The main ski area at La Clusaz consists of five inter-connecting mountains with a total 132km groomed pistes and a good amount of easily accessible off-piste. Much of the best skiing is found at La Balme, reached by a high speed gondola and served by two chairlifts and a drag lift. These lifts open up a surprisingly large and exciting ski area, much favoured by boarders and free-style skiers. From the summit of the Col de Balme chairlift (2470m) there is a magnificent view of the Mont Blanc massif and from here there are wonderful off-piste opportunities including the spectacular Combe de Bellachat.
Take the Fernuy gondola connecting the La Balme area with the skiing at l'Aiguille (2380m) which opens up the Cret du Loup and Cret de Merle pistes. This is the most popular area with pretty runs through forest and meadows dotted with delightful lunch-spots below the mid-station, and wide open red runs above, accessed from the Aiguille 4 man chairlift. From here you can reach the Combe de Borderan, an often neglected good off-piste run.
The Etale mountain is a great choice for busy days as it doesn't seem to attract the crowds. From the summit of the Etale cable car (1957m) enjoy the challenging red run 'Regine Cavagnoud' or black 'Les Tetras'.
The new Beauregard gondola (1648m) gives access to a sunny plateau and the best nursery slopes in La Clusaz. From here you can get back to the village via a long, scenic blue run or try the new black run. These runs should have a longer season thanks to the upgrading of snow-making on this part of the mountain for winter. An easy blue run links the Beauregard area with La Croix Fry and Merdassier, all offering good easy and intermediate skiing. This area in turn links up with the rest of the resort but do note that in order to ski the whole area in one day you have to travel in an anti-clockwise direction, starting at the Beauregard gondola.
By purchasing the 'Aravis' lift pass you gain access to a further 88km of skiing at the neighbouring resort of Le Grand Bornand, cost of ski bus included.
The ski lifts open between 8.45-9.00am and run until 4.00-5.30pm. A new 8-passenger gondola has recently been installed at Beauregard (2003/4), reducing pressure on the main lifts out of the village and much improving the 'on snow' experience for the many beginners who use this area. There isn't generally any queuing problem at La Clusaz with the exception of the Cret du Merle and Aiguille chairlifts on busy weekends and during the February school holidays.
La Clusaz provides some excellent accessible skiing for first-timers. There are a couple of beginner lifts at resort level but the best area is undoubtedly at Beauregard which boasts a sunny plateau with gentle blue and green slopes. Beginners can progress to 'Le Meridien', a long blue run right back to the village, or to the Croix Fry/Merdassier slopes via another easy piste and a 2-man chairlift. Another favourite is the Cret du Merle area where beginners will find lots of Savoyard mountain restaurants for a well-earned pit stop.
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Most intermediates will love La Clusaz if the snow conditions are good. Early intermediates will delight in the gentle slopes at the top of Beauregard and over on La Croix Fry at Manigod, where there's a network of gentle tree-lined runs. And they'll be able to travel all over the area on the gentle green linking pistes, where poling or walking is more likely to be a problem than fears about steepness. L'Etale and l'Aiguille have more challenging but wide blue runs. More adventurous intermediates will prefer the steeper red slopes and good snow of La Balme and the long red down Combe du Fernuy from l'Aiguille.
There is plenty to challenge advanced skiers at La Clusaz, if you include its off-piste. The piste map doesn't seem to have a lot to offer experts, but most of the sectors present off-piste variants to the pistes and there are more serious adventures to undertake when accompanied by a qualified guide - all the more attractive for being ignored by most visitors.
The best terrain is at La Balme where there are several fairly challenging pistes above mid-mountain including the black Vraille run which is seriously steep. The piste map now shows the long new Lapiaz Black run down the Combe du Fernuy as well as La Noire at Beauregard, though the latter does need very good snow cover to be enjoyable. The Tetras on l'Etale and the Mur d'Edgar bumps run below Cret du Loup have been recently reclassified as blacks, and rightly so.
La Clusaz was one of the first resorts to grant boarders access to all areas and introduce terrain features. La Balme mountain is considered a freeriding paradise with numerous cliffs, big carving slopes and drop-offs, especially on the far Combe de Bellachet side. Candide Thovex, current freestyle champion, hails from La Clusaz and ensures that the freestyle spirit thrives here with a full calendar of events each winter.
