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.

when to go

Some French resorts open at the end of November (Val D'Isère) but most open during December and you are unlikely to get perfect conditions before Christmas. Early January is considered low season and you are likely to get a cheap deal at this time of year – it can also be a time of huge dumps of snow accompanied, sadly, by low cloud and flat light. French school holidays and English half-term means that February should be avoided if possible. By March the days are lighter, brighter and high snow falls are common. Take to the terraces in April but have your skis to hand – you can be tanning one minute and knee-deep in powder the next.

off piste policy

One of the beauties of France is that there is a very relaxed attitude to going into the backcountry. With this, however, comes a huge risk. Winter sports enthusiasts travelling to France are warned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that there is “an acute danger of avalanches in the French Alpine” regions. There have been many avoidable deaths in the last few years. If you intend to ski off-piste you need to buy a Carte Neige when you buy your lift pass. This specific additional insurance will ensure that you are taken off the mountain without having to pay for the helicopter ride.

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