France Ski Holidays Guide

France Ski Holidays Guide

France is one of the most popular destinations for ski holidays in Europe. Its mountain ranges attract huge numbers of skiers each year and with a wide gamut of ski resorts from the resolutely traditional to the upmarket, it’s easy to see why.

Contents of this guide:

The French Alps

The northern Alps house the long established ski resort of Morzine with pistes at an altitude of up to 1000 metres and plenty of snow. A ski pass here includes Les Gets, a resort with runs exclusively for children, making it a good French ski holiday for families. Nearby Avoriaz is rapidly gaining a reputation as the capital of snowboarding and has plenty of facilities for those who prefer to board.

Chamonix nestles at the foot of Mont Blanc and is the original French ski resort. British skiers first had ski holidays in France at the end of the 19th century and its popularity has not waned since. The ski area is vast and there is something for everyone.

Further south is the Haute Savoy area of the French Alps. Les Arcs and La Plagne are two ski areas known for their altitude where snow can usually be guaranteed. Both resorts are built on different levels with slopes for all skiers and nightlife for all tastes.

Tignes and Val d’Isère are big resorts with 300km of pistes, more than enough to welcome inexperienced skiers and plenty to satisfy adventure seekers. An altitude of 2500km means that there is an excellent chance of a snow filled skiing holiday. Val d’Isère is reputed to be the most expensive of all the French ski resorts and the exclusive shops and restaurants in the village bear testament to this reputation.

The world’s largest ski area is the Three Valleys with eight different resorts including Courchevel and Méribel. Accommodation ranges from the easily affordable to the luxurious, making ski holidays in France available to everyone. A ski pass covers 600km of interconnected pistes so even the most experienced skier would have no trouble skiing a different route every day. 2000 snow cannons guarantee a number of open pistes when real snow is hard to come by.

With its proximity to Grenoble, Alpe d’Huez attracts a huge number of day trippers. It is a large resort and popular with the French, a lot of whom own apartments near the slopes. Various levels of ski passes allow all levels of skiers to get the most out of their France ski holiday.

The Southern Alps has Isola 2000 and is the place to go to soak up the sun. It is one of the coldest French ski resorts and frequently has large dumps of snow, but it is also one of the sunniest. Isola 2000 is near Nice and the French Riviera and is popular with Provençal ski fans.

These are the main Alpine ski resorts, but there are a plethora of small, family friendly resorts dotted about the Alps for wonderful ski holidays in France.

The Pyrenees

After the Alps, the widest range of ski slopes in France can be found in the Pyrenees. Straddling the southern French and northern Spanish border, the Pyrenees are not as popular as the Alps, perhaps due to their location and the possibility of a lack of snow. Nevertheless, there are some excellent spots for France ski holidays. Tourmalet in the Hautes-Pyrenees is the oldest French ski resort after Chamonix and boasts 100 pistes. 43 ski lifts takes skiers up to 2500 metres. Nearby Cauterets has 24 lifts and has lost none of its Pyrenean charm. There are two ski domains rising to 2450 metres, suiting beginners and experts.

Over to the east lies Font-Romeu/Pyrenees 2000. It is a large area with 54km of wonderfully maintained pistes for skiers of all levels. Cross-country skiing is popular and over 100km of tracks are dedicated to those skiers who like to take things a little slower on their ski holiday in France. Les Angles has invested in over 250 snow cannons, guaranteeing skiing whatever the weather on a number of its 32 pistes.

The Vosges

The Vosges run from north to south in the east of France, separating the Lorraine from the Alsace. This region is blessed with cold winters and good snow, even though the highest piste reaches a mere 1400 metres. There are four main ski resorts in the Vosges for excellent France ski holidays. The biggest is La Bresse with 37 runs, illuminated pistes for night skiing and snow cannons. This mountain range is close to Strasbourg, Metz, Nancy and Luxembourg for easy access.

The Jura

The Jura is renowned for its cross-country skiing tracks. Running along Switzerland’s northern border, the Jura is higher than the Vosges and has two main ski resorts. Rural Les Rousses has four ski mountains and every type of piste imaginable. Métabief-Mont-d’Or is a beautiful area and ideal for children with easy runs and family friendly ski holidays in France.

The Massif Central

In central-southern France, the Massif Central has a variety of small ski areas. The two biggest are the Massif du Sancy and Le Lioran with around 40km of pistes each. There are plenty of modern facilities akin to the Alpine ski resorts. Le Lioran is best for beginners and boarders and the Massif du Sancy is good for all the family.

