Known for high, purpose-built resorts with reliable snow and mammoth ski areas, there’s actually a lot more to France than you'd expect. We've picked out the 10 best skiing spots in the 185 mi swathe of peaks making up the French Alps; the Pyrenees also have a handful of decent resorts.
- Reliable snow: high altitude main sector of slopes with an even higher glacier
- Big vertical: over 6,561 ft possible in a single run
- Decent off-piste terrain, with a snow groomer link to La Grave
- Surprisingly small ski area for a well-known resort
- Few trees or sheltered runs
If you’re after snowsure skiing without breaking the budget then Les Deux Alpes is for you. A choice of five access lifts take you up to the Crêtes ridge, with the mid-station hub beyond at Toura, and a big glacier area (which you can even ski during summer) bulging out above that!
Variety of High Altitude skiing
You’re bound to find a run that will tickle your fancy at Les Deux Alpes whether it’s a snowy slopes or on the glacier! The north-facing Bellecombes 6 is one of the best blacks: often an intimidating mogul field. Intermediates will love the long runs off the Glaciers chair and the glacier has genuinely easy blues for those less confident. On paper it looks promising: long runs (125 mi claimed), high average altitudes and long runs of all colour gradings. In practice, things aren’t quite as rosy: the ski area is long but lacks width, and after you’ve been there for a few days you’ll start to raise an eyebrow at the 125 mi claim although given the prices here, we’re not complaining.
Budget-friendly for a Purpose-built French resort
A lively resort by French standards, the town spreads along the top of a steep-sided pass, with a gondola link dropping away to Venosc, in a gorge to the south. With no other resorts sharing the ski area, there are no rival bases to suggest, and thanks to a convenient row of access lifts you’re unlikely to be staying too far from the nearest one. Package deals are also often noticeably cheaper here than in many other purpose-built French resorts.
Getting there: Fly into Grenoble- Isère Airport and it’s a 1.5 hour drive to Les Deux Alpes or save the hassle and organise a transfer
- Usually quiet slopes and tons of wooded trails
- Charming, historic town with extensive options for shopping and dining
- Easy access from the international airport in Geneva
- Low top heights means snow can suffer and rain is possible
- Slow lift system, though investment promised!
- Black runs here are not as challenging as elsewhere
Ski area: Evasion Mont Blanc
If you’re worried about bad weather ruining your ski trip, then there’s no better ski resort on this list than Megève. The sheer number of woodland runs here are perfect for exploring during snowstorms. The slopes are spread across three separate sectors which each have an excellent mix of green, blue, red and black runs, though it’s safe to say that most of the blacks are pretty tame here.
Three Separate Sectors to Choose from
The unusual layout at Megève sees three essentially separate sectors; though all are fairly low and mostly forested, with a few open runs higher up. The smallest, Rochebrune area can be reached by gondola from the centre of town. It’s also tenuously linked by a cable car to the largest, Mont d’Arbois sector, which shares varied slopes with the spa town of St-Gervais, including the region’s high point at Mont Joly. Across town, with magical horse-drawn sleighs to take you there, is the scenic Jaillet sector. The steepest slopes such as the black Chamois can be found at the area’s high points while the pistes furthest away from Megève are generally quietest. If snow is scarce, consider a trip to the higher slopes at nearby Les Contamines – covered by your ski pass, but you’ll need a car to reach them.
Classic French town
Megève is a genuine, old French town in a broad valley, with a fashionable clientele and the associated high prices for food, drink, and some accommodation. Staying here means you’re centrally placed for all three ski areas; if budget’s an issue, self cater to keep costs down. There are other possible bases: St-Gervais could make sense if you want to make multiple trips to Les Contamines. The smaller villages of Combloux, La Giettaz and St-Nicolas are all at inconvenient extremities of the lift system.
Getting there: Fly into Geneva Airport and it’s a 1-1.5 hour drive or transfer to Megève
- Long top-to-bottom runs, starting in the high Alpine and dropping into larch forest
- Intermediate skier’s paradise
- Lots of wooded runs for snow days
- Less internationally known – great option for something different
- This part of the French Alps sometimes misses out on the heaviest snowfalls
- Fairly long transfers from major airports
- Slow chairlifts
Get away from the purpose-built mega resorts of the Northern Alps without compromising on piste mileage at Serre Chevalier. High, snowy bowls above steeper, wooded slopes describes Serre Chevalier’s ski area, all on the same side of a broad-bottomed valley. There are tons to explore here with most of the trails are found above Chantermerle and Villeneuve, but two arms also extend over higher passes to Briançon and Le Monêtier les Bains.
