With thousands of kilometers of state-of-the-art ski lift routes, a host of lively, iconic resorts and a string of towering peaks dressed in their white finery, the Alps deserve their reputation as the world’s most beautiful ski playground.
Breathtaking uphill climbs, challenging moguls, stunning morning landscapes and century-old fir trees with crumbling branches of powdery snow... the ski slopes of the French Alps offer an array of experiences for all skiers, whatever their level. Here are some of our favourite runs.
Queen of Alpe d’Huez in Isère, Sarenne starts from the summit of Mont Blanc at 3,300m above sea level, descending 16km to 1,510m. It’s the longest single black run in the world. But no need to be a champion to tackle it – only the first section near the Sarenne glacier is really steep. The rest of the trail is pretty wide and runs on moderate slopes, isolated from other tracks, with breathtaking views of the landscape.
The most photogenic
On the La Flégère side of Chamonix, the Combe Lachenal red run is situated at the very top of the Index chairlift at 2,400m, and offers much more than just a south-facing route – there’s a 700-metre drop and 8km of light powder to enjoy here. If the weather’s good, it boasts a great view of the Chamonix Valley and Mont Blanc, the monster of ice and snow which looks truly impressive against the blue sky.
In Flaine, also in Haute-Savoie, the blue Cascades piste not only links Flaine with the village of Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval in the Grand Massif – it’s also a beautiful ski run (14km, with a 1,700m vertical drop) crossing sumptuous fir forests weighed down by fresh snow. As a bonus, there are beautiful panoramas of the great peaks (Mont Blanc, Aiguille du Midi, Dent du Géant and Grandes Jorasses) and you often run into chamois and ibex.
The most challenging
Don’t be fooled by the name: ‘La Verte’ at Les Houches is in fact a black run, among the most technical in the Alps. It hosted several World Cup downhills, with speeds reaching 140km/h. So it’s best to be a confident skier for this – it’s often frozen, and it’s punctuated by some pretty dangerous passages. The trickiest are La Cassure and Le Goulet, dreaded by even the pros!
The most historic
L’Escargot is a green run in Val Cenis (Savoie) starting at 2,100m. Appreciated for its 10km length, it’s especially notable because it closely follows the Col du Mont-Cenis road, hastily built in 1805 by Napoleon and some 2,000 of his workers. The Emperor, like Hannibal and his elephants before him, had had enough of dragging his guns through the snow, in order to cross this obligatory passage en route to Piedmont in Italy.
Val Cenis (French only)
Sitting above Nice in Alpes-Maritimes, Isola 2000 is one of the few resorts in the world to offer its skiers a package of radiant sun, optimal snow (the slopes are above 2,000m) and a sea view. This is the case on the red Sistron run, where, on sunny days, the Mediterranean is visible in the background behind the snowy peaks. An ideal picture-postcard!
The most impressive
In Avoriaz, the Pas de Chavanette – also known as the ‘Swiss Wall’ – is a black track with fearsome slopes that plummet 400m in less than a kilometre. It’s not even groomed, as access with machinery is too dangerous. At the start, you’ll see your skis almost levitate in the void – and if that wasn’t enough, moguls and rock bars punctuate the course. In short, it’s a must-do for competent skiers but a nightmare for the unprepared. Fortunately, the chairlift runs downhill as well as up…
The most relaxed
In Les Menuires, head to the top of the 3 Marches to access the Boulevard de la Becca, Grand Lac and Pelozet: this long, west-facing descent (a blue run) is adaptable to all levels and alternates large curves and beautiful widths with jumps and long, fast schussing sections. All overlooking a magical landscape: the Belleville Valley and its huge circle of snowy peaks. Perfect for skiing with the family.
Accessible from Les Deux Alpes in Isère, La Grave is a paradise for off-piste enthusiasts in deep powder, far from the crowds and pylons. First you reach the Meije glacier (3,200m) by cable car – then you descend, by regular skis or telemarks, to the station through the most unlikely corners of the mountain. An extraordinary experience – but to be undertaken with a guide.
Les Deux Alpes