Ski France

With its sizeable collection of high-altitude stellar resorts, 8000km of pistes spread over 300 resorts and some of the biggest names in world skiing, France has justifiable claims to be the doyenne of the European ski scene. While Austria has better nightlife, Switzerland more chocolate box charm and Italy the greatest mountain restaurants, none can rival France's ski resorts strength in depth.

The majority of today's skiers want well-linked miles of pisted cruising and the ski resorts in France deliver in spades; with the Three Valleys, Espace Killy (the Val d'Isere and Tignes ski domain), Paradiski (Les Arcs and La Plagne) and the Portes de Soleil chief among them. These are truly massive ski areas in the world. It was once said that if you took any US state in which there is skiing - whether it's Colorado, California, Utah or Vermont - and combined all of that state's separate ski areas into one theoretical ski area, it would still be smaller than a real lift-linked ski area in France - the 3 Valleys. Whether this is really true or not, the fact that it was often cited and believed gives some idea of the scale of the French ski areas.

And the large French ski areas are not just sizeable in two dimensions. They have huge verticals too. You can ski 2000m (c. 6,600 feet) verticals, on piste, non-stop in Les Arcs, La Plagne and Alpe d'Huezs. For those looking for more untracked challenges, the off-piste meccas of Chamonix and La Grave can deliver even larger vertical drops for freeriders and backcountry ski tourers. 

The main ski areas in France

Geographically, France can be divided into three main ski resort areas. The Northern Alps, comprising the resorts of Portes de Soleil, the cluster around Chamonix and those humble few straddling the Tarentaise valley - the Three Valleys, Espace Killy and Paradiski among others - are where the best skiing is to be found.

Flirting with the southern Alps and sitting just north of the Col de Lautaret, the majestic dividing point between north and south, are the sometimes overlooked gems of Les Deux Alpes, Alpe d'Huez and La Grave. South of here are the characterful Serre Chevalier and Montgenèvre (part of the Franco-Italian Via Lattea), though you can ski almost down to the coast at Isola 2000. Southwest of the Alpine range lie the different charms of the Pyrenees.

France's Ski Resorts

Another strong attraction of France is the convenience of most ski resorts to neighbouring airports, the various gateways of Geneva, Lyon, Grenoble and Chambéry into the Northern Alps mean long airport transfers are not an issue. Geneva Airport is also host to several specialist transfer companies which provide private or shared transfers to the French ski resorts, such AlpyBus, GVA Transfers and Mountain Rescue Transfers. Self-drive holidays are also an easy option and are becoming increasingly popular, particularly with British skiers. 

Generally, resort charm loses out to purpose-built high-altitude convenience in France. There are notable exceptions, like the pioneering chalet-style of Méribel (France leads the way in chalet holidays) and the old spa and mountain towns of Chamonix and Saint Gervais. The historic centre of Val d'Isere was also preserved (although it was a close-run thing).  And France can do 'rustic charm' like La Clusaz; 'basic mountain village charm' like Val Cenis; and 'luxury charm' like Megeve. But on the whole the advantages of high-altitude, snow-sure, purpose-built, mega-resorts with plenty of slope-side accommodation prevailed. 

Most of these altitude purpose-built ski resorts however have smaller lift-linked villages below them which are more charming and less expensive. So below Flaine there is Samoens; below Avoriaz is Morzine (and low-altitude, rural Les Gets and Chatel are close by too); below Alpe d'Huez are Villard Reculas and Vaujany; below Arc 2000 is Villaroger (all part of les Arcs); below Val Thorens and Les Menuires is St Martin de Belleville; below La Plagne are Montchavin, Les Coches, Montalbert and Champagny en Vanoise; below Les Deux Alpes is Venosc; below Courchevel are Courchevel Le Praz and La Tania; and below Tignes is Tignes les Brevieres. Unless indicated otherwise, we cover these less well known satellite villages in the main resort pages.

In the early 2000s the arrival of Canadian resort developers Intrawest has shaken up the French ski market and re-defined the standards of high-altitude purpose-built resorts with Arc 1950 (in Les Arcs), bringing a touch of North American flair and hospitality. Many of the ugly ducklings of old are now being overhauled, either by removing eyesores and building new chalet-friendly suburbs, as in the case of Les Menuires, or, like in Alpe d'Huez, disguising the concrete with sympathetic wood cladding. And some high-altitude purpose-built resorts, like La Rosiere, were well-planned right from the start and have always been attractive places in which to stay.

Resort facilities, ski lessons and ski hire

Lunch on the mountain is generally of a high standard in France, particularly if you go for the Plat du Jour, and waiter-served restaurants offer a much better experience. Likewise, most resorts have a good selection of restaurants for evening dining. Leading the way for après-ski are Chamonix, Val d'Isère and Les Deux Alpes.

Ski instructors, mountain guides and ski schools have also been modernied with the old monoplistic ESF facing new challengers. A good way to compare prices, see lesson times, check availability and find the one that suits you best is through Check Yeti.

Ski equipment is easy to rent inside or on the way to any French Ski resort. SKISET and ALPINRESORTS.com both give substantial discounts if you book online in advance.

Above all, in terms of altitude, snow conditions, lift networks and the variety of the mountains, France is unparalleled. In short, where it really matters, for ski resorts La Belle France comes up trumps.

Ski Resorts & Regions

  • Haute Savoie

    Ski in Haute Savoie

    You might be forgiven for not having heard of Haute Savoie but you'll have heard of the Three Valleys, Espace Killy, Paradiski and the Portes de Soleil and the world class French resorts within ...

  • Isere

    Skiing in Isere

    Isère was host to the 1968 Winter Olympics based around the resorts of Chamrousse, Villard de Lans and Autrans but is probably best known for Alpe d'Huez and Les Deux Alpes,

  • The Three Valleys

    Skiing in The 3 Valleys

    This enormous French ski area, the biggest lift-linked ski area in the world, is home to the resorts of Courchevel, Méribel, Val Thorens, La Tania, Les Menuires and St Martin de Belleville.

  • Hautes Alpes

    Skiing in Hautes Alpes

    Hautes-Alpes is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution. Bordering Italy, Hautes-Alpes is home to the Serre Chevalier ski domain and the fearsome La Grave.

  • Savoie

    Skiing in Savoie

    The increase in the popularity of skiing in the 20th century made Savoie home to the largest number of ski hills in France, including La Plagne, Les Arcs, Tignes, Val Cenis and Val d'Isere.