Haven for Intermediate skiers
Serre Chevalier is perfect for intermediate skiers especially those who are happy with red runs because there’s a wide range of great trails to enjoy here. Stand-out intermediate terrain includes the wide Cucumelle red and – if you want to escape the crowds – those served by the Aiguillette chair. While skiers and snowboarders looking for tough stuff will enjoy the long blacks back to the lift bases at Le Monêtier, Villeneuve and Chantemerle: the lonely Tabuc run on the far right of the piste map is a particular highlight.
Four Resorts in One
We’ve cheated a bit here: Serre Chevalier is actually four resorts (and several other hamlets) strung along a busy valley road and marketed under a single label. Chantemerle and Villeneuve are centrally placed and both have a mix of new and old buildings. Briançon is a rather special, fortified town and a World Heritage Site at the lowest, eastern extremity of the ski area, while high, quiet Le Monetier is isolated (but not impossibly so) at the other end. A bus connects all these resorts so it’s easy to explore all areas.
Getting there: Fly to Grenoble- Isère Airport and it’s a 2-2.5 hour drive or private transfer to Serre Chevalier
- Testing blacks and reds, particularly if you don’t mind mogul fields
- An extensive web of gentle runs immediately above the resort
- Powerful lifts, including lots of gondolas and cable cars
- Too many slopes are either very rocky or very sunny – can be problematic in early and late season
- Limited intermediate terrain compared to greens and blacks
If you’re one for the sun, you’ll be happy to know it smiles on Alpe d’Huez’s gentle main bowl for 300 days a year, but look up and the intimidating higher slopes below Pic Blanc might be enough to put a frown on your face. Nonetheless, Alpe d’Huez serves up some of the best slopes around. While the beginner terrain is superb here, the off-piste routes, black runs, and the occasional tough reds rule the roost.
Epic Long Black Runs
Long, tough runs – including several trails with a vertical of 3,281 ft and a couple approaching double that make Alpe D’Huez stand out on this list. The Tunnel black is one of the toughest pistes in the Alps, starting with (you guessed it) a tunnel which deposits you at the top of a fearsome mogul field. Bumps fans will also love Combe Charbonnière, which drops off steeply after a long traverse. By contrast, Sarenne and La Fare are usually immaculately pisted, and a couple of the longest blacks in the Alps – though not seriously steep.
Something for the Non-Skiers
Alpe d’Huez is a sizeable, purpose-built resort in the middle of the ski area, with a rocket-shaped church and quite a few activities for non-skiers. From indoor archery, winter paragliding, dog-sledding, ski joering, tackling a climbing wall or just relaxing with a spa treatment, the off-slope options are endless. The town has several suburbs: try to stay in one of the higher ones for easiest slope access. The alternative bases of Huez, Auris, Villard-Reculas, Oz and Vaujany are quieter affairs, less ideal for beginners, and some are poorly placed for exploring the whole area.
Getting there: Fly to Grenoble- Isère Airport and either drive or take a bus to the resort. The journey takes less than 2 hours.
- Great intermediate terrain
- The bowl above Flaine is a local snowstorm magnet – good powder potential
- Good mix of wooded runs and open bowls
- Quick transfer from Geneva airport
- The lowest runs are very low and sometimes have insufficient snow to open (though other parts of the ski area go much higher)
- A few unpleasantly busy spots, including at the Tête des Saix and the blue run to Flaine
Ski area: Grand Massif
Best on the list for extensive slopes without forking out for a more expensive lift pass; Les Carroz is one of the top spots to explore the Grand Massif ski area. While Flaine is most well known of the resorts here, Les Carroz offers easy access to the other ski resorts. Plus, when the wind closes higher lifts in Flaine (including the exposed link with the rest of the area), the lower lifts above Les Carroz (and Morillon) usually stay open, with masses of quiet tree runs giving great visibility in falling snow.
