8 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in France 2016
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 boast 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. Enjoy the invigorating sight of grandiose mountain peaks while gliding through fluffy white snow on a clear day, 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 quaint decor and a warming fireplace.
The ultimate French ski vacation is found at 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 snowcapped Mont Blanc that soars to 4,807 meters. This internationally renowned resort was the site of the first Winter Olympics and offers a chance to ski some of the most challenging slopes 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 Vormain ski area for lessons.
2 Val d'Isere
Nestled between mountains and valleys, the Val d'Isère ski domain overlaps with the Parc National de la Vanoise. The oldest national park in France and one of the most beautiful in the world, this 53,000-hectare nature reserve contains glaciers, lakes, rivers, and mountain peaks that soar to 3,000 meters. The village of Val d'Isère offers a gateway to discovering this gorgeous natural area.
The Val d'Isère ski domain is called the 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 while staying here for several days. Val d'Isère also has a ski area with gentle slopes for children and beginners. It has a long ski season, typically from the end of November to early May, but skiing continues into summer in some areas of the domain. It's possible to ski the Glacier du Pisaillas in June and July. Skiers will delight in gliding down snowy slopes while basking in the sun. Another highlight of Val d'Isère throughout the ski season is the lively après-ski atmosphere and great restaurants in the village.
Also in the Parc National de la Vanoise, Courchevel is the most famous and upscale of the ski resorts in Les 3 Vallées, the world's largest alpine ski domaine, with 600 kilometers of interconnected ski runs. 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. Half of the pleasure of Courchevel is its exclusive atmosphere, luxurious mountain lodges, and superb fine dining restaurants. Courchevel is renowned for its gastronomy, including traditional Savoyard cuisine of the Alps, international cuisine, and haute-cuisine. Seven of the 70 restaurants in Courchevel have been awarded Michelin stars, with a total of 12 Michelin stars, recognizing the excellence of the gastronomy. Those planning a visit should 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. All the villages have their own unique charm and 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. For authentic mountain charm, stay in the traditional alpine village of Morzine. Cozy chalets and rustic lodges offer the perfect winter holiday accommodations. By contrast, the modern resort of Avoriaz has purpose-built ski accommodations that were created in the 1960s.
5 Gourette Ski Resort in the Pyrenees Mountains
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 they allow skiers to 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 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. This unique area features ramps for ski jumps, twists, and other athletic adventures. 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
A popular ski resort about 30 kilometers from Annecy, La Clusaz is a winter wonderland with the convenience of being easily accessible from either Geneva (50 kilometers away) in Switzerland or Annecy in the French Alps. La Clusaz ski area encompasses five interlinked mountain peaks with 130 kilometers of groomed trails and 84 ski slopes. The quaint alpine village of La Clusaz also offers interesting tourist attractions such as historic chapels and a ski museum.