World class skiing, minus the crowds and over-priced hot chocolates
There’s a lot to be said for Val d’Isere, Les Arcs, Courchevel and similar snow empires, but they are by no means the extent of skiing in the French Alps. Here are five options that offer world-class skiing away from the masses, with a healthy dose of authentic French flair thrown in for good measure.
1. La Clusaz, Haute-Savoie
L’Etale depuis le chalet du Crève-tout à la Clusaz #letale #merdassier #laclusaz #montagne #mountainlove #moutain #neige #snow #snowlove #nuit #night #belleetoile #hiver #ciel #cielo #france #paysage #landscape_captures #landscape #landscapelovers #landscapephotography #landscape_lovers #snowlandscape #snowmountain #bynight #voyagesdetective
Despite producing some of the world’s best skiers (we’re talking about you Candide Thovex), La Clusaz remains very much the reserve of the French. Surprising, seeing as it has one of the shortest transfer times in the country — the hour’s drive from Geneva, makes it the perfect destination for a sneaky weekend getaway.
Located eastwards of the beautiful Lake Annecy, this traditional little resort is the gateway to 132km of pristinely maintained and wonderfully uncrowded pistes, offering unlimited ski safari potential. The village itself has bags of charm and plenty of rustic restaurants serving the finest of home cooked Savoyard cuisine. And don’t miss the farmer’s market each Monday, where you can buy an bottle of vintage wine for the price of a glass in nearby Chamonix.
2. Valloire, Savoie
Another picturesque French village, Valloire is best known as a family resort, although the terrain has more than enough gnarl to satisfy adult tastes as well. With (hardly) a sixties apartment block in sight, this small resort has retained its traditional image, swapping apres-ski for a calm vibe and family friendly activities – we’re especially intrigued by the winter lama trekking.
Let’s talk skiing: There’s 150km of pistes stretching over to neighbouring Valmeinier covering all levels of ability. So you can ditch the kids at ski school safe in the knowledge that they’ll benefit from the superb nursery slopes, while you get steep and deep in the designated freeride terrain. Oh, and because all their marketing is aimed at the family market, you don’t have to head far to find untouched lines days after a storm.
3. Saint Jean d’Aulps, Haute-Savoie
The Portes du Soleil is one of France’s most-loved ski circuits and rightly so. But if you want to avoid the crowds, forget Morzine and Avoriaz and head down the road to the quaint resort of Saint Jean d’Aulps. Tucked away in the bottom corner of the area’s piste map, this pretty little resort has its own ski hill, La Grande Terche, offering 40km of almost private pistes set amongst stunning and wild scenery.
Warm up on the 5km intermediate loop, which takes in both the majestic Col de Graydon and the tranquil tracks back through the forest. After you’ve explored the uncrowded slopes it’s time to turn on your transceiver and start hiking – you will have your pick of the powder in the unexplored backcountry.
4. Auron, Alpes-Maritimes
The Alpes Maritimes are generally less explored than their neighbours further north, and if you’re wanting to try something new Auron is an excellent place to start. With a resort height of 1600m you’re guaranteed good conditions throughout the season, and the area is well connected to Saint Etienne de Tinnee, encompassing over 130km of pistes in total.
The terrain lies mainly below the treeline (great for bad weather days) with enough variation to keep mixed groups happy. With mainly north/northwest facing terrain there’s an excellent snow record and plenty of long, powder-filled lines to be found between the trees. Best of all, Auron is just under two hours from Nice, meaning you can sneak in a peak-season trip without blowing your budget on expensive ski flights into Geneva.
5. Sainte Foy Tarentaise, Savoie
If you’ve ever been to Val d’Isere or Tignes, the chances are you’ve driven past this gem of a resort without giving it a second glance. After all, what can be so special about a resort with only four lifts? But in Sainte Foy, it’s quality not quantity that attracts its diehard fans year after year, hungry for the endless untracked powder fields this quiet, north facing resort has to offer.
Whether you’re a seasoned freeride pro or just looking to make your first tracks, you’ll definitely want to hire a local independent guide, who can share their expert knowledge of the area with you. If Mother Nature plays ball, you’ll be in ski heaven. If she doesn’t, Val d’Isere, with its high quality snow making, is just up the road. What is there to lose?