an exclusive resort on par with St. Moritz and Zermatt. At the other end of the scale Brides Les Bain is the cheapest resort in Three Valleys, but is a spa town that is nice to stay in and is open all year.
Chamonix is very popular, it is a proper town under an hour from Geneva with incredible slopes all around. It is well known as an off-piste Mecca and home to one of the world’s longest runs, the Vallée Blanche at 13.7 miles. It was the host of the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924 and has one of the largest verticals in the world.
Portes Du Soleil which includes Morzine, Avoriaz, Les Gets, Chatel and some Swiss resorts is also under an hour from Geneva. The skiing here is a little lower than some other areas but they still have a long season and great snow record. The Stash in Avoriaz has been voted the best ski run in the world by CNN so is well worth a visit on France skiing holidays.
The Grand Massif is also not far from Geneva and includes the British favourite of Flaine. Les Carroz has access to the same great ski area but is a proper village and has more charm. Likewise Samoens is worth considering and you can arrange great deals here.
La Plagne is officially the most visited ski area in the world, combined with Les Arcs and Peisey Vallandry it makes up the Paradiski area found in the Tarentaise Valley. Bourg St Maurice is at the base of the mountains meaning easy access by train and a cheaper alternative for accommodation. Nearby is the freeride paradise of Sainte Foy it is a small resort with epic off-piste.
Slightly further up the Tarentaise Valley is Espace Killy and the resorts of Tignes and Val d’isere. Val d’Isere is widely considered to be the UK’s most popular ski resort to visit. It is known for crazy nightlife, and difficult skiing – with a lot of off-piste – but there is something for all levels. It’s neighbour Tignes is a little cheaper but still great for apres and has great snowparks.
Cheaper and more down to earth is L’Alpe d’Huez, with plenty of slopes for beginners and off-piste skiing for the more advanced. It is easy to access from Grenoble airport as is Villard de Lans which is both family and environmentally friendly. Les Deux Alpes is close and a great relatively cheap, one base resort with something for everyone.
Isola 2000 in the southern Alps is both sunny and regularly blanketed in thick snows and only 90 minutes by car from the Riviera, should you yearn for a little ocean breeze after a week of chilly slopes. Also in the south is Serre Chevalier which provides 250km of piste and is known as one of the sunniest ski areas in France. Near the Ecrins national Park you’ll find the ski area of Forêt Blanche which is accessed from Risoul and Vars.
The French Pyrenees resorts such as Bareges, Domaine du Tourmalet and Saint Lary do not rival those in the French Alps for size and snow reliability. However they are cheaper, quieter and a have distinct charm and are worth considering for France skiing holidays.
Also away from the French Alps the Vosges mountains between Alsace and Lorraine is popular with the French for France skiing holidays at low altitude. For those who wish to avoid traditional resorts, Jura on the northern border with Switzerland, is known for its great cross-country skiing.
With such a wide range of options this guide to France skiing holidays unfortunately can’t cover them all. But whether you want the luxury of Courchevel or Megeve, the family focus of La Plagne, Les Deux Alpes, Flaine or Avoriaz, the partying of Val d’Isere, Tignes, Les Arcs or Chamonix, or the off piste of Chamonix, La Plagne or St Foy, there is something for everyone and in most resorts a bit of everything for all.