Explore Grand Massif
The Grand Massif is one of France’s larger ski areas, connecting the low towns of Les Carroz, Morillon and Samoëns with the higher, purpose-built monstrosity of Flaine. Most of the slopes are wooded and of intermediate gradient, coming together at the busy Tête des Saix hub. Venture across to the high bowl above Flaine and you’ll find open runs, some genuinely challenging such as The Gers bowl with fearsome moguls. This is often the place to head for if the white stuff is scarce elsewhere in the Grand Massif. For less intimidating slopes, Morillon has its own exceptionally long green run, Marvel, which lives up to its name – we can’t think of a better green piste in France.
Lifts Safe from Wind Closures
Les Carroz is a sizeable town on a plateau above Magland – be careful to stay near one of the magic carpet lifts up to the main gondola, or prepare to use buses. It may be a controversial choice for our recommended base, given that Flaine is higher, larger and better known. However, as we mentioned earlier, wind frequently closes Flaine’s higher lifts and the link with the rest of the ski area. So when the sun finally comes out, staying in Les Carroz allows you to head to the high bowls while all the skiers who have been stuck in Flaine head the other way. Samoëns’ higher outpost, Samoëns 1600, offers both altitude and trees, but getting out of the local area again requires riding lifts vulnerable to closure by wind.
Getting there: Fly into Geneva Airport and it’s a 1-hour drive or bus ride
- Plenty of skiing to suit all abilities
- Lots of trees as well as high slopes directly above Avoriaz – a weatherproof combination
- Avoriaz is one of France’s snowiest resorts, but…
- ...most of the ski area is lower, where some of that snow will be rain
- Frustratingly slow lifts in some parts of the domain, including lots of drag lifts above Torgon and Morgins
Ski area: Portes du Soleil
If travelling is within your nature, then Avoriaz is the perfect base for exploring France’s second largest ski area and its 12 ski resorts. It’s the highest resort for miles around, on a sunny shelf above larger Morzine and with good links to the rest of the Portes du Soleil (“Gates of the sun”).
A Wide Variety of Slopes for Everyone
Before you start your ski safari through Portes du Soleil, the slopes at Avoriaz also have plenty on offer. Close to Avoriaz, the Hauts Forts area is excellent expert territory, with long blacks served by a fast lift. Blues such as Proclou and Tetras in the Super Morzine sector are perfectly gentle with few surprises. Intermediates are spoilt for choice: though not directly in Avoriaz, there are lovely, sporty reds on the way to Chatel, or head to Switzerland for quieter slopes. The slopes next to the town are also reliable for snow and you can head for the trees in Morzine on wild days.
Convenient Location and Easy Access to the Portes du Soleil
Several towns and villages within the Portes du Soleil have their own local slopes, most of which link up to form a rough circuit incorporating parts of both France and Switzerland. The car-free purpose-built village of Avoriaz provides convenient lift links to surrounding resorts making it an ideal base for exploring the ski area. Chatel and Morzine make decent alternatives: both significantly larger, lower towns where picking your spot is important. Other less convenient French bases include Les Gets and La Chapelle d’Abondance, while Swiss options include Champéry and Morgins.
Getting there: Fly into Geneva Airport and it’s a 1.5-2 hour drive or transfer to Avoriaz
- Weatherproof combination of sheltered woodland and high, snowsure open runs
- Fantastic intermediate terrain
- Big vertical, ranging from a glacier to low village lift bases
- Excellent long blacks and off-piste routes
- Curiously few green trails
- Some high season queues and crowded pistes, especially over in La Plagne
- Not as many gentle slopes as in La Plagne
Ski area: Paradiski
Of the two ski resorts which make up France’s third biggest domain, Les Arcs has a distinct advantage over La Plagne. It has a better designed and quick lift system which allows for a few key lifts to take you from one end of the area to the other so you spend more time on the slopes. There are also more suitable runs for expert and advanced skiers with a steeper pitch. Nevertheless, when it comes to exploring Paradiski, both resorts have plenty of fast intermediate cruising split equally below and above the tree line, with lowish base heights but lots of higher terrain, including a glacier each.
