Why you “NEED” to ski the French Alps!
The Ski Scenery
Skiing in France brings extraordinary scenery. The magnificent Mont Blanc at over 14,000’ for example. 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. See amazing France Ski Videos.
Nobody does it BIGGER
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. Portes Du Soleil borders France and Switzerland linking 12 villages! 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, Avoriaz, Morgine, Grand Massif’s Samoens and Flaine. Flying into Geneva you have dozens of ski resort within an hour or two drive, bus or train.
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 French Cuisine, aka: 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 the chalet provides hats (for sun protection) and plats du jour – these are good signs. Raclette, fondue and 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.
Affordable Lift Tickets in France
Lit tickets are often under $50 Euro, just $48/ day at Val D’Isere/Tignes. 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 center.
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. See our Top French Ski Hotels. 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.
Attention: 5 things you need to know before you ski France!
Elevation matters for snow quality. The higher the better is the rule in The Alps with recent warming trends, some warm winters have 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 making assurance.
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.