If you were lucky enough to go on family ski trips in the 1990s you’ll remember the brightly coloured onesies, zinc sunscreen and impossible-to-undo salopettes that used to characterise skiing in the French Alps. Maybe you’ve been keeping up with the Joneses ever since, but if you’re planning your first ski trip in a while, here’s where you should be skiing in France (or snowboarding) this year.
France welcomes more British skiers and snowboarders every year than any other country. This is thanks in part to its proximity, but also thanks to the incredible variety of terrain on offer. From family-friendly resorts to off-piste picks that will challenge the most experienced rider, these top French ski resorts offer something for everyone.
For a skiing in France holiday to get away from it all, head to Avoriaz in the French Alps. Close to the well-known resort of Morzine, Avoriaz is unique in that no cars are allowed in the purpose-built resort. Here, the only forms of transport are ski, snowboard and horse and carriage. Cars must be left in purpose-built car parks outside the resort. This makes for an extremely picturesque break, especially when you add in the village's spectacular location. Almost all of the chalets are ski-in ski-out, so you won’t turn up to find your hotel is a shuttle bus away from the ski lift.
The resort is part of the Portes du Soleil ski pass which gives access to 600 km of terrain across several resorts in both the French and Swiss Alps. Avoriaz is linked by gondola to Morzine and Chatel in France, and Champery in Switzerland. Most of the accommodation is in self-catering apartments. There are a few supermarkets on the village outskirts, and a variety of restaurants in the village.
Looking for a ski break where you can mingle with your fellow snow bunnies? Meribel is famous for its après scene – and you’ll find plenty of fellow Brits at the bar. That being said, the resort has moved decidedly upmarket in the last few years and there are several stylish boutique hotels and good restaurants. Most ski chalets are located close to the city centre, making it easy to shuffle home after closing time.
Meribel favourite, the mountainside Rond Point still remains, and the fun usually starts mid-afternoon with shots of toffee-flavoured vodka. The bar often hosts live music.
La Folie Douce welcomes holidaymakers with its unique combination of live dancers, acrobatic performances and outdoor bars serving beer, wine and champagne. The bar even has its own hashtag, #rockthetop.
When it comes to skiing, Meribel is part of the Trois Vallées ski area. One of the largest ski areas in the world, it offers some of the best skiing in France. The majority of runs are intermediate, so if you have some skiing under your belt you should be comfortable. If you have a week’s lift pass you can upgrade to the whole of Trois Vallées on a pay-per-day basis which gives you the chance to experience a whole lot more.
For families and beginners, Les Karellis is hard to beat. The ski-in, ski-out resort was designed for families from the group up. There’s group and private lessons plus a very well organised childcare system. You can even hire a special baby sledge to make it easy to get around the resort. What's more, group lessons plus Kids and Teens clubs mean older children can exercise their independence – while parent can be reassured that they are in safe hands.
When you need a break from the slopes, dog sledding, toboggans, family movie showings, and a snow play area in the centre of the village mean the fun doesn’t stop – until you decide it’s time for bed.
If you’ve skied every resort in the Alps and you’re looking for something a more challenging, pack your goggles and head to La Grave, close to the Italian border. Almost the entire ski area is off piste, providing many kilometres of fiendishly difficult skiing and snowboarding.
To access this snow-lover’s paradise you have to brave the winding mountain roads that can be closed in bad weather. There’s no train station nearby, nor any major roads, which means you’ll most likely be sharing the slopes with dedicated locals. Speaking of locals, the best way to enjoy the skiing here is to hire a private guide - off piste is dangerous by its very nature, and you can easily find yourself in difficulties at La Grave if you don’t know the terrain.
In 2017, the Alpe d’Huez resort signed a 30-year lease to ensure the gondola continues to run and maintain the two pistes and the on-mountain restaurants. Additionally, the new lease also preserves the ski area’s ‘wild’ nature, which means a whole new generation of expert skiers will be able to enjoy the unique challenges at La Grave. Accommodation is a mixture of hotels and self catering.
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