8 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in France, 2017
France offers all the elements required for a perfect winter vacation: charming mountain villages, spectacular alpine scenery, and sunny ski resorts with powdery slopes. Both in the French Alps and the Pyrenees Mountains, several ski domains are known for their extensive trails and exceptional lift systems. Many of the resorts are so enormous that skiers will be able to try a different route every time and enjoy the invigorating sight of rugged mountain peaks while gliding through fluffy snow, often with stunning, bright-blue skies.
After conquering the ski runs, take advantage of the convivial après-ski ambience and join the crowds gathering at cozy restaurants. Be sure to try the traditional specialties like cheese fondue, tartiflette (a hearty potato casserole), and raclette (melted regional cheese spread on crusty bread and potatoes). Another pleasure of a ski vacation in France is staying in a snug little chalet or a rustic lodge, with traditional decor and a warming fireplace. And on days when you don't feel like skiing, you and your family will find plenty of other things to do in these winter playgrounds.
The ultimate French ski vacation destination is Chamonix, in the French Alps, with its extensive ski terrain, charming mountain village, and rustic lodges. Chamonix is on Europe's most legendary mountain, the snow-capped Mont Blanc that soars to 4,807 meters. The mountain and the glaciers that surround Chamonix create a cooling effect that assures some of the Alps' best and longest lasting snow cover. This internationally renowned resort was the site of the first Winter Olympics and offers a chance to ski some of the most demanding terrain in the world. Chamonix includes several different ski areas.
Grands Montets ski area sits at an altitude of 1,235 meters to 3,300 meters and features slopes with the greatest height differential in the world. The Brévent - Flégère ski areas include a variety of slopes for all skiing levels, and many of the runs have spectacular panoramic views. The Balme - Vallorcine ski area, accessible from Le Tour and Vallorcine villages, has wide, gentle slopes that are great for beginners. Skiers of all abilities will find suitable runs at the Les Houches ski area, with its range of black, red, blue, and green pistes as well as cross-country skiing. Families with children can try the Domaine Skiable des Planards as well as La Vormaine ski area for lessons.
2 Val d'Isere
Spilling over into the 53,000-hectare Parc National de la Vanoise, France's oldest and most beautiful national park, Val d'Isère spreads across a high valley among peaks that soar to 3,000 meters. Its ski terrain, shared with the neighboring resort of Tignes, is the vast Espace Killy, named for Jean-Claude Killy, an Olympic gold medal winner who learned to ski here. Val d'Isère is a favorite resort because of its extensive 300-kilometer terrain that includes more than 150 ski lifts. The ski area has excellent ski lifts and cableways, plus an incredible number of runs (from an elevation of 1,550 meters to 3,450 meters) that offer plenty of variety. It's possible for skiers to try a new ski run every time, even if you are staying here for several days. Val d'Isère has a ski area with gentle slopes for children and beginners, but also provides plenty of challenging terrain, both on- and off-piste.
The long ski season here typically lasts from late November to early May, but skiing continues into summer in some areas. It's usually possible to ski the Glacier du Pisaillas in June and July. Another highlight of Val d'Isère is the lively après-ski atmosphere and good restaurants in the village. Lodging, including the luxury Hotel L'Aigle des Neiges, is within easy walking - or skiing - distance of the lifts.
Also in the Parc National de la Vanoise, Courchevel is the most famous and upscale of the ski resorts in Les 3 Vallées. This is the world's largest alpine ski domain, with 600 kilometers of interconnected ski runs, four skiable glaciers, and 10 summits that soar above 2,500 meters. Part of this group of exceptional ski resorts, the Courchevel ski area encompasses 150 kilometers of alpine ski slopes with 58 lifts, including a good mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced runs. Slopes and pistes are known for their outstanding snow conditions, the combined result of a four-meter average annual snowfall and exceptional grooming. In addition, several of the best runs are on north-facing slopes that are protected from warming afternoon sun.
