With their long and varied runs, extensive lift networks, and superb après-ski, the French Alps offer some of the best skiing not just in Europe, but the world. Skiing first became a recreational sport here in the early 1900s but the industry really began to boom in the Alps during the 1960s with the construction of dozens of high-altitude, purpose-built resorts that ensured good lasting snow cover. Some of these resorts have their detractors: the modern architects often created sprawling concrete settlements that had little in common with the traditional farming villages lower in the valleys, and in so doing they earned France a lasting reputation for “ski factories”. Nonetheless, few can knock the efficiency of these resorts. They have an abundance of hotels, equipment outlets and ski schools, while at many you can simply clip your skis on at the hotel door and be skiing on some of the most challenging pistes on earth within minutes.
Although downhill is the most common form of the sport at all the resorts, cross-country or nordic skiing has become increasingly popular on gentler slopes (particularly around Morzine and in the Parc Naturel Régional du Queyras), while there are also several famous routes for ski touring (a form of cross-country skiing with uphill sections and across much longer distances), not least the Haute Route between Chamonix and Zermatt (Switzerland) and the Grande Traversée des Alps, which leads south from Thonon-les-Bains on Lake Geneva through several national parks. There are also plenty of opportunities for snowboarding with many resorts having developed snow parks expressly for snowboarders.
The ski season runs from December to late April, with high season over Christmas and New Year, February half-term and (to a lesser extent) Easter.