Ski resorts France
There are upwards of 80 well established ski resorts in France and we sell hotel and chalet based ski holidays to over 50 of these. When it comes to booking their ski holidays more than one in three British skiers chooses to ski in the French Alps - more than in any other country.
It's not hard to understand why France attracts so many British skiers and snowboarders. The French ski resorts are large (often offering interlinked ski areas with neighbouring ski stations), high altitude (making them snow sure) and offer a wealth of different accommodation options which are often priced very competitively.
Let's undo a few myths and untruths about ski resorts in France
Ski resorts in France are all ugly. OK, so it's true that a few purpose built ski resorts in France are hideous eye-sores but it is very unfair to brand all French resorts in this way. On the one hand there are plenty of purpose built resorts that are actually attractive (Avoriaz, Tignes Le Lac and Arc 1950 each have their architectural merits) and on the other there are plenty of traditional and pretty village resorts full of alpine charm.
Ski lifts in France are modern and efficient. The main French ski resorts of the Tarentaise Valley certainly lead the way in Europe when it came to making investment into their lift infrastructure. However, there are plenty of ski resorts in France that still have antiquated, slow chairlifts and old button (Poma) lifts. There are also plenty of ski resorts in Austria and Switzerland that have state of the art lift systems which surpass the efficient French ski lifts.
French ski resorts have no après ski scene. Since the end of the ‘noughties’ the main French resorts have done much to catch up with their Austrian competitors. Resorts like Val d'Isere, Meribel, Val Thorens, Alpe d'Huez and Les Deux Alpes have ski in ski out open-air terrace bars thrashing out ski boot stomping tracks and serving champage and beer by the truck load. Move over Mooserwirt and Krazy Kanguruh!
It's impossible to eat a decent on-mountain lunch in France. The French latched on early to the idea of creating efficiencies in their ski resorts. Accommodation was built on the slopes, fast lifts got lots of people up the mountain and large cafeteria style restaurants were created to efficiently feed the skiing masses. However, there are lots of fantastic on-mountain dining experiences to be had from 2 star Michelin gastronomic delights to small, intimate and hard to find gems that are somewhat tucked away (and are all the better for it).
The most popular ski regions in the French Alps
The Three Valleys region is quite possibly the most famous ski area in the world. It covers 14 separate resorts and over 600km of pisted skiing - it's an intermediate skiers' paradise but in truth offers huge amounts of ski terrain for all standards. As the name suggests the area spans 3 separate valleys - Courchevel to the east, Meribel in the middle and the Val Thorens valley to the west. Courchevel 1850 has the largest concentration of luxury hotels and fancy restaurants in the world; Meribel is a pretty chalet style resort which is hugely popular with the British market and Val Thorens offers a strange mix of cheap catered chalets and luxury hotels.
The tourist office in Val d'Isere sent out a message recently saying that the long standing moniker, 'Espace Killy', should no longer be used in marketing material to describe the combined ski area including Tignes. The trouble is that we have grown so used to calling the ski area after Jean-Claude Killy, the local ski race hero of the 1960's, that it will take a generation to undo the habit. Val d'Isere has a reputation for only being suitable for expert skiers (because of the off-piste terrain) but the pisted runs are actually best for intermediate and beginner skiers. There is a great selection of hotels and catered chalets in Val d'Isere and the resort offers outstanding après ski and nightlife options. It is truly a ski resort that is excellent for all. Tignes offers better value accommodation options and access to the same amazing ski area. In fact many would argue that Tignes half of the Espace Killy region is the better half.
