Skiing in the French Alps

An overview of skiing in the region, with details on the facilities for Alpine skiers, snowboarders, cross-country skiers and other snow sport enthusiasts...

Did you know

  • The highest point in the Alps is also the highest point in France and Europe; Mont Blanc is 4,807m at its peak
  • Briançon is the highest city in Europe at 1,350m
  • The Frog and Roast Beef in Val Thorens claims to be the highest pub in Europe
  • Serre-Chevalier boasts 300 days of sunshine every year
  • The French Alps have played host to the Winter Olympics on two occasions, the 1968 Games were held in Grenoble and the 1992 Games were hosted by Albertville with events in the Savoie (73) region and resorts

Savoie, Haute-Savoie, Isère and Hautes-Alpes all rely heavily on winter sports as tourism is the major industry. Typically, the French will spend the February school holidays in the Alps; holiday lets run from Saturday to Saturday and traffic congestion is a common problem, especially if the weather is bad.

International tourist flights tend to arrive at Grenoble, Geneva, Chambéry or Lyon airports and coach transport is provided to the resorts.

Below is information on:

  • Transport options and how to get to the ski resorts
  • The resorts of the French Alps
  • Ski insurance and the Carte Neige
  • Winter sports available such as skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and getting lessons

Getting There

By car

Before setting out, it's always a good idea to check road conditions and closures and to see if special equipment is needed for the drive (such as snow chains). Tourist offices will often provide this information. The Sociétés d'Autoroutes website also provides good information.

  • For the Societes d'Autoroutes website: Click here

By ski train

Ski–trains or snow trains (in conjunction with Eurostar) run from the UK (Waterloo or Ashford) via Paris, and on to the Alps once the season has started (January to April). The overnight service allows travellers to sleep or party at the on-board bar and disco.

By bus

The Altibus transports riders from many points in France and Switzerland, including the Lyon Saint-Exupery, Chambéry-Aix les Bains and the Geneva airports to many resorts in the French Alps.

  • For the Altibus website: Click here (in French, with English-language booking)

Ski Resorts

In the Savoie and Haute-Savoie regions alone there are 110 ski stations, ranging in size and facilities. These are some of the largest and most popular ski areas in the French Alps:

  • Les Trois Vallées (The Three Valleys), which has over 650 Km of pistes, is the largest ski area in Europe
  • Espace Killy, which is the linked ski area between Val d’Isere and Tignes with 300 Km of pistes
  • Paradiski which is the newest linked resort connecting La Plagne and Les Arcs with the world’s only double-deck cable car, the Vanoise Express, which carries over 200 passengers
  • Les Portes du Soleil covers the resorts from the French side of Mont Blanc to lake Geneva, connecting 12 major resorts
  • Serre-Chevalier is made up of four towns connected by one road and over 250 Km of downhill pistes
  • For the French ski resorts web portal, see the France Montagnes website: Click here

Resorts and passes

All resorts use a lift-pass system. A ticket to use the resort's lifts and telecabins must be bought and the price of the pass will vary depending on the skier's age, competence, choice of sport and the resort. Passes can usually be purchased at the resort with the minimum being a half-day and the maximum being a season pass.

Some resorts have a specific access pass for downhill skiing as the skier uses a smaller area than Alpine skiers and snowboarders. The lift pass office will supply the information. Passes can also be bought by non-skiers for transportation up and down the mountain.

Insurance

Medical insurance for injuries sustained while on-piste (on slope) are sometimes covered by credit card companies if the trip is paid for with the card. It may be worthwhile checking with the card company.

Members of the French Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing (La Fédération Française de la Montagne et de l'Escalade/FFME) can obtain insurance for skiing and other winter sports. A medical examination is required.

  • FFME (La Fédération Française de la Montagne et de l'Escalade) (website in French)
    At: 8-10 Quai de la Marne, 75019 Paris
    Tel: 01 40 18 75 50
    Fax: 01 40 18 75 59

Members of the Federation of French Alpine and Mountain Clubs (Fédération Française des Clubs Alpins et de Montagne/CAF/FFCAM) can also obtain insurance through membership in the club.

