France is a magnet for skiers who want to experience the thrills of pure Alpine skiing in some of the world’s greatest resorts. Skiing in France offers breathtaking scenery, heart-stopping off-piste runs, and first-class shopping and dining.
What’s Great About Skiing in France?
The names of French ski resorts are iconic among serious skiers and winter sports fans. These resorts are known for their challenging ski runs set among some of the most spectacular Alpine scenery in the world. Here’s what to expect when you take a ski vacation there.
Legendary Ski Resorts
Many French resorts are on the bucket list of serious Alpine skiers. These are resorts aimed at experienced skiers who are looking for a serious thrill.
French resorts are well-known for the many off-piste runs that both skiers and snowboarders will enjoy. You’ll need to hire guides for many of them, but the expense and trouble are worth it for the heart-stopping thrills.
At the same time, some resorts do cater to beginners. France is a favorite destination of British skiers. As a result, you can find good ski schools with English-speaking instructors.
The Certainty of Snow
The sheer height of the French Alps almost guarantees that snow is a given during ski season.
As the online magazine France-Montagnes notes, “France is home to the biggest variety of ski resorts and largest interconnected ski areas in the world.
Crucially, it’s also home to some of the highest altitude resorts, many with skiing above 3000 meters, which guarantees plentiful snow and great skiing throughout the season.”
The ski season on the Alps typically runs from early December through March. However, “It can last much longer than that if there is a particularly wet winter. In some years, ski resorts in France open certain lifts as early as October and keep them open well into April or May.”
Great Food and Aprés-Ski Fun
If there’s one thing most people know about France, it’s that the food is great. At French resorts, you’ll find everything from rustic mountain fare to upscale international dining. Some small towns boast several Michelin-ranked eateries.
As for nightlife, the French literally invented the term aprés-ski. In addition to the wine and beer you can enjoy with dinner, you’re pretty sure to find lively nightlife in almost every French resort.
Mixed International Crowd
France draws skiers from all over Europe and the world. This gives ski resorts in France a cosmopolitan vibe that is lively and fun. You can find great shopping and lots of amazing food.
The popularity of French ski spots does have a downside. Remember to pack your patience when you come here. You may encounter long lines at many of the most popular runs.
Long wait times and crowded ski buses are annoyances you’ll have to tolerate in exchange for getting to experience world-class skiing in a spectacular setting.
Top Ski Resorts in France
1. Val d’Isere
Some ski enthusiasts rank this as one of the top ski resorts in the world. Known as the “jewel of the Tarentaise Valley,” this resort draws celebrities, tourists, and skiers from all over the world. Val d’Isere is a good spot for expert skiers and intermediate skiers looking for a challenge.
Val d’Isere is part of the Espace Killy ski area, named for the famed French skier Jean-Claude Killy, who was raised in Val d’Isere. The town hosted the 1992 Winter Olympics and frequently holds the Alpine World Ski Championships.
As Snow Magazine magazine points out, “The quantity and quality of lift-accessible off-piste terrain are one of Val d’Isère’s prime attractions, offering high-altitude glacial zones, super-steep couloirs and powder-filled bowls.”
Val d’Isere is a charming mountain town with upscale boutiques, stunning chalets, and world-class dining. There is plenty to do besides skiing and the town itself is worth a visit. This YouTube video review runs down the many reasons to put Val d’Isere on your list.
This quaint, pretty village was the site of the 1924 Winter Olympics and has hosted many skiing championships. Here, you can ski and snowboard on the slopes of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe.
Chamonix has four huge skiing areas spread over 10 miles. The Ski Pass Mont Blanc gives you access to all of them as well as the ability to ride the interconnecting ski bus. As a world-class skiing destination, Chamonix has amazing scenery, great food and nonstop nightlife.
Most French resorts have excellent off-piste and free-ride ski runs, and Chamonix is no exception. Get a view of the heart-pumping possibilities with this YouTube video of the famed Aguille du Midi off-piste run at Chamonix.
3. Alpe d’Huez
This sunny, friendly resort makes the list because it’s ideal for family ski trips and beginners. The wide, gradual slopes make it easy for first-timers and mixed groups to enjoy long, stress-free days on the snow. It’s also more budget-friendly than the more famous French resorts.
This mixed resort offers plenty for more experienced skiers, including several off-piste runs. It is home to La Sarenne, the longest black run in Europe with a descent of over 2000 feet. Here’s a skier’s eye view of that run.
Alpe d’Huez offers good nightlife and excellent dining options. A sports center in town provides opportunities for indoor climbing, ice skating and swimming. If you want a fun family vacation that won’t break the bank, this is an excellent choice.
This picturesque Alpine village is part of the Trois Vallees ski resort area that includes Couchevel, La Tania and Val Thorens.
Each of these is easily accessible from Meribel, and each one offers a different experience for skiers. You can purchase a pass that gives you access to all of them.
Meribel itself is a great ski area for beginners and intermediate skiers. In addition to two large snowboarding areas and many beginner-level slopes, you can enjoy a raft of activities at the Olympic Center, including swimming, skating and an English-language movie house.
The town is upscale and elegant. You’ll find excellent shopping and dining in a true mountain village atmosphere. There is some nightlife at several pubs and a downtown wine bar, but Meribel is not a party town.
This YouTube video by a travel blogger and ski enthusiast gives you a detailed look at skiing in Meribel.
5. Val Thorens
Val Thorens is a popular resort that boasts one of the highest altitudes in Europe. This purpose-built resort features a large ski area with an excellent mix of runs and plenty of snowboarding spaces. There are also many non-skiing activities available.
Writing on the travel site Culture Trip, Bethan Sweeting notes that, “As a purpose-built resort, some may say [Val Thorens] lacks character in comparison to other resorts, but with a number of fun bars and the biggest night club in the Alps, Malaysia, which features live music and fire-eating entertainment underground, there is plenty of fun to be had here.”
Check out this travel vlog that a group of British skiers shot while skiing and heli-skiing in Val Thorens.
What Should You Bring on a French Ski Holiday?
Zipline World Cup Backpack. Carry everything you need for your winter sports fun in one handy, super-sturdy backpack.
This backpack was a Freeskier Editor’s Pick for its roomy size that holds your boots, goggles, jacket, gloves, laptop and more in one handy bag. It’s the ideal travel accessory for skiers and snowboarders.
Sportube Toaster Elite Heated Boot Bag. Get the comfort and easy-on flexibility of warm boots. This bag heats two pairs of boots to 105F and is adaptable for car use.
Athletico Conquest Padded Snowboard Bag with Wheels. Carry your snowboard and boots together with ease when you pack this wheeled, padded bag. It’s rugged enough for a lot of travel and fits almost any snowboard.
Transpack Rolling Double Convertible Ski Bag. Easily carry two sets of skis and poles in this wheeled, padded carrier. The bag has a shoulder strap and full lining. It’s sturdy, water-resistant and ready to go.
Powder: The Greatest Ski Runs on the Planet. Get yourself raring to go with this book that features stunning photographs and descriptions of the world’s most spectacular ski runs. The book covers ski areas all over the world and includes tips to tackling those runs yourself.
Get Ready to Ski in France
A visit to any French ski resort is a thrilling adventure that lets you experience world-class Alpine skiing in a beautiful setting.
Most of these resorts have activities that everyone in your group will enjoy. All of them have top-notch dining and shopping.
French ski resorts cater to experienced skiers, but they also make room for those who just want a winter getaway.