France is renowned for its excellent ski resorts and picturesque alpine landscapes, making it the most popular destination for UK skiers and snowboarders. French ski resorts are amongst the most snow-sure in Europe with many offering a season starting at the beginning of December and ending in early May. Skiing altitudes will start at around 600m and extend all the way into the mid 3000m mark with glaciers offering added protection against barren snow seasons.
Household ski names, even to those that don’t ski, include ski resorts such as Val d’Isere, Courchevel, Meribel, Tignes, Chamonix, Megeve, La Plagne, Les Arcs, Alpe d’Huez, Morzine and many more. It’s true to say that the architecture of some of these ski resorts, developed in the 1960s and 1970s, was some what bleak but over the years these resorts have been gentrified to incorporate accommodation options with pitched slate roofs and stone built walls to soften the Brutalist architecture of years gone by. Many of the French resorts have retained that village feel though and if you opt for the slightly lower resorts with access to high altitude skiing you will experience the perfect match of tradition and piste thrills. Resorts such as Megeve, Courchevel Le Praz, Vaujany, Samoens, Meribel, Les Gets, all offer this perfect balance.
When planning a ski holiday to France for the 2023/24 ski season, you can consider the following steps:
- Research Resorts: Look into various ski resorts in France, such as Chamonix, Courchevel, Val d'Isère, Méribel, Les Arcs, and others. Each resort has its unique features, slopes, and amenities, so choose the one that best fits your preferences and skill level. Don’t overestimate your ability; a one week a season skier doesn’t need 650km of piste necessarily. Don’t be afraid of getting a bus to the slopes; think of it as just another ski lift and remember “ski in ski out” comes at a price - if you are budget orientated that luxury will be taking away something at the other end, perhaps a better hotel/chalet or apartment.
- Accommodation: Check for accommodation options in the chosen resort. You can find hotels, chalets, apartments, or lodges, depending on your budget and group size. When it comes to chalets we all rely on pictures and they will all talk about a “duck breast in a wild berry jus” but who will actually deliver on cooking such a dish? That is where your independent ski specialist travel agency comes into their own – they will be able to tell you which ones offer the best food.
- Transportation: Research the best way to reach your chosen resort. Major ski areas in France are well-connected by airports, trains, and roads. Consider whether you'll need a rental car, private transfer, rail transfer or if you can rely on a public bus. Airports covering the French Alps include Geneva, Lyon, Grenoble, and Chambery. Transfer times can vary from 1 hour and 10 minutes to 5 hours on a bad day to the higher resorts, remember they don’t build airports on mountains – unless you are fortunate enough to be able to afford a private jet o helicopter to whisk you into the altiport at Courchevel!
- Ski Passes: Look into ski pass options, which often provide access to multiple slopes within a specific region. Buying a pass in advance may offer discounts. Don’t over egg it though on your requirements – some passes will incorporate neighbouring village that in reality you wont get to ski (evasion Mont Blanc for instance).
- Equipment Rental: If you don't have your ski or snowboard gear, you can always rent equipment from local rental shops near the slopes. Beware though – always book in advance as you will generally save around 40%. Equipment rental now includes the latest demo skis & boards, off piste skis, transceivers, avalanche packs, and even ski clothing in some resorts.
- Lessons and Guides: If you're a beginner or want to improve your skills, consider booking ski or snowboard lessons with a qualified instructor. Experienced skiers might want to hire a mountain guide to explore more challenging terrains. Off piste guides are the way to experience safely the back country that a resort has to offer and they know the hidden gems including best areas for snow and the best times of day to ski an area in accordance with the time of year and the sun patterns. Group ski lessons will always be the least cost option but if there are a group of you the same ability it can work out cheaper to have private bespoke tuition or guiding.
- Weather and Snow Conditions: Keep an eye on weather forecasts and snow conditions leading up to your trip. It's essential to be prepared for various weather scenarios and avalanche risks. When booking late this is key to getting a ski domain with the best conditions. One week it may be Val d’Isere that has the best snow and another it may be Flaine, Chamonix, Les Deux Alpes, Serre Chevalier or Avoriaz.
- Travel Insurance: Make sure you have suitable travel and health insurance that covers winter sports activities and especially off-piste. In a white out you may find yourself lost and inadvertently skiing off-piste. Its best to be safe than sorry.
- Booking in Advance: Some popular resorts and accommodations get fully booked quickly, especially during peak season, so consider booking well in advance to secure your spot. You are likely to benefit form early bird discounts such as buy one get one free lift passes (saving £150.00 pp) or free room upgrades in hotels. It is also a fact that more often than not flights are cheaper the earlier you book. Bear in mind that you can then spread the cost of your holiday over several months rather than a bit financial hit in one go.
As the current date is July 2023, I recommend checking with travel agencies, ski resorts, and reliable online sources for up-to-date information on ski holidays in France for the 2023/24 season. Better still, hand it to the experts and see what Snowfinders can come up with….we don’t bite!