Europe is the birthplace of skiing, and it’s easy to see why with its towering peaks and iconic après-ski culture. But trying to choose where to go on your Alps vacation can be intimidating and confusing. Each country, region and resort offers its own unique personality and culture and it can even be hard to narrow it down to France, Italy, Switzerland or Austria.
If you’re wondering what differentiates France from the rest, our Ski.com Mountain Travel Experts are here to help. They’re intimately familiar with all the best resorts in France and have been sending travelers on memorable ski trips to Europe for decades. We chatted with a few Experts and asked them to help demystify the region for you. Following is their list of heavy-hitting reasons to bump France to the top of your bucket list ski destinations.
1. CHARM AND LUXURY ARE SYNONYMOUS WITH FRANCE
French ski resorts are the definition of refined. They exude a chicness that feels quintessentially French. The magic of their ambiance lies in the harmonious blend of cultural richness, artistic architecture, fashion influence and natural beauty. All these elements come together perfectly in the French Alps. Imagine mountainside villages filled with opulent chalets that come with a private chef, elegant five-star hotels that anticipate every need, lavish haute-couture shopping, airports for private jets, private slope-side lunches accessed by a helicopter and lavish hotel spas to recharge tired minds and bodies.
Any mention of French Alps luxury would be amiss without commenting on the many Michelin-starred restaurants that will have you saying Bon Appétit in no time. Les 3 Vallees region has 20 Michelin-star restaurants alone. There, the Courchevel 1850 village leads the pack with six Michelin-star restaurants, including two dessert-specific options that add a dreamy sweet note to the town’s excellent food scene. Many restaurants book in advance and you’ll want to discuss a plan of attack with your Mountain Travel Expert who can secure your reservations.
2. IN FRANCE, LUNCH IS WHY YOU GO SKIING
Lunch on the slopes of France is on another level. Many of the establishments are individually owned, adding ambiance and unique flavor to every choice. And the view can’t be beat. Imagine long leisurely lunches soaking in the sun on an open deck with the Alps as your backdrop, while indulging in a glass of French red wine and classic French fare. Even if you don’t spend your time eating at Michelin-starred restaurants, the French Alps are truly a foodie’s dream destination and beckons food connoisseurs from around the world. You can spend your day skiing from peak to peak while stopping at espresso refugios and eating fondue alpages and end your day at one of the many bespoke restaurants.
3. OFF-PISTE SKIING AT ITS FINEST
Skiers from around the world flock to French ski resorts for their challenging and iconic skiing. Skiing off-piste offers adventure seekers the perfect departure from traditional groomed slopes. However, a word to the wise, off-piste skiing in Europe can be dangerous and it is imperative to go with a guide who knows the area. Your Mountain Travel Expert can get you set up with a local guide for the length of your stay or just a day. The allure of off-piste skiing in France lies in the untouched powder, steep couloirs and wide-open descents that will make you feel alive. One of the most famous Alpine descents in the world is located in Chamonix (or Cham as those in the know call it). The Vallée Blanche offers an unforgettable trek through glacial landscapes and incredible views of the surrounding peaks. Chamonix, Val d’Isere, Tignes and Meribel cater to all ski levels from beginners to experts, but pros and experts alike flock to these mountains for their extensive off-piste terrain.
4. APRÈS IS A FRENCH WORD FOR A REASON
One thing every French ski resort and mountain town has down to a science is the essence of enjoying life and a proper vacation. A ski trip isn’t just about ticking off a checklist of iconic runs and resorts, nor is it counting the number of laps you get in. Après in France can best be described as a lifestyle. It’s about parties that go on for all hours and eating some of the best food at every turn you make. It’s hard to imagine you can combine a ski trip AND fully immerse yourself in après culture, but we promise you will figure it out. Just remember the old adage, “Do as the French do.” (We made that saying up but you get the picture.)
