France Ski Holidays
France

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With resort choices to meet the requirements of absolutely every kind of ski group, high altitude pistes guaranteeing good snow coverage from December through to the end of April, lively après ski and a good deal of character and charm as well, the ski resorts of the French Alps offer everything you could want in a ski or snowboarding holiday. All levels of skier are catered for; from gentle tree lined green runs for beginners through to steep blacks and back country for the experts, it’s all there. If the pubs and partying are just as important as the pistes then France also has many resorts with a big nightlife to choose from, and if you’re taking the kids away, the tuition you’ll find in France is absolutely world class.

France for Beginner Skiers.

Of all the European countries where you can ski, France offers the biggest range of resorts so it’s a good place to start research as a beginner skier. There are many resorts which offer good beginner slopes but special mention must go to a select few. Morzine and Les Gets are neighbouring resorts sitting in the Portes du Soleil ski area, within about an hour of Geneva airport. Pretty, characterful and charming, they are perfect for families with beginner skiers. Morzine has a little ski garden at the foot of the slopes, run by the ESF for toddlers to get a feel for the snow, and a nursery ski area on the Pleney plateau with a magic carpet lift to get back to the top. The pistes above Morzine are tree lined, sheltered, gentle and wide, an absolute haven for beginner skiers. Over on the Les Gets side things get a little steeper. Dominated by blue pistes, progression is controlled and learners can get around easily. Another superb beginner resort is La Rosiere, which sits at 1850 meters above sea level in the Espace San Bernando ski area in the Haute Savoie region of south eastern France. La Rosiere offers 6 green pistes for beginners and 23 blues for progression. The nursery slopes around the base of the resort are free, and the home pistes are all perfect for learners finding their way on the snow.

Special mention for their suitability for beginner skiers must also go to the resorts of Meribel and Courchevel. In Meribel, the Altiport area is one of the finest beginner ski areas in France. It’s wide, sheltered, gently sloping and well serviced by a fast lift. The steep pistes high above Courchevel 1850 peter out wonderfully coming into the resort centre and below, which makes this resort superb for learner skiers too. The high altitude resort of Les Arcs also boasts a wealth of gentle slopes within easy reach of the accommodation, especially in Arcs 2000. This is also a perfect resort for beginner skiers. In this writer’s humble opinion, one resort to avoid as a beginner skier is Chamonix. A very bus-reliant resort with minimal learner slopes compared to many other resorts, it’s not ideal for learners.

France for Advanced Skiers.

There are a few specific considerations when considering resorts for advanced skiers or boarders: what challenging runs are there, what’s the back country and powder like, how large is the ski area and how good are the snow parks, to name a few.

Regarding the first consideration, Alpe d’Huez has a good few runs which are outstanding for advanced skiers. The black piste la Fare rolls and turns down the mountain and through the woods, and is a real highlight. Up at the top of the resort on the glacier, le Tunnel is a sheer black run, steep enough to make even the strongest skiers take due care and mogulled to within an inch of its life – not for the faint hearted! Lastly, La Sarenne is the longest black piste in Europe at 16 kilometers. It runs from the top of the ski area, but flattens out at the bottom.

For off piste and back country, few resorts can beat Chamonix. Steep and deep couloirs, enormous, open powder fields and spectacular tree runs await those skiers and boarders with the right transceiver and probe gear, the right know how and of course a good guide. The mountains above this spectacular Alpine town take lives on an annual basis as even the best laid plans come to nought against the force of nature, but this doesn’t stop people coming in their thousands each year to experience back country like the infamous Vallee Blanche for themselves. Do make sure you go with all of the right equipment and a guide if you’re not confident of the best route to take!

For sheer scope and range of terrain, ski areas like the mighty Three Valleys (Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens) and the Espace Killy (Val d’Isere and Tignes) dominate. The Three Valleys is made up of 600 kilometers of piste and 183 ski lifts. The sheer scale of this enormous ski area is not easy to convey, and the challenge of criss-crossing it in a day is made feasible only by a wonderful range of modern, fast chairlifts and gondolas. With 300 kilometers of piste, 2 glaciers and 90 lifts, the Espace Killy is also enormous - for sheer size of ski area it’s a hard act to follow.

For freestyle skiers and snow park fans, the French ski resort of Avoriaz is nigh on unbeatable. Avoriaz sits on the Franco-Swiss border in the Portes du Soleil and boasts the finest range of board parks in the country. For advanced riders there’s an enormous monster pipe to hit, as well as a pro-park with huge kickers, rainbow rails and hips. Designed and built with 100% natural materials by Burton, Le Stash is a snow park sitting in the forest in the Lindarets sector of Avoriaz, and draws pro riders to Avoriaz season after season.

Apres Ski and Nightlife.

