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Skiing in the French Alps -
the main resorts
When it comes to skiing, France is one of Europe's top
destinations. It is on the French-Italian border that the Alps,
Europe's greatest mountain range, reach their peak, in the eternal
snows at the summit of Mont Blanc, 4,810 m
(15,781 ft) above
the broadest range of skiing opportunities anywhere in Europe (see
below), but they are not the only mountain range in France with skiing
facilities, and in some cases it may be interesting to check out the
opportunities available in the Vosges, the Jura, the Massif Central and
the Pyrenees (see Other French ski
regions), all of which have fully equipped downhill and
cross-country ski resorts.
The main Alpine ski areas
is the Alps that offer the broadest range of resorts, and - on
account of the altitude - those where the snow conditions are most
reliable. Here are the main skiing areas in the French Alps.
Portes du Soleil, (Avoriaz - Morzine) the
northernmost area, takes in a dozen resorts,
- reputedly the capital of snowboarding - and Morzine,
a long-established resort, at an altitude of 1000m, with plenty of
facilities for beginners. The Morzine ski pass includes the runs at Les Gets, a resort
that includes ski-runs for children only. The ski resort at Praz-de-Lys / Sommand
is popular for the large number of easy runs. La Chapelle d'Abondance is
reputed to be a good family ski resort.
Further south is the Chamonix
- Megève sector; Chamonix,
in the Savoy Alps, lying at the foot of Mont Blanc, was the original
French ski resort, and for many years has been very popular with skiers
from all over Europe; it is also very expensive. Today, the area around
Chamonix and Megève
offers the fifth largest skiing area in France. The resort at Combloux, near
Megève, is reputed to have good opportunities for beginners.
is a popular
resort for families with children.
Arcs / La Plagne
in the Haute Savoie offer plenty of high mountain skiing, so
usually guarantee good snow. Les Arcs is a resolutely modern ski
resort, and is also close to the Bourg
Saint Maurice train station, with direct Eurostar services
from London, in season.
/ Val d'Isère
is a high mountain area, with some 300 km of pistes, many of them over
2,500 metres altitude. This area offers a good number of pistes for
beginners and relatively inexperienced skiers, as well as pistes for
the more intrepid. Val d'Isère is reputedly the most
resort in Europe. With the highest pistes at over 3000 metres, this is
an area where some skiing is possible almost throughout the year.
The ski area of Les
Vallées (Les 3
Vallées), including the
resorts of Courchevel,
and Les Menuires,
is the world's largest ski area accessible with a single pass. With 183
ski lifts and 335 downhill pistes, the area gives skiers access to over
600 km. of slopes - more than enough for even the most demanding of
skiers. With almost 2000 snow cannons, the area is also able to
guarantee that a fair number of pistes will be open even if the snow
does not come in abundance. Courchevel,
with its collection of Michelin starred restaurants, is reputed
as the most up-market ski resort in the French Alps, on a par
Zermatt and St. Moritz.
one of the largest ski resorts in France , l'Alpe d'Huez offers a wide
range of facilities, including plenty of slopes for beginners, and also
opportunities for off-piste sking. the resort is the closest major ski
area to the city of Grenoble, and therefore attracts plenty of day
trippers as well as staying guests. Further west, in the Vercors area,
the resort of Villard de
southwest of Grenoble, is reputed as the most environment-friendly ski
resort in the French Alps, and also a good family resort.
Click here for some visitor
recommended hotels in Alpine ski resorts
With 120 km of pistes, the southern
Alpine resort of Isola
is reputation of being both one of the sunniest ski resorts in France,
one of the coldest, and also one of those that gets most snow. Damp
winter winds off the Mediterranean can dump large quantities of snow on
the high peaks of the southern Alps, while the northern Alps get little
or nothing. The resort is a classic 1970s development, lying at an
average altitude of 2000 metres - rising to 2,600 metres. This resort
is just an hour and a half by car from the Riviera, and is therefore
popular with people living in Nice and the surrounding area.
There are plenty of other
ski areas in
the French Alps, but mostly smaller and for this reason often calmer,
sometimes cheaper, and more family-oriented. Resorts that are based on
long-existing small towns, such as
La Clusaz, Aussois or Serre-Chevalier,
near Briançon, offer an authentic Alpine experience.
Don't forget that insurance is vital.
Flying to the Alps:
the main airports for the French Alps ski resorts are Lyon,
Chambéry Grenoble and Geneva.
serving these destinations, see the About-France.com Fly
page. Before booking, beware of the possible extra charge levied for
skiing gear. One airline that does not charge extra for skiing gear is Swiss
Driving to the
Road travel: The big problem with Alpine skiing
areas is knowing how to avoid the crowds .
A great international reputation means that the main Alpine ski resorts
attract millions of skiers each winter, from all over France, and all
over Europe. Avoiding peak weeks can mean far less time spent waiting
in queues on the slopes, or waiting to be served in the restaurant
not to mention better deals.
When to ski in France ?
For obvious reasons, it is quite impossible to predict the
best week in the year for skiing - anywhere in France. On the other
hand, it is possible to suggest the times to avoid if you want to enjoy
more time on the slopes, and less time standing in queues. The periods to avoid are
basically the Christmas and New Year weeks, and February, when millions
of people across France and Europe are enjoying half-term breaks. See
Consequently, that leaves two periods
when conditions are less crowded, and often less expensive:
Between about 5th January and early
February: this is a relatively calm period on the ski slopes; the
disadvantage is that the days are still short, and the weather can be
at its coldest.
The month of March: usually, this is the least
crowded of the skiing months, except when Easter is early, and the
Easter holiday period is still a good time for skiing. The disadvantage
is that ski resorts at lower altitudes may be losing their snow, at
least on the lower slopes. The advantage is that days are longer, and
best avoided: French school
holiday periods, 2013 - 2014
Click here for holiday
dates by zone
||Christmas /New year
(3 zones, 2 weeks each)
(3 zones, 2 weeks each)
- 5th January 2014
|22nd February - 16th March 2014
||12th April to 11th May 2014
More information on weather
in the French Alps
Generally less well-known, the other French mountain ranges
tend to attract a far less international clientele, and for this reason
their slopes are often not just less crowded, but relatively quiet
outside the French school holiday periods - except at weekends.
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photo by Plusgood - Creative commons licence., bottom photo by Rockside
- photos licence CC