Snowboarding is popular in La Clusaz and it is relatively easy to get around the resort. Although there are still a lot of drag-lifts, most are avoidable. Boarders and freestylers can check out the terrain-park and half-pipe on l'Aiguille and the separate boardercross course.
La Clusaz has managed to avoid the plague of self-service mountain restaurants which have sprung up in so many resorts. Here you'll find, for the most part, rustic family-run restaurants serving good and reasonably priced Savoyard food.
Try The Bercail on the Cret de Merle for seriously good tartiflette (local speciality) or La Ferme, a little further down the piste, with its wood fire and home-made pizzas.
Bruno and Sam's Relais de l'Aiguille is a great place to enjoy a sun-downer with its lovely sunny terrace and eclectic mix of music whilst the Telemark Café is a good chill-out lunch spot over at l'Etale. La Vielle Ferme at the Col de Merdassier has a charming restaurant with excellent food and service and is a great place to stop for lunch if you're doing the 5 mountain circuit.
On the other hand the two restaurants at La Balme, one at car park level and the other at the mid-station are rather disappointing and lacking in atmosphere.
Tourists have been coming to La Clusaz since the beginning of the 20th century, regarding it as one of the most picturesque mountain villages in France. It is typically Savoyard with a charming church and village square at its centre. From here the village fans out into three main shopping streets, each packed with wonderful food shops, bars, hotels, sports shops and restaurants.
Don't miss out on fresh coffee and croissants at 'Le Belier' (aka Bread and Breakfast) or the wonderful Monday morning produce market in the Place de l'Eglise. Other facilities include an open-air ice rink, located near the church, and a magnificent aqua-centre with indoor and outdoor swimming pools and Jacuzzi.
To search for hotels, aprtments and chalets, compare prices and check latest availability, please see the La Clusaz Accommodation page.
With around 60 restaurants, La Clusaz has plenty of good dining options. For excellent food and wine try La Scierie in the village centre or a little further afield in Les Confins you'll find Le Chalet du Lac, the oldest farm in La Clusaz, serving regional home cooking in a delightful setting - well worth the trip.
Le Grenier and L'Arbe are both excellent restaurants in the heart of the village or, as an informal alternative, try the Ecuelle with its wonderful pizzas and excellent, friendly service. For a really authentic evening the Chalet des Praz, built in 1792 and located on the Cret du Merle piste is a great choice or the Bercail, accessed by snowmobile and very popular for its cosy atmosphere and Savoyard charm.
Night owls can continue until late at Club 18 or at L'Ecluse with its glass dance floor over the river.
La Clusaz is a fairly chilled place in the evening, not a resort renowned for its après-ski. On the mountain the Relais de l'Aiguille is a good choice for a drink at the end of skiing as are many of the bars on the home trail at Cret de Merle, particularly late in the season when the weather is warm.
Off the mountain a great meeting place is the Caves du Paccaly, a delightful rustic bar in the village centre with scrubbed tables and old wood decor.
For those wanting to chill-out try the Grenier, very popular with locals and featuring a big fireplace and wooden platters of Savoyard and Mexican canapes. Other lively bars include the Salto, the Pressoir, popular for sports coverage, and La Braise with its excellent selection of wines, a very popular bar with resort staff.
The tourist office offers weekly complementary vin chaud in the Place de l'Eglise and four times each winter the lifts stay open for all-night skiing under the full moon. The wackiest event of all is the Defi-Foly in April in which competitors use any sliding device they choose to tackle an insanely steep slope into Lac des Confins. He/she who travels furthest across the water before submerging is the winner!
La Clusaz offers 70 kms of cross-country skiing, 18 kms on the Beauregard plateau and 52kms at the Plateau des Confins, which hosted the World Cup in 2004.
There isn't a huge amount for non-skiers to do in La Clusaz though it is a pretty village and there are plenty of places to walk. The outdoor/indoor swimming pool is particularly nice and the ice rink is open daily. There is a good variety of shops in the village, particularly for foodies, and La Cabane and Chalet d'Ambience are well worth a visit for their wonderful gift ideas. For more serious retail take the local bus to Annecy and stroll round the old town and the lakeside. And don't forget the bustling Monday morning market in the Place de l'Eglise.