Many a bearded backcountry American has been heard to drawl with gushing pride, “I skied Chaaaam,” while on the other side of Mont Blanc the boutiques and bling of Courchevel have Russian millionaires arriving by the (private) helicopter load. But between the extremes are the reasons that we love France – the vast, well-linked areas of Espace Killy, Portes du Soleil, Trois Vallées and Paradiski, with their endless miles of groomed pistes; the relaxed attitude to exploring the snow off-piste; the choice of two mountain ranges; the mulled wine at lunch time; the fresh baguettes and the cheese. Being France, there are the obvious crimes against architecture – Les Arcs, Les Menuires, Avoriaz and central La Plagne, to name a few – but it's not hard to find a more traditional French ambience in villages like St Foy, Saint Martin de Belleville and Châtel where the way of life has barely changed for 50 years. Despite the poor exchange rate and the insane prices of the likes of Courchevel and Val d'Isère there are still bargains to be had. Many resorts now offer family ski passes or the opportunity to buy your lift passes in advance. And the traditional drink-as-much-wine-as-you-can chalet holiday will save you a fortune in bar bills, especially if you go off-peak. One constant criticism of French ski resorts is the size of self-catering accommodation. It is not unusual to book a four-person apartment only to spend the next week with two of you sleeping in a cupboard and the other two on the floor. And a future worry could be snow reliability in lower-level resorts like Megève and Morzine, despite the increase in snow-making facilities. Yes, it is true that some of the lift systems are in desperate need of updating but it has been noted that skiers don't like waiting in queues and there is evidence of heavy investment. If you like clocking up the mileage and loud après-ski then France is for you. And if you want freeriding and a laid-back attitude, France is for you, too.
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