A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
Skiing in France: Vast, interlinked terrain and high altitude –
Most French ski stations, like La Plagne for instance, were built from scratch in the 1950s and 1960s as purpose-built ski resorts, and as a result, many of the resorts are among the highest in Europe, like Val Thorens at 2,300m or Tignes at 2,100m, which means excellent snow conditions are guaranteed up to half a year.
Among the many enormous French ski areas, the Three Valleys and Portes du Soleil are the biggest. The Portes du Soleil spans 650km of slopes and 12 individual resorts straddling the Franco-Swiss border; popular French resorts here include Avoriaz, Morzine and Les Gets.
The Three Valleys is the world's biggest interconnected ski resort, covering 600km kilometres of slopes and linking the big-name resorts of Courchevel, Meribel, Les Menuires, Val Thorens and La Tania.
Also well worth mentioning is the popular Paradiski: 420km ski area combining the resorts of Peisey-Vallandry, La Plagne, and Les Arcs. The latter two are the best known, both offering huge, varied terrain with snow-sure skiing above 3000m as well as tree skiing for bad-weather days.
Most of the French ski resorts, among which Chamonix is by far the biggest and most cosmopolitan, offer restaurants (mainly rather highly priced, but in exchange you can even get Michelin star cuisine), pubs, concerts, discotheques, spas, gyms, and the possibility to shop till you drop. There are some exceptions though. Châtel and Les Gets in Haute-Savoie are two examples of smaller stations that have retained their traditional charm, with alpine architecture, family-run guest houses, and typical cuisine of the region manufactured by farmers living nearby.
The French Tourist Board awards family-friendly resorts with the "Famille Plus" label. If you are looking for moderate prices for families, day care, and entertainment programmes for children, then you are well advised to look for a "Famille Plus" resort, such as Châtel, Les Gets, Les Deux Alpes or Val Thorens.
Ski lift prices are similar to those in Switzerland, Austria or Italy, ranging from €22 to 48 per day. The airports of Geneva, Lyon, Nice, and Milan provide international links to the French Alps. Buses and shuttle services run from these airports.
The 20 ski resorts dotted throughout the French Pyrenees tend to be smaller and less developed than the Alps, but offer a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and great expanses of untouched wilderness. Some of the most popular ski resorts in the French Pyrenees include Saint-Lary, Piau Engely, Gavarnie and Cauterets.
Summer glacier skiing takes place in Tignes and Les Deux Alpes: Tignes boasts the Le Grand Motte Glacier, set at 3030-3455m, which offers a good choice of terrain with blue, red and black runs. It is open between mid-June and the end of August; access to the glacier is via an underground funicular as well as chair and drag lifts. The Glacier du Mont de Lans, situated above Les Deux Alpes, offers slopes up to 3,570m and is open between mid-June and the end of August. There is also a large terrain park on the glacier during the summer months.