In December 2003 the separate ski resorts making up the Les Arcs & Peisey-Vallandry ski area linked with the separate resorts of the La Plagne ski area forming one enormous ski domain nattily named, the Paradiski region. The double decker cable car which stretches 1,800 metres across the valley from Peisey-Vallandry to Plagne Les Coches is called the Vanoise Express. The combined area of pistes in the Paradiski region adds up to over 425km of groomed runs (larger than the Espace Killy reqion) but in reality most skiers will only ski the slopes in their half of the domain - those staying in La Plagne stay on the western end of the domain and those in Les Arcs stay in the eastern half. Therefore only real experts wanting access to the whole area would need to buy the expensive full area lift pass. There are 15 separate ski resorts in the Paradiski area offering mainly cheap self catering apartments (which we don't sell) and well over 100 good value catered chalets - many of which offer ski in ski out convenience.
Roughly translated as the 'gateway to the sun' the Portes du Soleil ranks as one of the two largest ski areas of the world (the other being the Three Valleys). Spanning 14 separate valleys and over 1,000 square kilometres of the French and Swiss Alps the claimed total length of pisted runs adds up to a colossal 650km. An independent expert measured the pisted length to only 425km but as the figures are largely academic it doesn't really matter who you choose to believe - the ski area is enormous however you look at it. The French resorts of Les Gets, Morzine, Chatel and Avoriaz are all within 1 hour's drive of Geneva Airport which makes them very popular with families and also with those looking for a ski weekend. However, the relatively low altitude of the ski area (resort heights of 1,100m and top skiing at 2,400m) makes for a short season and variable skiing conditions in December and late March - powder hounds may wish to head deeper into the mountains (meaning a longer transfer) in order to find better, high altitude snow conditions.
The Chamonix valley ski area that spans from Argentiere in the east to Les Houches in the west is steeped in mountain tradition as the local mountain just happens to be the tallest peak in Europe. Mont Blanc (4,808m) was first climbed in 1786 and this ascent by Frenchman Jacques Balmat marked the birth of modern alpinism as we know it today. The Victorian mountaineer, Edward Whymper (1840 - 1911), made the Chamonix Valley popular as a tourist destination with the British during the summer months and the town grew in prominence as a result. However, it was not until Chamonix hosted the Winter Olympics in 1924 that it began to attract skiers in any significant numbers. Today Chamonix is still more popular as a summer destination (60,000 visitors compared to 30,000 in winter) and as a year round resort the accommodation prices remain good value for holiday makers. Chamonix offers towering and dramatic mountain scenery, a lively town centre with great facilities and challenging off piste terrain (above Argentiere). However, the older and slower lifts, fragmented and relatively small ski area and inefficient bus service connecting the separate resorts of the valley means that it is not a ski area that suits everyone.
Transfer times to ski resorts in France
There are several major gateways to the ski resorts of France. Geneva is the most northern and largest airport taking a wide range of charter and scheduled flight services into its two terminals. Chambery and Lyon give access to the main French ski resorts of the Tarentaise valley. Chambery is closer to the resorts giving shorter transfer times but is more weather prone with planes often beig diverted due to fog or low cloud in the mid winter months. Grenoble airport is further south and is mainly used to access ski resorts such as Les Deux Alpes, Alpe d'Huez and Serre Chevalier
French ski areas close to Geneva:
The Chamonix Valley, Portes du Soleil, Grand Massif (Flaine, Samoens, Les Carroz etc) and Megeve.
French ski areas close to Grenoble:
Alpe d'Huez and Les Deux Alpes
The largest ski resorts in France lie in the Tarentaise Valley stretching from Valmorel in the west, to the Three Valleys resorts, La Plagne & Les Arcs, La Rosiere and finally on to Tignes & Val d'Isere at the eastern end. These ski resorts offer the best high altitude, large ski areas but they are the resorts that lie deepest into the Alps and therefore furthest from the airports. A transfer time of three hours to Val d'Isere from Geneva or Lyon airport is a considered a good run, it will take longer on a busy mid February weekend.
Accommodation in French ski resorts
There is every type of accommodation on offer to the ski resorts of France. At the cheapest end of the scale there are small self catering apartments. However, we sell ski holidays staying either in chalets (we have over 1,000 chalets in France) or hotels. We have a huge range of options for both of these accommodation types from great value to the smartest and most expensive accommodation in the Alps.