If you want to experience the most famous on-mountain party, checking out La Folie Douce is a MUST. (La Folie Douce roughly translates to “sheer madness,” so keep that in mind). This bar has locations in Meribel, Megeve, Alp d’Huez, Val Thorens and Tignes, and each hosts live music, DJs, costumes, table dancing (in ski boots… a must-try experience) and champagne showers. Explore the scene and listen to Euro “untz untz” to get in the mood, or check out their Instagram or YouTube channels. If bass in your face isn’t your cup of tea, enjoy the entertainment and shimmy–inducing tunes as you breeze by en route to some of the best alpine dining options in the world (also under the La Folie Douce umbrella). Don’t miss the cheese buffets or the Moonlight Cabaret.
5. THE AMOUNT OF SKIABLE TERRAIN IS SEEMINGLY ENDLESS
In terms of skiable terrain, there is something for everyone and any ability level, from beginner to advanced. You will have hundreds of trails to play on, on and off-piste, making this an ideal spot for a holiday ski vacation. Les 3 Vallees in northern France is one of the oldest and largest interconnected ski areas in the world. To put it into perspective, the skiable terrain at Les 3 Vallees is bigger than the largest five resorts in North America combined! The area consists of three valleys with several mountain towns: Courchevel, Meribel, Val Thorens, Saint Martin De Belleville, Reberty and Les Menuires. With 180 lifts and 372 miles of skiing trails, the area is seamlessly linked by high-speed chairlifts and boasts some of the most idyllic and luxurious mountain towns in Europe.
Tignes and Val d’Isere combined stand out as one of the largest areas in France and are seamlessly connected through a network of lifts and gondolas. Located in the Tarentaise mountains, there are 186 miles of groomed trails with 79 lifts and about 10 percent more skiable terrain than Whistler Blackcomb. It is one of the more user-friendly resorts throughout Europe, with a reliable amount of snow throughout the season. The lift system is wonderfully modern and even the smallest chairs are high-speed quads. Both resorts are located at higher elevations, ensuring excellent ski conditions throughout the season. These two areas have a strong appeal for expert skiers but have a diverse amount of terrain for all levels.
6. THE PERFECT FAMILY-FRIENDLY DESTINATION
The whimsical charm of almost every mountain town in France makes it the perfect destination to take your family for a ski trip. A trip to France gives your littles the perfect opportunity to expand their taste palate, connect with another culture and stare in awe at the towering peaks that surround every village. Purpose-built resorts feature family-friendly amenities, such as excellent ski schools, childcare services and children’s camps. The infrastructure provides a stress-free environment where you can easily focus on fun, snowy adventures. At Ski.com, one of our favorites is Val d’Isere Airelles. You’ll be able to send your kids to school and enjoy watching them learn to pizza/french fry at Club Piou Piou while you enjoy a French lunch slopeside at LOULOU. The town makes it easy to meander the streets and explore restaurants and cafes.
7. IT’S MORE THAN JUST A SKI VACATION
If you’ve made it this far in the list, it’s easy to understand what the French Alps have to offer in terms of a good ski vacation. However, the allure of the French Alps extends far beyond expansive slopes and powder stash galore. There is an abundance of activities available to make your ski vacation into a whimsical winter getaway. For example, test out your family’s driving skills in Tignes and Val d’Isere and challenge them to a thrilling go-kart race. Only this isn’t your average American go-kart track, this one is on ice. For something more unique, but equally as special, many destinations offer dog or sleigh rides through the woods. Planning a special proposal for the trip and looking for a private photographer to capture the special moment? It can be arranged. Whatever you can dream up, our Experts can craft it.
BOOK YOUR TRIP TODAY
No matter which region of the French Alps appeals to you, each resort is picturesque and offers an unmatched vacation experience. The allure of high-altitude skiing, long runs, beautiful architecture and an incredible après-ski scene make France a wonderful choice for experiencing a Europe ski vacation.
Ready to book or have more questions? Our Ski.com Europe Mountain Travel Experts are on standby, ready to craft the perfect ski trip to France. Call an expert at 1-800-610-8911 or answer some questions online, and our experts will take it from there.