United but unique
This is the hallmark of France's linked ski areas: vast swathes of trails spread over several resorts with distinct but complementary tourist features, as well as packages which mean you can ski from one resort or valley to another. It’s a treat for all kinds of skiers and allows for superb long days out on the slopes. Here’s a small selection of the major ski areas to explore this winter.
The 3 Vallées: one of the largest ski domaines in the world
At the heart of the northern Alps, the 3 Vallées is one of the largest ski areas in the world. With eight resorts (Courchevel, La Tania, Méribel, Brides-les-Bains, Les Menuires, Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, Val Thorens and Orelle), 600km of slopes between 1,300m and 3,230m, 200 lifts and 25 connected peaks, there's never enough time to explore it all - and no buses are needed, as the whole area is accessible on skis.
All in a day, you can head to the foot of the glaciers at Val Thorens, descend the vast snowy expanses of the Menuires or pose in front of the cliffs at the Vallée des Avals in Courchevel. An enormous 85% of the ski area is at over 1,800m and, with the largest collection of artificial snow-making equipment in France, the white stuff is guaranteed throughout the season.
The Portes du Soleil and Espace San Bernardo: skiing without borders
Close to Lake Geneva and in the heart of the Chablais massif, Portes du Soleil has an astonishing 280 runs. It connects 12 resorts and two countries: France (Abondance, Avoriaz, Châtel, La Chapelle d'Abondance, Les Gets, Montriond, Morzine and St Jean d'Aulps) and Switzerland.
With its abundance of powder, the Portes du Soleil also offers 10 snowparks to satisfy all forms of snowsports, from skiing and snowboarding to telemark skiing, mono-skiing and snowblading. Whether you're a fan of on-piste skiing, freeride skiing or freestyle, you'll find a wide variety of skiing areas tailored to your ability and preferences. It's the place to switch off and relax, enjoy nature, slalom through forests and across Alpine pastures, admiring the area's historic chalets as you ski from one resort to another, from valley to valley. You could call it a 'ski safari'...
You can even play border jumping in Espace San Bernardo . It connects Rosière 1850 (Savoie Mont Blanc, France) to La Thuile (Italy) via the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard pass, and has a double exposure to the north and south, guaranteeing excellent skiing and breathtaking panoramic views from the slopes, with a high point of 2,800m in the French sector at Mount Valaisan. Family holidays are part of the DNA of La Rosière: there’s specially adapted entertainment and accommodation, special pricing, ski slopes for all levels, play areas dedicated to children, permanent ski touring courses for beginners and even an area for snow kiting.
Paradiski: up among the clouds
Created in 2003, Paradiski (Savoie Mont Blanc) has reinvigorated the ski areas of Arcs/Peisey-Vallandry and La Plagne thanks to a 200-seat cable car, the Vanoise Express. It takes just four minutes to get from one valley to another and opens up 425km of trails. Paradiski ranges from 1,200m to 3,250m and boasts exceptional landscapes, with Mont Blanc as its stunning backdrop.
Don't miss the glaciers and beautiful red/black runs descending from the top of the Aiguille Rouge at 3,226m to Villaroger, 1,200m below. Experienced skiers will love this. But Paradiski has activities suitable for the whole family from sledge dog rides and bobsleighing to visits to the Igloo Les Arcs Village. Don't forget to download YUGE, a customisable app included in your Paradiski domaine pack and ideal for the whole family.
L'Alpe d'Huez Grand Domaine Ski: between fir trees and glaciers
With 240km of pistes and 84 lifts, the Alpe d'Huez Grand Domaine Ski offers one of the most important descents in the world, totalling over 2,200m. Those looking for a lively, active holiday will find Alpe d'Huez ideal, while visitors in search of a more relaxed stay will like the five connected resort villages: Auris-en-Oisans, La Garde, Oz-en-Oisans, Vaujany and Villard-Reculas.
If you’re a beginner skier, the gentle drop at the base of the slopes will help you to get to grips with the green runs. But if you’re looking for a challenge, take the Pic Blanc cable car and the Marmottes III gondola to test your technique on the black runs. And for something exceptional, head to the 16km-long Sarenne track, the longest black run in the world.
Les Deux Alpes: all-season skiing
Skiing in all its forms, diverse mountain activities, renowned après-ski, great nightlife, international events and a wonderfully preserved heritage. Les Deux Alpes, the flagship resort of Isère, doesn’t have an international reputation for nothing! It’s home to the largest glacier ski area in Europe, at an altitude of 3,600m, high enough to benefit from natural snow every year and good enough to ski not just through winter, but also in summer.
Les Deux Alpes are also distinguished by a 2km-long avenue, lined with bars and restaurants accessible either on foot, by horse-drawn carriage or bus. And there’s accommodation offering direct access to the slopes and lifts. The perfect way to start (and end) a day of skiing.
Tignes/Val d'Isère: sporty by nature
These two large resorts bring together 300km of diverse ski slopes plus a host of activities. Tignes/Val d'Isere offer more than 40km of cross-country ski slopes, two snow parks for freestylers and two glaciers: Grande Motte - which has the world's highest panoramic cable car – and Pissaillas.
But it's not all about standard skiing here. You can also try something more unusual like go karting on ice, heli-skiing, snowmobiling, ice climbing or ice diving. Why not?
Les Sybelles: a beginner's playground
France's fourth ski area with 310km of pistes, Les Sybelles links six timeless resort villages (Saint-Sorlin d'Arves, Saint-Jean d'Arves, Les Bottières, Saint-Colomban-des-Villards, Le Corbier and La Toussuire) with the majestic Aiguilles d'Arves as a backdrop.
Here you’ll find low-cost skiing and ultra-competitive prices. It's also a perfect playground for beginners to enjoy the gentle slopes, even at such high altitude.
Other linked areas to explore in France
If you need even more inspiration, the Grand Massif connects the resorts of Flaine, Samoëns, Les Carroz and Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval and includes two nature reserves. The Galibier-Thabor area is divided between the Valmeinier and Valloire resorts with 85 pistes and 150km of cross-country terrain. The Grand Domaine has than 60 blue and green runs for beginners, and around 30 runs (black and red) between Valmorel and Saint-François-Longchamp, ideal for experienced skiers. There's also L’Espace Diamant, between Val d’Arly and Beaufortain.
Finally, in the Hautes-Alpes, one of the most beautiful skiing areas in the southern Alps can be found in the Forêt Blanche between the resorts of Vars and Risoul. While Vars is best known for its speed ski run and snowparks, Risoul is renowned for its quintessential Alpine atmosphere and larch forest.