The French Alps are legendary for alpine skiing – famous for super scenic slopes
on historic, big mountains with beautiful chalets and of course - après ski.
Skiing in France has its ups and downs literally, many resorts are high
elevation, offering good snow and amazing panoramas, some French skiers are
friendly and some mountain hotels are beautiful… while other ski resorts in
France completely lack charm, and attract huge crowds to their utilitarian
hotels and high capacity ski lifts. Here’s what you need to know when you go
skiing in France, the good, the bad and the banal.
Top reasons to ski the French Alps, the top ski resorts in France, as
well as 5 alpine warnings, from altitude to attitude:
French Alps Scenery
Skiing in France, you are blessed with extraordinary scenery. Views of the Alps
including the magnificent Mont Blanc at over 14,000’ are so unique and
unbelievable. The key to the best views, and the best snow, is elevation. You
can see over 1,000 peaks from the summits of Val Thorens and Les Arcs.
The Biggest Skiing in The World
France’s interconnected ski resorts have created the biggest skiing in Europe
and the globe for that matter. Les Trois
Vallées’ is three major ski resorts, linking Courchevel, Méribel, and Val
Thorens to bring you 600 kilometers of skiing all on one ticket, totally
interconnected by ski lifts and trails. Espace Killy – which includes Val
D’Isere and Tignes combines for vast skiing as well. Paradiski, the 3rd largest,
encompasses La Plagne and Les Arcs - and a dozen ski villages at varying
altitudes. Grand Massif is actually five ski resorts linked by 67 lifts – the
4th largest in France.
Proximity of French Skiing
France is home to many of the top ski resorts in the world, Courchevel, Meribel,
Val Thorens, Val D’Isère, Tignes, Chamonix, Les Arcs, La Plagne, and many more
lesser known ski resorts like Megeve, Grand Massif’s Samoens and Flaine. Flying
into Geneva you have dozens of ski resort within an hour or two drive, bus or
High Capacity Lifts
France is the king of big ski lifts. You will ride funiculars that tunnel up
through mountains, 100+ person trams, 30-passenger gondolas, six and eight-pack
high-speed chairs, and the occasional low tech but reliable poma. Val Thorens
for example is a showcase of SAMENS lifts. The queues can be long, but typically
move swiftly, pay attention – things can get aggressive.
Haute Lunches in the Alp… Fondue with a view…
The expansive skiing across alpine villages and valleys in France builds an
appetite. The French are famous for their cuisine, and finding a quaint quality
on mountain chalet for ski to lunch is the ultimate- but its not quite that
simple. Not all on mountain restaurants are equal. Look for traditional chalets,
not just the snack and self-service spots. Our tip, if they provide hats (for
sun protection) and plats du jour – these are good signs. Raclette, fondue ad
tartiflette are fantastic and filling regional dishes featuring Savoyard
cheeses. Ask for Genepi at the end of your meal, a strong local digestif made
from an alpine flower, the French version of schnapps. See our
guide to the best
mountain chalets in Les 3 Vallées for an alpine ski lunch.
Affordable Lift Tickets in France
Lit tickets are often under $50 Euro, just $41/ day at Grand Massif buys you 67
lifts, 146 ski trails. Most lift ticket packages are for 6-7 days at even better
value. Most French tickets systems are electronic RFID cards, also valid on the
efficient bus systems if you ski off-piste and find yourself in a nearby town
you can hop a bus back.
Après Ski in France
The very expression Après Ski is French by origin, translation: “after skiing.”
But alas the alpine drinking begins before you are off the slopes. Wine at lunch
is traditional, by the glass, pitcher or bottle depending upon your taste,
tolerance and budget. Vin Chaud is a delicious mulled hot wine to warm you from
the inside out on wintry days. The real Après Ski parties in the French Alps
pump out dance music, pyrotechnics and performers in the case of
La Folie Douce
at Val D’Isère and Méribel. La Folie Douce is a ridiculously wild on mountain
party you must witness once, the scene is a bit contrived with costumed dancers
on a rooftop stage, VIP sections where Champagne sprays, and raucous skiers
dance from 2pm on. Rond Pointe at Méribel is off the hook on sunny days when
live bands play out on the terrace and skiers dance, down serious beers, crowd
surf, then fumble into their skis to descend (or fall) down the trail to Méribel
Sleep in a Chalet with a Duvet, or an Igloo with a view
Postcard perfect wood chalets with snow-laden roofs await you at the base of
vast terrain, with beds covered in fluffy down duvets. Every place we stayed had
a ski room with boot dryers, a convivial bar for après ski drinks by a fire, and
a buffet breakfast of fresh croissant and baguettes, local ham and cheese, and
fruit. Look for at least 3-stars, and avoid the big, boxy, utilitarian hotels at
La Plagne, Tignes, and Flaine at Grand Massif.
5 French Ski Resort Warnings:
Elevation matters for snow quality. The higher the better is the rule as the
Alps have encountered some warm winters with low snow totals below 1600 meters.
High elevation resorts like Val Thorens and Val D’Isère Tignes are more
reliable. Ski resorts with “snow cannons” are recommended as well for snow
Have the French become more gracious given global competition for skier visits?
Perhaps… speaking a little French seems appreciated, just expect that your
accent will be detected or corrected. Most speak English and you’ll encounter
plenty of Brits in the Alps as well.
Crowds & Lift Lines
French ski resorts do get crowded, expect lift queues, which typically peak at
10:30-11. Lunch early, at 12 or late – after 2, to ski while the rest enjoy
their extended midday meal. The French can be a bit aggressive in the lift
lines, and some of the lift queues are confusing too, so pay attention and be
ready to pair up.
Off Piste is off the Hook
You can ski anywhere at French ski resorts, get big untracked unbelievable
descent, or get in big trouble (read: die in an avalanche). Since the off-piste
terrain is unmarked and unpatrolled, you can ski off a cliff, into a crevasse or
just into another town entirely. The best bet is to
hire a guide for an
off-piste adventure equivalent to the terrain you’d encounter heli skiing.
Pay to Pee On mountain restaurants and ski lodges in France often require you to
pay small change to use the toilettes, even when you dine at their restaurant.
So keep some pocket coins handy for the turnstiles, typically $.50 Euro.