If you’ve never felt the thrill of skiing down a mountain that’s been blanketed in fresh snow, I’m here to tell you that you’re missing out on one of life’s great joys.
In truth, the perfect winter vacation should include a number of key elements; time on the slopes being just one. However, in my mind, a skiing escape in France ticks all the boxes; and not just because you can soak in countless scenic vistas with a G&T in hand.
Take two weeks away from reality or just a couple of days (check out companies like iGoSki Weekends that provide tailored short ski breaks), when you’re standing on top of a mountain you’ll feel like the stresses of life back home are a million miles away.
The best time to go skiing in the French Alps
One of the advantages of booking a winter escape in the French Alps is the breadth of the season; from November to early April snow days are the norm. Of course, the weather is never guaranteed which is why booking last minute can be beneficial.
November & December: Celebrating the festive season on the slopes is idyllic, but it comes at a cost. Chalet rental prices rise, particularly in late December, and visitor numbers peak. Book six to nine months in advance to secure early bird discounts if you’re planning to travel during this time.
January & February: My personal favourite, mid to late January tends to offer guaranteed powder dumps, endless blue skies and fewer people on the slopes. Having said that the first and second weeks of the year are often overlooked in favour of new year’s resolutions and returning to work, and you can bag a cheap deal at this time. The snow is generally better in January before the school holidays start. It gets busy in February half term: the French holidays take place just after the UK school holidays.
March & April: Toward the end of the season there’s more chance that you could wind up with shrinking amounts of snow, however for the weather is more settled and warmer with longer days to enjoy all that lovely mountain air. You can also take in one of the region’s best live music events, Rock the Pistes.
READ MORE WINTER TRAVEL GUIDES FROM WANDERLUSTERS
Megève? Chamonix? Courchevel? Here’s where to stay during your French Alps ski trip
Ideal for: beginner/intermediate skiers
One of France’s most historic ski areas, Megève is centred around a medieval square that connects a network of cobblestone streets which date back to the 13th century. While its slopes sit at a lower elevation to most in France (the base area is at around 3,000 feet), offering tree-lined runs that are ideal for beginner and intermediate level skiers.
It is also part of the Evasion Mont Blanc ski area system which offers close to 300 miles of trails to explore in neighbouring Saint Gervais.
Ideal for: expert/off-piste
Culture: high energy après ski
If you’re competent on the slopes and enjoy all kinds of conditions both on-piste and in the bar afterwards, head to Chamonix.
Alpine peaks loom large on the horizon everywhere you look in Chamonix where cable cars launch visitors to heady heights on the Mont Blanc massif. Skiers and boarders have a choice of pistes in La Vallée Blanche, the world’s longest ski run, not to mention rows of white off-piste options between Grands Montets and Aiguille du Midi.
Ideal for: scenic skiing
Culture: high end glitz and glamour
One the most lavish resorts in Europe, it boasts designer shops such as Cartier, Vuitton, and Prada and at least three Michelin star restaurants, Courcheval is characterised by champagne cocktails and chic ski wear.
Having said that, it is part of Les Trois Vallées, the largest connected system of ski areas in the world, and so the skiing and snowboarding opportunities are endless. The resort itself is incredibly scenic and the lift pass price relatively affordable.
Getting to your chosen ski resort
The French Alps are served by two main airports, Grenoble and Geneva, however, travellers from the UK can also connect to their resort via Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport.
Although not geographically closer, Lyon doesn’t usually suffer from congested roads between it and the resorts meaning transfers are quicker and less stress-inducing than its better-known counterparts.
It’s easy for UK travellers to reach the French ski resorts of Les Arcs, Courchevel, Méribel and Val d’Isère by the special Eurostar ski train which runs from London St Pancras station on Saturdays between December-April and direct on Friday evenings from January-April.
To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend driving to the French Alps unless you are well versed with navigating in winter weather. Road conditions can turn quickly and the stress of being at the wheel for hours on end will take away from the relaxing experience of your snow-filled escape.
What to pack for a holiday in the French Alps
Tickets, travel money, passport
Holiday/accommodation/ski hire details
Driving licence/GPS navigation device/directions if you’re driving
Ski Club membership card (for member discounts in resort)
French phrasebook or digital download French language course
Ski boots/snowboard boots
Skis/snowboard (in ski bag) – don’t forget to pre-pay for a sports luggage allowance
Transceiver, shovel and probe (for staying safe off piste)
Water bottle or Camelbak
Multitool for repairs or adjustments on the go
Merino wool base layers- I love the collection at IceBreaker
Waterproof ski jacket, trousers, and gloves 2 or 3 pairs of ski/board socks
Après ski attire
Jumper or fleece
Underwear including socks
Comfy trousers/jogging bottoms
Shoes/boots with a good grip
Basic medial kit including Deep Heat/bath salts
Sunscreen – high SPF
Lipsalve/balm with SPF
Snowchains if driving
High energy snacks – chocolate bars/energy bars/nuts
Any medication (including painkillers)
Whatever your plans for a winter break consider a ski escape in the French Alps, you won’t regret it.
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