Ski France 2017: French Ski Resorts News, Tips and Offers
Skiing on your mind? Are you dreaming of white beyond Christmas? Or wondering where to go for the 2016/17 season? Then read on for a newsy round-up of developments, innovations, tips and offers from the French ski resorts for 2017…
Ooh la la… nous allons skier
After having skied in La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand last Easter and spent part of this summer in the French resorts of Flaine, Chamonix-Les Houches and Peisey-Vallandry, (check out my post on unexpectedly falling in love with Flaine) we’ve developed a bit of a soft spot for French mountains and French ski resorts in particular. And not just because of the fondue.
Whatever age your kids are, France is a great option for family skiing, combining some of the biggest mountains and most reliable snow in Europe with some novel opportunities for family fun. As the French ski resorts announce their deals, treats and innovations for the 2016/17 season, we’ve been studying the press releases, attending press launches, talking to resort reps and tourist boards to bring you this round-up of offers, new facilities and other ski related innovations coming to the French ski resorts this winter. Whether you’re a skier or a snowboarder, novice or pro, first time family or seasoned multi generation ski team, we think you’ll find something here to whet your appetite.
Why ski in France?
So why choose France for your family ski holiday? Well, there are few places in Europe that offer such intensive skiing opportunities and extensive interlinked areas like Portes du Soleil and the Grand-Massif. France has been joining things up and linking resorts for a while now and it shows.
There’s been long term investment into moving people around with cable cars, gondolas and magic carpets flying you here, there and everywhere, combination lift passes being offered and resorts working together to create long distance slopes and trails. There’s also been improvements in snow – many resorts can make their own if the party fails to start in December. The resort of Les Gets is perhaps the most high tech right now, employing GPS and radar technology on groomers to pinpoint exact depth of snow.
And the French have become quite imaginative with their activities – competing to out-do each other on the adrenaline front. From snow parks to obstacle studded trails, from a 007 action adventure to zip and wing-suited flight, there’s quite a lot going on in the French Alps this season. And if it moves, you can take a selfie with it these days which should please the kids. Further down we’ve outlined some neat activities that will appeal to those of you with toddlers, tweens and teens.
When to go and getting there
Most resorts open early December. Some of the higher resorts offer skiing from late autumn onwards. Val d’Isere is ahead of the pack in opening its slopes on 26th Nov where there will be free ski trials on the front de neige and qualified ski instructors will show you around the Val d’Isere/Tignes area.
Christmas falls at a weekend this year and some companies have moved check-in dates accordingly. If you are stuck travelling in school holidays (like us) February half term will be as expensive and crowded as usual. Spring is our favourite time to ski, the weather is warmer, some resorts offer free taster sessions or even lift passes for beginners and often the best deals are available. But Easter is late this year so some resorts may have melted!
New routes opening up this year from British airports into Chambery, Geneva and Toulouse will help you to get there from London and from Christmas there are also four new ski routes from the UK to Grenoble Isère airport with weekly flights on a Saturday from Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds Bradford and East Midlands airport with Jet2.
Or if you hate the idea of a budget flight and have some money saved, at the luxury end of the scale the new Butler & Lloyd Happy Families programme in Val Thorens offers a private charter from Farnborough Airport.
One of the most significant developments for families this year is more flexible booking with the charge being led by Pierre & Vacances apartments company who are relaxing their weekend check-in restrictions. “You can now arrive any day you want and stay as long as you want,” says Cathy Rankin, the UK Sales and Marketing Director. Other companies are making noises about doing the same which is a step on the road to bringing an end to early Saturday morning crushes at airports. In Chamonix Pierre Vacances is also trialling including the lift pass as part of the accommodation price. If it works well they will roll it out to other resorts next year.
What’s best for your family?
There are so many different resorts offering different things to different family members that it’s hard to figure out what’s best for you and your family. Here’s a few pointers…
Skiing with babies and toddlers
If you are travelling with young kids look out for the symbol Famille Plus. This identifies the resorts that are most family friendly. What does that mean in practice? High chairs, entertainment and all those little details that make your life less stressful. Just given birth and given up on skiing? Think again! Les Menuires offers a crèche where experienced childcare practitioners look after up to 12 babies from 3 months old. (You provide the nappies!) Les Menuires was voted Best Family Ski resort in the Telegraph World Snow Awards last year.
