Your travel guide to France
My first ski holiday was at the tender age of 9, and I was hooked from the off. Generally speaking, when I am on a ski holiday I am at my happiest. Undoubtedly, the actual skiing and snowboarding play a big part in plastering a smile across my face, but there is so much more to it than that. For me, skiing is about spending quality time eating, drinking and generally making merry with friends and family, exploring an awe-inspiring natural landscape that I wouldn't otherwise get to see, and of course there is a bit of exhilarating sport thrown in for good measure!
The vast majority of ski holidays my family and I have taken in the last 15 years have been in France. I have sampled skiing in other European countries, as well as in the States, but France will always have my heart as far as skiing is concerned. The diversity of ski resorts in France not only means there is something for everyone, but that you are also completely spoilt for choice!
The largest ski area in France is the French Alps, which is made up of the Rhone Alpes and the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, situated on the French-Italian border. The hundreds of fully equipped ski resorts in this area draw millions of tourist to the region year after year. Thanks to their high altitude, many of these alpine resorts benefit from reliable snow and long ski seasons stretching from the beginning of November to the end of April. Most of the remaining French ski resorts are located in the Pyrenées mountain range on the French-Spanish border, where ski resorts tend to be lower, smaller and often cheaper, although equally popular with many avid-skiers.
In recent decades the infrastructural development in France has taken French skiing to an entirely new level. In several areas, multiple resorts are now connected to allow skiers open access to hundreds of miles of piste. Les Trois Vallées is the largest ski area in the world solely connected by ski lifts and slopes, with a mind-boggling 410 miles of piste, made up of 338 ski slopes. Other French ski areas worth noting for their size are: Portes du Soleil, Paradiski and Espace Killy, all of which are situated in the Alps. What could be better than skiing in an area so large that you can explore different slopes each and everyday of your ski holiday?
Despite the obvious advantages of these vast ski areas, they may not be for everybody, particularly if you are on a tight budget. This season a Trois Vallées weekly ski pass will set you back around €235. If you're not particularly fussed about racking up the ski miles it may be worth considering purchasing a ski pass that only allows you access to a limited area or perhaps holidaying in a smaller resort.
If you want to escape the crowds, you can find more of a “get away from it all” atmosphere in many of the smaller resorts. Their quaint village charm, along with cheaper prices, makes them a great option for families. Fully self-sufficient and without the queues and chaos of some of the big name ski areas, resorts such as Morillon near Flaine or Aussois near Briançon, could be the perfect option for you. However, smaller resorts are also often lower in altitude and lacking in their own snow-making facilities. This is important to bear in mind, as there could be more of a risk of poor snow. If this is a concern for you, avoid booking a low altitude resort and don't book your holiday for too late in the season. Alternatively, you can book last minute, when and where you know the snow is good.
Before you book, also be sure to consider what level of skier the resort is geared towards. Pistes are rated by colours according to difficulty. From easiest to most challenging they are ranked as follows: green, blue, red, black. Some resorts, such as Valmorel (where I first learnt to ski), are ideal for beginners, but may be a little limited for advanced skiers, who would prefer to be tearing up the blacks in somewhere like Chamonix or Tignes.
There are so many options when it comes to accommodation, from bunk beds in hostels to 5 star luxury, there really is something for every budget. Self-catering apartments are great if you want to rein in your spending, but also a good choice if you want to sample the local restaurants. Another option is to stay in a private or shared catered chalet. Catered chalets add a cosy luxury to your holiday without the impersonality of a hotel and, if you choose to stay in a shared chalet, you can meet new, like-minded people and regale them with your latest skiing triumphs (or tribulations) over dinner!
When booking your accommodation, also make sure the location is right for you. If your main aim is to ski, a “central” location may not be what you're after, if that means you have a 20 minute trudge to the nearest ski lift everyday. For many, door-to-door skiing is an essential ingredient for the perfect ski holiday, particularly if you have children with you. Some resorts, particularly purpose-built resorts such as La Plagne and Les Arcs, are ideal for this, with chalets literally dotted along the piste.
As I said previously though, there is so much more to do than just skiing and snowboarding. Many people, who go “skiing” every year, actually do very little of the sport itself and have a fantastic time on their winter holiday. In many French ski resorts, you will find a plethora of bars, restaurants, shops and leisure facilities to make the most of. If you fancy adding a bit of variation to your ski holiday why not spend a morning relaxing at the spa or taking part in some other winter sports, such as ice skating, snow shoeing, skidooing or dog sledding? Resorts such as Meribel or Alpe d'Huez are perfect for this style of all-round winter holiday.
For many ski-bums, one of the most important parts of their holiday is the nightlife, which is known in the skiing world as après-ski. If you're the type, who would prefer to dance the night away than catch the first gondola up in the morning, then choose a resort like Deux Alpes, Morzine or Val d'Isère, which comes alive at night and does't stop partying 'til dawn.
Whatever your after, France has it all and is (arguably) the ultimate ski destination!