France is hugely popular as a ski destination. With over 8000 km of pistes and hundreds of resorts, France claims to have the largest number of skiable slopes in the world: during the 2007/2008 winter season French ski lifts carried 499 million people. British skiers have a fondness for France and French ski resorts, where one in three of us take our ski break. There are considered to be three generations of French ski resorts – traditional, state-built and purpose-built – all of which have a different appeal. This gives rise to an assorted ski crowd, peppered with über-rich Russians and seasoned with budget-conscious families. Following the rapid expansion of the French ski industry in the 1960s and 1970s, bed-heavy resorts were developed to meet the demand for places to stay in the snow; any British skier to France will have surely stayed in a cabin-like apartment in Les Arcs or Tignes. But alongside the ungainly resorts you can still find hidden gems where the snow stays untracked for days and you rarely have to queue for a lift. For this reason, we still believe that France has something for everyone.
France's Alpine weather can be hugely changeable, as can the snowfall. Bluebird days can be followed by white-outs and seasons vary enormously. Occasional very high winds from the west, such as the Foehn, bring sand from north Africa, turning the snow yellow. The winter seasons of the Alps and Pyrenees are shorter than other mountain ranges but the variety of terrain and open access goes some way to make up for this.