  • CAF/FFCAM (Fédération Française des Clubs Alpins et de Montagne)
    At: 24 Avenue de Laumière, 75019 Paris
    Tel: 01 53 72 87 00
    Fax: 01 42 03 55 60

Carré Neige/Licence Carte Neige

The Carré Neige and Licence Carte Neige provide top-up insurance and assistance for residents of the European Union. Residents of EU countries other than France should carry the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) while skiing, in case of an accident.

The Carré Neige is short-term insurance available at participating resorts. It is sold at lift pass offices and can be bought when buying the lift pass. It is valid as long as the pass is valid for all snow sports (by amateurs) in France and neighbouring Switzerland.

The Carré Neige provides insurance and assistance: search and rescue, first transport, medical expenses and repatriation (as well as bad weather insurance for the cost of unusable ski passes). In the event of an accident, a claim should be made within eight days. The claim should include the original lift pass and medical certificate detailing the injuries.

The Licence Carte Neige, issued by the Fédération Française de Ski (FFS), provides long-term cover and is available at participating French ski resorts. It is valid for amateurs involved in any mountain sport accident (with some minor exclusions), anywhere in the world. There are various types of Licence Carte Neige providing different degrees of cover depending on individual circumstance.

  • Further information on the Carte Neige can be found at Natives.co.uk

Skiing

Many resorts offer night-time skiing in moonlight or with floodlights.

Cross-country skiing

Refuges for cross-country ski trips can be rented through the Federation of French Alpine and Mountain Clubs. For more information, see the website.

  • CAF/FFCAM (Fédération Française des Clubs Alpins et de Montagne)
    At: 24 Avenue de Laumière
    75019 Paris
    Tel: 01 53 72 87 00
    Fax: 01 42 03 55 60

Cross-country skis can be rented from rental shops and at resorts that offer cross-country skiing.

Back-country skiing

Backcountry skiing, also known as ski touring, involves hiking and climbing in the wilderness before a descent over (often virgin) snow. Back-country skiing is generally more strenuous than snow-shoeing and requires more technical skill, but the rewards are considered worth the effort for most experienced skiers. It is generally recommended to hire experienced guides trained specifically for this endeavour, as there is a danger of getting lost or triggering avalanches. Overnight stays in maintained refuges are common.

Back-country skis have a binding that leaves the heel free for going uphill and a non-slip coating for uphill climbing. Alpine or Nordic (telemark) bindings can be used, depending on preference and whether or not crampons will be needed.

It is important to carry an avalanche beacon and shovel when back-country skiing, in case of an avalanche. Though mobile phones are unreliable in the back-country, the emergency phone number for search and rescue is 112.

Ski-mountaineering

Ski-mountaineering/ski-touring is similar to back-country skiing, but it is over steeper terrain.

Disabled skiing

Many resorts in the French Alps cater to disabled skiers. Check with the individual resort, or for information on access in the Savoie and Haute-Savoie regions, contact the respective Handisport Committees.

  • Savoie Handisport Committee
    Tel: 04 79 85 80 43
    email
  • Haute-Savoie Handisport Committee
    Tel
    : 04 50 77 77 60
    email

The Ski 2 Freedom Foundation is a non-profit company providing a growing extensive directory of information on the facilities available at snow and winter sports stations and resorts for people with special needs and disabilities.

Night-time skiing

Many resorts offer night-time skiing, snowshoeing, ice-skating and other activities. Inquire at the resort for further information.

Snowboarding

Many resorts cater to snowboarders. Contact the resort about the availability of half-pipes and boardercross courses.

Snowboards can be rented before arriving at the resort at rental shops or at the resort.

  • For French snowboarding news in English, see the Pistehors website: Click here

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing (raquettes) is becoming more popular and many resorts in the Alps have created special routes with different grades of difficulty. Technology of the shoes is advancing to make the equipment more efficient for going up and down hills and walking on the flat.

Ski/snowboarding lessons

Nearly every resort offers lessons from instructors from the French Ski School (Ecole de Ski Français/ESF). Inquire at the resort.

Further Information

  • For general European skiing information, see the Complete Skier website: Click here