France is in many respects the world’s leading ski nation. It is certainly the leading ski holiday destination for the British, taking up more than 40% of the market, nearly three times as many as its closest rival, Austria, which in the 1970s was our number one destination.
The country has more than 300 ski areas, of which several, including Montgenevre and la Clusaz, have recently celebrated more than a century of winter sports. France has held the Winter Olympics on numerous occasions, including the first games in Chamonix in the 1920, when downhill skiing was at last taken seriously enough to be considered a competition sport.
In the skiing world France is perhaps best known for having the world’s biggest lift-linked ski areas, most noteworthy the giant Three Valleys with its 600km (375 miles) of runs, the world’s biggest. But it also has more than half of the world’s top-ten largest areas with giant domains. These include: Les Portes du Soleil with more than a dozen mostly lift-linked ski resorts in France and Switzerland; L’Espace Killy shared between Tignes and Val d’Isere; Paradiski linking La Plagne and Les Arcs by the spectacular Vanoise Express double-decker 200 passenger cable car.
Did you know you can ski over the border from France in to Andorra (Portes des Neige), Italy (La Rosiere to La Thuile) and Switzerland over the famous ‘Wall’ run of the Portes du Soleil between Avoriaz and Champery? This cross border route can also be covered on a ski lift. You can ski the world’s longest lift-served run at the Vallee Blanche above Chamonix which also offers one of the world’s biggest lift-served verticals.
The majority of the most famous French resorts are purpose built and give you the chance to enjoy your skiing holiday to the full, everything is catered for you at the resort and you can generally be sure of a fantastic holiday. Whilst this is convenient some people criticise the resorts for a lack of character, but they do offer all the facilities you need. It is really down to personal preference and whether or not you are happy to stay at one of these resorts.
The resorts are mainly made up of apartments, but they have been much changed since the days of the cramped buildings in the 1970s and 1980s, and you can find an apartment to suit your budget and style, whatever you want you should be able to find it in France. The resorts also usually offer great facilities on site, such as saunas and swimming pools. Hotels are also available, but they are less common, you can still find a good standard hotel in most resorts though.
The apartments are actually usually owned by private investors, and rented out via an agency. This means that the person who owns your apartment is likely to take great pride in their investments, and consequently you’ll have a great place to stay. You could also stay in a catered chalet, Chamonix offers lots of these alternatives!
Travel and accommodation costs are amongst the lowest in the ski world in many cases, as apartments are quite affordable, especially if four to eight people fill one so that there are no under-occupancy supplements.
On lift ticket cost you can find the full range from Europe’s most affordable at about 130 Euros a week in a small ski area to nearer double that and the continent’s most expensive at one of the giant pass regions (the 800km/500 mile area around Chamonix comes top).
France leads the world in its nursery provision for children, most major resorts having nursery facilities for babies from a few months old, with ski school available for an increasingly long portion of the day, from age three onwards. Apartment accommodation is generally family friendly and many of the altitude resorts are car free.
There are mixed reports of the Ecole de Ski Francais, the national ski school which operates in all resorts. Whilst some families have no complaints, many others have had less happy experiences with non-French children in groups left to struggle. Those booking through us rather than independently are well looked after in all-British groups.
There is no sign to an end of France’s dominance of the UK market and, as the country has some of Europe’s highest slopes, with year round snow, and is investing in snowmaking and replacing drag lifts with chairs and gondolas for a superior on-mountain experience, there’s no reason why its popularity should decline in the foreseeable future.