Half of the pleasure of Courchevel is its atmosphere of luxury, with upscale mountain lodges and superb fine dining restaurants. Courchevel is renowned for its gastronomy, and 11 restaurants have been awarded Michelin stars. One of these, La Bouitte, has earned three stars and features a boutique hotel with 15 rooms and suites inspired by traditional Savoie design. In planning a visit keep in mind that the ski resort includes five villages at various altitudes on the mountain: Courchevel Village, Courchevel Saint Bon, Courchevel Le Praz, Courchevel Moriond, and Courchevel. Each village has its own unique charm and all are connected to the ski resort with ski-in and ski-out convenience.
4 Morzine-Avoriaz in Portes du Soleil
Morzine-Avoriaz is the most popular of the 12 interconnected ski resorts in the Portes du Soleil ski area. The Morzine sector offers 64 slopes accessed by 49 ski lifts; the Avoriaz sector has 49 slopes and 36 ski lifts. Both Morzine and Avoriaz have a good representation of intermediate and beginner runs, but Avoriaz is best-known as a boarder's paradise, with five different terrain parks and a superpipe. Avoriaz has two parks especially for kids, Lil'Stash and the Burton kids parkway.
For authentic mountain charm, stay in one of the cozy chalets or rustic lodges in the traditional alpine village of Morzine. By contrast, the modern resort of Avoriaz has purpose-built ski accommodations that were created in the 1960s, among them the five-star Residence L'Amara, with its own pool and in-house ski rentals. In late March, 2017, the Rock the Pistes Festival will mix skiing with live music across the Portes du Soleil ski area, with concerts on the pistes and 70-plus après-ski concerts in the towns.
Gourette ski resort is in the Pyrenees Mountains, just eight kilometers away from the elegant spa town of Les Eaux Bonnes with its pampering thermal spas and lovely English gardens. This historic ski resort was the first ski area developed in the Pyrenees. At an altitude of 1,400 meters, the grandiose mountains of Gourette are south facing, so skiers can enjoy maximum sunshine. With slopes that stretch for 1,000 meters, the Gourette ski resort offers challenging, fast runs in its spacious domain. A seven-hectare beginners' area allows learners to improve their skiing skills. Well designed to welcome vacationers, the ski resort has an inviting village atmosphere with restaurants, shops, lodging, a cinema, and other entertainment.
Another ski resort in the Pyrenees Mountains of Southwest France, the high mountain village of Cauterets is a popular winter resort destination near two ski domains. The Cirque du Lys domain offers 36 kilometers of ski runs for all levels but mostly intermediate level, as well as a beginners' ski area. Extreme skiers and snowboarders will love the Oakley Freestyle Park within the Cirque du Lys, with its ramps, twists, and other terrain features. The Pont d'Espagne domain also has 36 kilometers of runs plus an area for snowshoeing.
7 Font Romeu
Font Romeu is another ski resort in the Pyrenees Mountains, although closer to Catalonia in the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Catalanes. This natural regional park is near Andorra and the border with Spain. An exceptional winter holiday destination, Font Romeu is prized for its sunny weather and pristine forests. With its wide range of terrain, the ski area caters to skiers of different abilities, but the resort is especially suitable for beginners because it has many green (easy) runs.
8 La Clusaz
Only an hour's drive from Geneva airport just over the border in Switzerland, La Clusaz is often overlooked by skiers headed for the glitzier and more famous Trois Vallées resorts. But there's plenty to draw skiers here: well-groomed intermediate and advanced slopes and the challenging long runs in the resort's La Balme area. In all, La Clusaz offers five interlinked mountain peaks with 130 kilometers of groomed trails and 84 ski slopes.
But the appeal of la Clusaz goes beyond the skiing. Unlike the surrounding modern resorts, it is a real village with its own traditions and its own local life. This gives it an Alpine charm that other nearby resorts lack. But it is not without its tourist amenities, with the area's only five-star lodging, the chalet-style Hotel Au Coeur du Village, at the foot of the slopes. A full calendar of festivals and events bring locals and skiers together, from a rugby tournament played on the snow to a Rio-style Carnival and the mad-cap ski race across the melting ice at the end of the season.
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