When it comes to lively on-mountain après ski, three French resorts dominate. The resorts of Val Thorens, Val d’Isere and now Meribel all have a piste-side Folie Douce bar, and no day on the slopes is complete without a visit for a little beer-fuelled table top dancing and Europarty cheese - just be careful on the final ski home! Other highlights include Meribel’s Rond Point bar which, for a good many seasons now, has been the number one go-to place for visitors and seasonnaires alike. For evening revelry after dinner, both Meribel and Val d’Isere offer a very good range of lively bars and clubs. They both have a Dicks Tea Bar, which get busy at the closing of the resorts’ other bars and stay open till the wee small hours. Guest DJs of international note are regularly invited to play, and theme nights are commonplace. Morzine is a smaller resort with a surprisingly big nightlife, and after 9 or 10 o’clock in the evening the bars along the high street are full of seasonnaires and visitors alike, all enjoying the resort’s lively bars and clubs. Courchevel also boasts a superb selection of bars, and although many people initially think of Courchevel 1850, its little sister 1650 actually has a better range of bars for the average punter or seasonnaire to enjoy. Lastly, for those keen to mix their skiing and partying, the resorts of Tignes and Chamonix also have a decent selection of bars to choose from for a spot of afternoon or evening revelry.

Families.

Taking the children away for a week on the slopes is no mean feat, and the list of considerations to bear in mind when weighing up your resort choices is long. Are the beginner slopes within easy reach? What can we do off the snow? What ski schools are operating and what lessons do they offer? Are there day / evening childcare options available? The list goes on and on!

France has a wonderful range of resorts which are absolutely superb for families for many different reasons. Les Gets sits only 1.5 hours from Geneva airport for one of the fastest airport transfers in Europe. It has pistes on both sides of the valley so you’re never far from the skiing and the town centre is very attractive. It’s a family friendly resort throughout, and brings families with children back year after year. La Rosiere is another top family resort. It’s higher than les Gets but the transfer time is longer. Like Les Gets, La Rosiere has superb beginner slopes and is very family friendly indeed. For hassle free ski access and superb beginner slopes, you can’t go far wrong with the Paradiski resorts of les Arcs and la Plagne as well. The majority of the accommodation there is piste side or close to it, so access is quick and easy.

If you are looking for a chalet with in-house childcare, whereby you can put the kids into ski schools in the morning then either pick them up at lunch, or book them into supervised lunch and pick them up after their afternoon childcare, the French ski resorts of Courchevel 1850, Meribel, Belle Plagne, Peisey, les Arcs, Val d’Isere, Tignes and La Rosiere all have chalets where this is possible. Being so family friendly, they also have a good range of independent childcare companies working in-resort who offer private nanny, childcare, ski school pickup and evening babysitting services.

Resorts for Snowboarders.

With so many French resorts offering snow parks, fast, modern lifts and superb off-piste potential, the choice for snowboarders is exceptionally good, but as ever there are resorts which stand out from others. Meribel sits in the very centre of the Three Valleys ski area, and with two large snow parks, wonderful beginner slopes, varied terrain with minimal flat sections as well as a superb lift system and outstanding off piste potential, it works really well for boarders. The same can be said for Val d’Isere and Tignes for the very same reasons! Morzine and Avoriaz have slower lifts but the beginner slopes, off piste and the snow parks make them absolute “must-do” resorts for snowboarders of any level.

Access to the Mountains.

With more and more people considering different transport choices than simply flying, France offers an enormous range of travel plans to suit all budgets and preferences. If you do decide to fly, there’s a massive selection of UK tour operators offering chalets with flights and transfers included from Bristol, Belfast or Birmingham, Exeter or Edinburgh, Manchester and of course London. Taking a package holiday does make life nice and easy, but of course you can also buy flights separately and turn to any of the independent airport transfer companies operating across the Alps. Chambery is a popular arrival airport for its proximity to the mountains, with Grenoble and Lyon also common as is Geneva in Switzerland with its superb motorway links to a great many French ski resorts as well.

The snow train is becoming more and more popular as well, with skiers keen to reduce their carbon footprint, make the most of their 7 night holiday and make a saving while they’re at it. With careful planning you can leave on a Friday night, arrive Saturday morning then ski through to the following Sunday afternoon to get 9 days of skiing for your efforts! Eurostar run services from London to Paris and down to stations such as Bourg St Maurice for resorts like les Arcs, la Plagne and la Rosiere; Moutiers caters for resorts such as Courchevel, La Tania, Meribel and Val Thorens.

Self drivers to France can pretty much take their pick of resort, although for obvious reasons choosing the Northern Alps is preferable. With resorts like Morzine, Les Gets, Avoriaz and Chamonix only around 9 or 10 hours’ drive from Calais, many people prefer to pack the car up and head out under their own steam. There are savings to be made for people keen to drive out, and of course if you have the car in resort it means you can hop to other resorts in the area to make the most out of your week on the mountain. Chamonix is a prime example of this because Verbier in Switzerland and Courmayeur in Italy are both easily driveable from Chamonix.

So to conclude, whether you’re a complete beginner looking to find your feet on the snow, a seasoned snowboarder looking for big air, a grandmother kindly offering childcare services to your skiing family in return for a week in the mountains or a group of party animals keen to hit the pistes as hard as you hit the bars, the ski resorts in France can cater for your needs. A little research into the right resort choices is all it takes to make the most what this wonderful country offers ski and snowboard enthusiasts.

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