Ski holidays in France

Nicola Iseard's recommendations for the best ski holiday in France

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Nicola Iseard

Nicola Iseard
HomeAway travel expert


Saint Jean MontclarIn 2012, almost 900,000 Brits packed up their thermals and thick socks to travel abroad and go skiing or snowboarding; and around a third of those people chose to go to France. That's more than for any other country. It's easy to see why so many of us are attracted to French slopes, for when it comes to clocking up mileage, the country has the biggest lift and piste networks in the world, with Les Trois Vallées taking the top spot, with over 370 miles of linked slopes; you could ski first lift to last lift all week and not cover the same run twice. Most of these areas are also at high altitude, meaning that you can expect good snow cover even if the snow gods don't play ball during your trip.

It's not all about purpose-built resorts, either – there are some genuinely old mountain villages to stay in, too, like Val d'Isère and Chamonix. These resorts have managed to retain their old-world charm while introducing state-of-the-art facilities, from quick and well-connected lift systems that mean less time queueing and more time skiing, to snow-making facilities that ensure the season continues well into the spring. Add to all that France's reputation for having some of the best mountain restaurants in the Alps (fondue, anyone?) and it's a wonder we ever leave.

Nicola Iseard's fast facts

 Courchevel 1850 is the sixth most expensive place in the world, with average square metre prices of €27.000.

 Chamonix was the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924, with 258 athletes (247 men and 11 women) from 16 nations competing in a total of 18 events.

 The Espace Killy ski area is named after Val d'Isère local Jean-Claude Killy, a former World Cup Alpine ski racer who dominated the sport in the late 1960s. He was a triple Olympic champion.

 The current world record in speed skiing was set in Les Arcs in 2006 by Simone Origone. The Italian set a record speed of 156.2mph, the fastest any human has ever travelled on land without a motor.

 The name 'Les Deux Alpes' reflects the shared history of two sheep-grazing villages – Vénosc and Mont de Lans. Today the villages are joined as one resort by way of a two-kilometre strip of hotels, bars and shops that runs along a narrow plateau.
 
 

 

Nicola's top five ski resorts in France


   

Courchevel - suitable for beginners Courchevel - suitable for beginners

Part of the famous Trois Vallées ski area, the largest linked ski area in the world – boasting over 600 kilometres of terrain – Courchevel is made up of four separate settlements, each with its own character. Courchevel Moriond, previously called Courchevel 1650 (referring to its altitude, in metres), is one of the best ski areas in the Alps for beginners; it's quieter than the glitzy main resort at 1,850 metres, with a designated ZEN area (Zones for the Evolution of Novices) and a good network of gentle and wide slopes, some of which, like blue Indiens, wind through the trees. It also has an excellent British ski school, New Generation, which offers tuition for adults and children.

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Chamonix - suitable for experts Chamonix - suitable for experts

It has the reputation for being the extreme-skiing capital of the world, and rightly so – ambitious skiers come here from all over the world to test their skill, and nerves, on the long, steep descents of the Mont Blanc massif. The on-piste skiing, while fragmented, is excellent in places, from the Floria black piste in Flégère, which can have moguls the size of Minis, to the Kandahar black run in Les Houches – steep, hard-packed, often icy and used annually for the Men's Downhill World Cup Ski Championships. To make the most of the skiing, hire a guide; the 22-kilometre Vallée Blanche, an off-piste glacier route that has a vertical descent of over 2,700 metres, is a must-ski, taking you past gaping crevasses and huge seracs (ice boulders). Bring the camera.

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Val d'Isere - suitable for off-piste enthusiasts Val d'Isere - suitable for off-piste enthusiasts

Val d'Isère, together with neighbouring Tignes, forms the Espace Killy ski area, which covers 300 kilometres of piste; though the most exciting skiing in the resort is found off the beaten path. Not only does its altitude (up to 3,500 metres) mean that Val d'Isère is one of the most snow-sure ski areas in Europe, but few resorts can rival the extent of its lift-accessed off-piste skiing. If the visibility is poor, head for the trees of Le Fornet; for a long, steep (up to 40°), vertical drop of some 900 metres, try Banane, reached from the Face de Bellevarde piste; for big thrills head for the steep and narrow Pisteurs’ Couloir, accessed from the Grand Pré chairlift – you can get fresh tracks here long after a snowfall.

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Les Arcs - suitable for families Les Arcs - suitable for families

Part of the Paradiski ski area, which has 425 kilometres of piste, Les Arcs ticks all of the family-friendly boxes: an excellent children's ski area at 1800 (Les Arcs has four ski areas:1600, 1800, 1950 and 2000, referring to their altitude, in metres), complete with moving carpets; a series of 'discovery pistes', with information panels and animal silhouettes, where children can learn all about flora and fauna of the Alps, and a number of English-speaking ski schools. There are also plenty of child-friendly activities besides skiing, including a Grotte de Glace (ice cave) filled with intricate ice sculptures and a sledging piste, called Rodeo Park, and dog sled rides.

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Les Deux Alpes - suitable for freestyle skiers Les Deux Alpes - suitable for freestyle skiers

Yes the piste skiing is pretty good, with reliable snow cover on the higher slopes (thanks to the resort's lofty altitude up to 3,570 metres), and yes the off-piste skiing is excellent, with a plethora of powder-filled gullies. But, it's the snowpark that makes Les Deux Alpes stand out from the crowd – perfect for skiers who prefer to spend more time in the air than on the snow. It boasts big kickers, a slopestyle course, a huge array of rails, and a 120-metre half-pipe. After your session, kick back in a deck chair in the 'cool zone', which has a barbecue and music playing over big speakers.

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Images
Courchevel by Matt Squirrell
Val d'Isère by Andreas Bjarlestam
Les Arcs by James Preston 
Les Deux Alps from Alpe d'Heuez by Kim McKelvey

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