1. Les Carroz
Les Carroz makes up part of the Grand Massif ski area, the fifth largest linked ski area in France and it has access to fine skiing for all abilities. It’s a neighbour is Flaine, and two more contrasting ski resorts would be hard to imagine; Flaine all no-nonsense brutalist architecture, Les Carroz with a more traditional alpine village atmosphere, set almost like a balcony among trees. And since it’s only 50 miles from Geneva, you can leave the UK in the morning and be skiing here in the afternoon.
Despite being one of the most snow-sure resorts in the French Alps, pretty Bonneval-sur-Arc is as low-key as you can get. This village sits at an altitude of 5,906ft in the Vanoise National Park and is a member of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, a group that aims to preserve traditional architectural styles and cultural traditions. With just 15 miles of groomed pistes and seven lifts, the resort’s increasing popularity is with freeriders drawn to the huge snow bowl beneath 11,936ft Mont Albaron’s north face.
3. La Grave
La Grave relies on an almost total lack of defined, patrolled or avalanche-protected pistes as its major attraction, with the daunting steeps and couloirs of 13,071ft La Meije being the big draw for skiers capable of taking them on. Just hopping aboard La Grave’s ancient ‘pulse’ lift to access the slopes at 10,824ft is an experience in itself; you can go even higher on a couple of draglifts that reach three blue runs and allow less accomplished skiers the chance to say they’ve skied La Grave.
4. Les Sybelles
Not many skiers outside France have heard of Les Sybelles, yet it’s one of the biggest ski areas in the country, consisting of six linked ski resorts in the Maurienne massif with a claimed total of 160 miles of pistes (plus another 30 miles of Nordic trails), not to mention some very impressive and seemingly limitless freeride options, all in the shadow of the three mighty fangs of 11,529ft Aiguilles d’Arves. All six resorts are small enough to be explored in a day or two, but you’ll need a week to really get to know the area.
There’s a popular misconception that the ski resorts of the Pyrenees are small, and therefore somewhat limited in what they offer. Visit Saint-Lary-Soulan and you’ll soon be disabused of that notion: this is one of the biggest resorts in the French Pyrenees with around 60 miles of pistes, 31 lifts and plenty of decent backcountry terrain. Despite its size, the cost of skiing here tends to be lower than in the Alps, and restaurants here often have more varied fare than that typically found in other Alpine resorts.
Published in the Winter Sports 2022/23 guide, distributed with the December 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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