A Better Choice for Advanced and Experts
Les Arcs probably edges it for experts and red run skiers, while some of the blue terrain consists of long catwalks. The array of blacks above Arc 2000 are tricky mogul runs, well seen from the Varet gondola. Many of the reds are fast motorways straight down the fall line, but the unpredictable Malgovert above Arc 1600 should get a special mention: natural terrain features such as trees and boulders make it feel more like a freeride zone than a piste!
Choose from a Range of Resort Bases
There’s a bewildering array of resort bases: several different “Arcs” and several more “Plagnes”. In particular, sizeable Arc 1800 and smaller Vallandry are close to the cable car to La Plagne and have lots of trees for bad weather days, unlike Arc 1950 and Arc 2000. Early intermediates might do better in La Plagne: many of the blues are clustered around the purpose-built higher resorts. Some villages are too far-flung to make the most out of the whole Paradiski area though all have decent local slopes. Generally speaking, the lowest villages are prettier and quieter places to stay, while the higher outposts have some brutal architecture but quicker access to the slopes.
Getting there: Fly into Chambéry Airport and it’s a 1.5-2 hour drive or transfer to Les Arcs
- Famous off-piste routes ranging from high glaciers to extreme chutes
- Genuinely testing black runs with big verticals
- Spectacular, jagged mountain terrain, including the highest peak in the Alps – Mont Blanc
- Easy, inexpensive transfers from Geneva airport
- Very few easy runs, especially if you’re seeking long greens or gentle cruises
- Several separate ski areas, inconveniently linked by bus and not by lifts
- Prone to bad weather which quickly shuts lifts
Gorges, glaciers and spiky peaks don’t usually lend themselves to ski resorts; then again, Chamonix isn’t your average ski area. Its epic steep and deep terrain makes it the ultimate resort for experts who aren’t afraid to hire a guide and go off-piste. The only thing that might annoy a good skier here is the disjointed ski area. Take one look at the piste map and you’ll see several separate, smallish webs of lifts clinging to different spots above the town. Brévent is the only sector directly accessible from the town, with a two-way cable car at mid-mountain also putting Flégère within easy reach. The steep slopes of Grands Montets are up the valley at Argentière, with gentler Balme further away still.
Home to Expert skiers
There’s so much choice for experts, it’s difficult to know where to start. At the top of Grands Montets, the Point de Vue black has spectacular glacier views to distract from fearsome moguls. The higher blacks in other sectors – such as Floria at Flégère – are also excellent, but those back to the valley floor are often narrow tracks with unreliable snow. There are too many superb off-piste routes to mention (hire a guide), but the famous one is the 12 mi Vallée Blanche itinerary from the Aiguille du Midi cable car.
Chamonix is the most famous mountaineering town in France, with year-round tourist appeal. Its dark location in a gorge and towny feel makes it quite different to many other Alpine ski resorts, and we’ve already mentioned the need to use buses or a hire car. Argentière, Le Tour and several other hamlets and suburbs are quieter, alternative options, but aren’t really any more convenient for getting around the different ski areas.
Getting there: Fly into Geneva Airport and it’s a 1-hour and 15 minutes drive or shuttle ride to Chamonix
- Deserved reputation for reliable snow – both in quantity and quality – all season long
- Part of the huge Espace Killy ski area (186 mi claimed) with a fast lift system
- Masses of great runs for confident intermediates and above
- Lively town centre and great nightlife
- Relatively few easy runs – and some trails are more difficult than their colour grading suggests
- Wind, snow and avalanche danger shut lifts more frequently than in many other resorts
- Few trees or sheltered slopes for skiing during bad weather
Ski area: Espace Killy
Val d’Isère has earned its spot on this list for having pretty much guaranteed excellent snow all season long – including early and late season thanks to its high elevation and mostly north facing runs. While this is also the case in Tignes, the other ski resort in the Espace Killy ski area, Val d’Isère offers a more vibrant atmosphere and access to a few tree runs for when the weather turns sour.