Arc 1800 has invested a lot in the kindergarten, says Guillaume Villibord, the ski school Director. He tells me facilities include a moving carpet and brand new chalet for lesson breaks. Kids are welcome from age 3. It’s a popular centre – every week in Feb they welcome up to 1000 kids a day.
If you don’t speak French but would like to find out the best resort for your family, the French ski school organisation has a UK office which can help. You can email the ESF UK team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the hotline on +44 (0) 1992 679714 and someone will get back to you.
Skiing with tweens
French resorts have been getting creative with themed runs and trails. If you have children from 5-12 check out Les Gets ‘Gran Cry’ territory -an American Indian Frontier Village complete with tepees and squaw face painting. Meanwhile snow park pistes in Valloire feature giant bells and xylophones to bash with a pole. Make up your own ski symphony! And Valmorel has a Pirate Adventures zone (where you can walk two planks??)
In Val Thorens kids over 5 can ski using wingjump suits to help them take off. If that’s got you worried, it’s not the whole suit and they’re not going to fly over the mountain never to be seen again. It’s just the cape section which attaches to ski poles. Or the kids can fly above on a tandem parapent. I had a go at this at Les Carroz in the summer – great views of Mont Blanc and kids were allowed to jump from aged 6.
Or if you want to slow it down and ski with the kids, Les Menuires offers ‘pink runs,’ with a reduced area lift pass which will save you money if you don’t plan on going anywhere near a black run.
Ski with a dash of tech
Many resorts are using tech to engage kids. Les Gets has a geocaching app and Pierre & Vacances invites children to download the new Aventures d’Happyz app with puzzles and games, recipes and an interactive treasure hunt. Some resorts are using the snow itself to engage – children in Les Menuires can sign up to build and sleep in an igloo overnight. And if you like the look of the piste bashers on the ridges at sunset you can explore the world of the driver by having a ride at several resorts including Serre Chevalier. Mums and Dads can even be the driver on a special track in Meribel. We spent a few hours out with a snow cat driver a few years ago and found it atmospheric and intriguing.
Skiing with teens
There are all sorts of bonkers sports you can try out this year with your action hungry teens. If your kids are Heelies fans they may like snow skating. Sled Dog Snow Skates are boots with a flat skate moulded to the bottom. You can have a free trial by the Turche Drag Lifts in Les Gets. Courchevel rents out Snow Scooters and many resorts do Fat Tyre biking. In Le Grand Bornand we enjoyed ski biking; literally a bike on skis. See our video, below. Many resorts also do Fat Tyre Mountain biking. Also in Le Grand Bornand you can have a go at Snooc; a mix of ski touring tech on the way up and sledging on the way down. And in Tignes the Bun-J ride is part ski, part bungy and part zip. What’s not to like?
More than just skiing
Still looking for an adventure? Val Thorens has the longest sledging run in France and also the world’s highest zip wire at over 3200m where you can sling your skis over your back and pretend you are James Bond. Speaking of which, there’s a new 007 piste in Peyragudes to mark the 20th anniversary of Tomorrow Never Dies being filmed there. Sadly not everyone on the slope will look like Daniel Craig but you never know.
If you prefer your movies unfrozen and served with popcorn, upmarket operators Ski Famille offer chalets with cinema rooms. And for selfie fanatics Chatel is offering a ‘selfie tour’ – 10 of the best spots for your kids to take their selfies. Parents prepare for some quality photobombing. If you really like social media then Grand Tourmalet has a tweeting concierge.
All over the Alps this season there are ski competitions, music festivals and sporting events. Two worth noting are the epic 6 stations rugby tournament at February half term and the January Le Grand Bornand spectacular dog sledding race. Oh and let’s not forget the sliding; especially the water slide in Les Arcs’ 1600 fun park and La Clusaz Défi Foly, a madcap downhill venture onto broken ice and a great spectacle. You can watch it in comfort from the bar opposite the slope, but you’ll have to fight for a space.