Ski Resorts in France
France is known for skiing, and for the beautiful resorts and facilities that cater to the 120 million visitors to the country to ski each year. The hotbed of all of this activity is, of course, the Alps.
The French Alps are located in the southeast corner of the country, bordering Switzerland in the north, and Italy along the eastern side. The area is taller (north-south) than it is wide (east-west), and id divided into two regions, known as the Northern French Alps and the Southern French Alps.
The northern extreme is in the region around Geneva, and the southern end reaches almost to the Mediterranean Sea, just north of Nice.
Skis have been a useful mode of transportation since prehistoric times, but isn’t known to have been a recreational activity in France until the late 1800s. The first commercial ski tours were offered not long after, in the first decade of the 1900s.
France has the honour of being host to the first Winter Olympics, in Chamonix, which featured Nordic skiing as an event – Alpine skiing would not be introduced to the Olympics until 1936, in Germany, the same year that the chairlift was invented in the United States.
With improvements in ski and travel technology, implementation of lifts and on-mountain hotels and restaurants, improved roads, and an increase in the amount of leisure time for the general population, skiing as a form of recreation has radically expanded over the past century. France has been one of the main players in this trend, and continues to be a top choice for many skiers.
The climate in France varies pretty widely, and through the Alps region ranges from Continental to Mediterranean, the altitude is the main determiner of general weather and temperatures over the winter season.
The average local temperature varies from resort to resort, but don’t stray too far from the Alpine averages:
November -17°/-12°C (low/high)
Many mountaineers claim that it gets 1° cooler for every 100m increase in altitude. That means that a temperature of -10°C at a 2000m-high chalet could mean a temperature of -20°C at 3000m on the slopes.
This varies a lot depending on several other factors, but it is something to keep in mind when planning activities in the Alps.
The French are proud of their country and culture and, though normally very friendly and welcoming, they will easily take offense at negative comments of complaints about their people, country or culture. This is especially common in older people, who tend to be more traditional in their expectations. It’s best to embrace the positives, overlook minor negatives, and treat people in a friendly, patient manner; you will normally receive the same courtesy in return.
If you need to interact with someone, even for a moment to ask directions or similar, be sure to say hello, and goodbye (preferably in French). This is seen as a mark of respect and will help grease the wheels of friendly interaction.
French culture is perhaps best known for food. From savoury entrees to sweet pastries and confectionary, the foodie on skis will not lack opportunities to sample local wares in France.
Though some resorts cater more to elite taste buds than others, all of them will have local establishments that cater to discerning customers of both haute cuisine and more rustic dishes – and of course baked goods, cheeses, and wines.
The national language is, of course, French. Though there are many places throughout the country where many of the residents do not speak English, you won’t find this to be a problem at the resorts.
They cater to skiers from all over the world and so staff and locals will have a lot of exposure to English, and most will speak it quite well.
The currency is the Euro. The Euro-to-Pound exchange rate fluctuates of course, but as an estimate to use when eye-balling prices, each Euro is worth about 87p.
France is the most visited country in the world, and so a large portion of its economy is tourism-based. It is diversified, however, and though it has its ups and downs (don’t we all?) it is stable and not prone to sharp changes or crashes.
Popular ski areas include Val Thorens, Courchevel, Chamonix, Alpe d’Huez, Flaine, Les Deux Alpes, Châtel, Le Grand Bornard, La Clusaz, Serre Chevalier, St Gervais, Val d’Isère, Megève, and Valloire, among others.
France is known for large ski areas with varied run difficulties, high-tech lifts and facilities, and reliable snow – largely due to the high altitude of many of the resorts.
It’s easy (and fast) to get to via plane, train or automobile, and as it is one of the most popular destinations for British citizens to visit, the locals are used to the tastes and sensibilities of their UK customers.
France also has a lot of purpose-built resorts which offer ski-in, ski-out accommodations, restaurants, and other facilities. Traffic-restricted town centres are also common in these resorts, which makes time spent off of the slopes safer and more enjoyable.