When to go skiing in France

French resorts are at their busiest during christmas, New year and during february when most locals go skiing. Holidaymakers may prefer to avoid these dates to beat the crowds. French holidays are in February and the whole country descends on the ski resorts, turning the motorways into giant car parks. Queues for lifts and restaurants stretch almost interminably.

Less busy and less expensive are January and March. January can be very cold and the days are short, but an air of peace reigns over the resorts as they catch their breath after a hectic festive season. March can be an excellent month for a French ski holiday. With warmer weather, ski resorts at lower altitude could suffer, but snowfall is much surer at higher altitudes. Skiing in March depends on whether Easter is early, however, the pistes are nowhere near as full as in February.

Dates of French Holidays 2010-2011

Christmas/New Year (National)

18th December 2010 – 3rd January 2011

Winter Holiday (3 zones, 2 weeks each)

19th February-14th March

Spring Holiday (3 zones, 2 weeks each)

9th April-2nd May

An Introduction to Snowboarding in France

Snowboards started to gain popularity in the early 1980s. Most resorts nowadays offer facilities for snowboarders, but Avoriaz was the first French ski resort to welcome boarders with open arms. It has two freestyle parks, a large half pipe and a snowpark for beginners and children. Chamonix and Serre Chevalier have to be high on the snowboarder’s lists of resorts to visit. Chamonix has a wide range of slopes and a good deal of off-piste riding plus snowparks both natural and man-made. Serre Chevalier is world class with an extensive area of natural boarding terrain. The lift system here is good and is about to get better thanks to an injection of cash by the Compagnie des Alpes.

Ski accommodation in France

Catered Chalets

There are many ski companies, big and small offering package ski holidays in France with flights and transfers included. Skiers stay in catered chalets where breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner are prepared by live-in staff. Lift passes can be purchased during the transfer to avoid any queues in resort and ski guides are at guests’ disposal. Catered ski holidays in France may work out more expensive, but everything is taken care of from arrival to departure, leaving guests free to concentrate on having a good time.

Self-catered Options

Holiday makers may wish to go it alone and rent an apartment or self-catered chalet. A quick search on the internet reveals apartments for rent, either through private owners or holiday companies. Usually rented by the week, from Saturday to Saturday, guests are required to leave a deposit, which they get back at the end of the holiday once the accommodation has been returned in the same condition as it was let out. Self-catering is a cheaper way to ski providing skiers are happy to make their own way to resort, see to their own meals and find their way about the ski area.

Travelling to French Ski Resorts

By Car

When driving to a French ski holiday, the busy periods are best avoided, particularly Saturdays during the peak times when the roads are full of cars. The quiet months should pose no problem and the ferries and the Eurotunnel become cheaper and quieter. Although main roads near the ski areas are generally clear, snow chains are required to climb to the resorts.

Eurostar and Train

The channel tunnel provides a fast alternative to ferries to France. The Eurostar travels directly to Bourg-St-Maurice in the heart of the Savoy Alps. From here there are trains to nearby Tignes, Val d’Isère and Les Arcs. The Altibus shuttles to and from sixty ski stations around the Alps and can be booked before travelling. (www.altibus.com) For weekend ski holidays in France, the Eurostar Snow Train leaves London St. Pancras on Friday evening and gets to the Alps on Saturday morning.

The TGV goes from Paris or Lille to Bourg-St-Maurice, Chambéry, Annecy and Geneva for the Alps, Frasne in the Jura, La Bresse in the Alsace and Clermont Ferrand for the Massif Central. Local trains connect to the villages near the ski resorts and from there skiers can take a taxi or a shuttle to their accommodation.

Air

Bmibaby, Easyjet and Flybe all fly to Geneva, which offers easy access to most Alpine resorts. Tickets for either the Altibus or Aeroskibus are available from the airport.

Flybe and Jet2.com go to Chambéry, which is on the snow train route and trains stop at Albertville, Moutiers, Bourg-St-Maurice and Aime-La-Plagne. A taxi will take guests to their resort.

Lyon is no more than three hours from most resorts in the Alps and both Bmibaby and Easyjet fly here.

Air France and KLM fly to Clermont-Ferrand and the Massif Central is within easy reach by train or bus.

Bear in mind that most companies charge extra for ski gear.

Car Hire

Car hire is available from the airports mentioned above. Prices start at around £15 per day and options include ski racks, and snow chains or tyres. The majority of resorts are no more than a three hour drive away.

With the climate getting warmer, snow is no longer a sure thing on any France ski holiday. Ski resorts now have snow cannons and offer a wide range of alternative activities, such as ice skating, hiking, cinemas and more. It is advisable to check out a resort before travelling to make sure, not only that it offers the desired ski holiday in France, but also that there are plenty of alternative options should there be little or no snow.

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