Explore the Epic Espace Killy
The Espace Killy is another one of the French Alpine giants in the ski area size rankings, with snowy slopes arranged in several well-connected sectors above the Isère valley and in a massive bowl above Tignes. After the endless off-piste possibilities (hire a guide), La Face should be on every black run skier’s to-do list. Steep from top to bottom, it’s used for ski racing with a grandstand finish on the Val d’Isère snow front. Suss it out from the Olympique gondola. Over in Tignes, there are excellent runs from the Col des Ves (usually with good snow to match), while the black Sache run takes you away from all the way down to Tignes Les Brévières. There are few better places for confident intermediates: stand-out red trails include Arcelle on Solaise, the runs to La Daille and Double M above Tignes.
Party into the wee hours of the morning
Val d’Isère is quite a long drive from the nearest big airports, but for many the thriving centre and après ski is worth the journey. It might not have the party town reputation as other ski resorts in Europe but its vibe, lively nightlife and the vast choice of accommodation make it our top pick for a base. The town isn’t the only place to stay in the valley: isolated Le Fornet is particularly quiet, while roadside La Daille has quick access to the slopes via an underground funicular railway. On the other side of the area, purpose-built Tignes is an option too.
Getting there: Fly into Chambéry and it’s a 2-hour drive or transfer to Val d’Isère
- Part of the massive 3 Vallées - 373 mi claimed
- Great balance between green, blue, red and black runs
- Lots of high slopes with reliable snow, but plenty of trees for when the clouds roll in
- Great lift system copes even with huge numbers of school holiday crowds, although…
- Some runs can get crowded in high season
- High-priced lift pass
- Expensive mountain restaurants and some accommodation (around Courchevel 1850 in particular)
Ski area: 3 Vallées
It’s no easy task picking just one resort in the incredible 3 Vallées ski area, but Courchevel has made it to the top of our list for a reason. Occupying the first “valley” along with La Tania, the resort presents a nice balance of interesting runs of all gradings above and below the treeline making for an excellent destination no matter your level. Being part of the largest lift-linked ski area is another major drawcard here and there is certainly more than enough for weeks of fun!
Something Perfect for All Abilities
It’s almost impossible to narrow down our long list of favourites because there’s is honestly something for everyone at Courchevel, but we’ll try. For experts, Grand Couloir and GoPro Couloir/Couloir Tournier from La Saulire between Courchevel and Méribel are seriously steep. Our favourite reds include Saulire (from the same point) early in the morning before it gets busy, or elsewhere in the 3 Vallées, Combe du Vallon above Mottaret and Jérusalem above St-Martin de Belleville. Some of the blues and greens above Courchevel 1850 can become crowded, but those above Moriond (1650) usually stay blissfully quiet. The Indiens blue is particularly fun, with wigwams and other themed props making it a real adventure for kids.
No Better Place to Base Yourself in 3 Vallées than Courchevel
Courchevel has a split personality: it consists of several villages, including chic 1850 (now referred to just as Courchevel) and relaxed Moriond (1650), plus several lower bases all with quick gondolas into the heart of the slopes. Quiet La Tania probably ties with 1850 for being our top pick – it has excellent tree runs and it’s close to the link with Méribel. If you’re willing to splurge a bit, 1850 also offers luxury lodging, incredible fine dining and tons of activities. The middle valley resorts, the chalet hotspots of Méribel and Mottaret, are obviously central for the 3 Vallées as a whole, but we’re not so keen on some of the local skiing, lots of which catches the afternoon sun. In the Belleville valley, Val Thorens is super-snowy (it’s Europe’s highest resort) and Les Menuires has attractively low prices, but both lack trees.
Getting there: Fly into Chambéry Airport and it’s a 1.5 hour drive or transfer to Courchevel
La Toussuire (Les Sybelles): one of several little-known resorts in the Maurienne valley which joined up last decade to form one of France’s bigger ski areas, with an improving lift system but fewer trees and less snowmaking than we’d like.
Montgenèvre (Via Lattea): the impressively snowy French outpost of an extensive but rather awkwardly-designed ski area shared with Italy.
Notre Dame de Bellecombe (Espace Diamant): a low but deceptively large, forested area almost unheard of outside France, with dozens of remarkably uncrowded, often gentle pistes if you don’t mind riding slow lifts.
Vars (Forêt Blanche): one of a pair of purpose-built resorts linked via a high pass to form a sunny but weatherproof domain in the southern French Alps.
Have you skied France? Are we missing any of your favourites or would you rank them differently?