The world’s largest interconnected ski area, the highest located ski resort, the fastest gondola – superlatives of such sorts are not seldom in the ski nation France. Nevertheless this country is not top of the list as a winter sports destination. Lots of people still consider Switzerland, Austria and the German Alps as the classic winter sports holiday areas. Further, the prejudice of France being very expensive for holiday makers is hard to get rid of. This has even been proven false by the ADAC (German Auto Mobile Club) when they testes the cost-effectiveness of ski resorts last year, whereby France came in second place. It is often forgotten how much France really has to offer as a winter sports destination. Andreas Rühl, CEO of Germany’s largest winter sports tour operator SnowTrex and former ski and snowboard tutor, explains in an interview why France should be one of your focuses whilst choosing your next winter holiday.
Mr Rühl, France is known as one of the more expensive winter sports destinations. Can you confirm this from SnowTrex point of view? No, actually it is totally the opposite. Due to great purchasing reductions we are able to offer our guests considerably cheaper prices in France, even more so than in other countries and even cheaper than the resorts the ADAC selected as their test winners Poland and the Czech Republic. One week in Chamrousse, the Olympic resort from 1968, for example is bookable already from £89 per person, including the accommodation and a 6-day lift pass. The lift pass alone already costs around £135. In Valfréjus you can get the same package from £114. Even holidays in the famous Val Thorens in the 3 Vallées we can offer from £244, of course including the lift pass. The best thing about the accommodations in France is that nearly all are located directly on the pistes and offer 3 or 4-star quality. Further our customers can profit from up to 50 % reduction on equipment hire prices.
What makes France attractive for you as a winter sports destination? The diversity of the French ski areas. There really is something for everyone there. The large interconnections are perfect for those looking for a large selection of pistes. In the 3 Vallées for example you will find 600 km of pistes in the world’s largest interconnected ski area, in the Paradiski area there are 425 km of piste, in Les Sybelles you can find 310 km, and Espace Killy offers 300 km. In France you can also find smaller villages though, which can still provide areas covering 50 – 150 km of pistes. Traditional resorts, such as Chamonix which was an Olympic resort back in 1924, fuse with newer, younger ski villages. The individual resorts also can offer diversity by offering freeride areas and prepared pistes, some steep downhill pistes, as well as beginner and family terrain and fun parks. A further advantage most of the ski areas can offer is the ideal location of most accommodations, directly on the piste. Fun in the snow first thing in the morning without having to wait long for the ski bus or the lift at the gondola station.
Every holiday maker has a different idea of what they want from a destination. Let’s test how France can live up to your expectations. Let us look at a sporty, demanding skier. Is there a specific ski area you would recommend? Ambitious skiers love to be able to choose. Therefore I can really recommend the 3 Vallées. 600 km of piste, 199 lifts – this must all be explored somehow. In Tignes and the connected region Espace Killy skiers and boarders can try out all pistes, right up to former Olympic runs. Especially the pistes on the 3,565 m high La Grande Motte glacier are known to be a challenge. In Tignes activity doesn’t stop at the end of the piste: heli-skiing, snow-kite, speed-riding – if you’re brave you have a lot to try out. And finally there is also the famous Tour-de-France stage destination Alpe ‘Huez with a spectacular run. Europe’s longest piste for instance, the “La Sarenne” with 16 km in total, and the steep run “Le Tunnel”.
Not everybody wants to ride pistes everyday. Have you got a good tip for all freeriders? Many of the French ski areas are also well-known for their freeride areas. A popular place to go is for instance Les 2 Alpes with the merge into the freeride area “La Grave”. It is known as a real powder snow Mecca with freeride fans. Chamonix also has a great reputation amongst freeride fans. With the “Vallée Blanche“, “Les Pax de Chèvre” and the “Le Glacier de Rognins” there already are a number of hot spots. The “Vallée Blanche”, an unprepared piste of 20 km length, right down to Chamonix, belongs to one of the most famous deep powder snow runs.
Younger holiday makers are looking especially for fun – on the piste in fun parks and away from the piste in apres ski locations. Do you think France is a good place for both? Val Thorens is surely one resort than can cater to both desires. On the one hand it is known as the Mecca of French apres ski – with more than 20 bars and discos. On the other hand the snow park of the ski area offers 70,000 m² and is therefore really large. Four lines with various levels of difficulty are available here. However, I will also have to mention Les 2 Alpes again, as well. The park there is even open in summer. During the warmer months it is moved from 2,600 m to 3,200 m altitude. In winter there is a beginner area, a jib area, a slopestyle run, boardercross, a rail zone and a half-pipe. In the summer the beginner and pro areas are completed with a rail park, a 20 m BigAir, and a half-pipe and SuperPipe (140 m). Fun in Les 2 Alpes also does not end with the end of the skiing day. Directly on the piste you can already find many apres ski bars. In the resort there are further bars, pubs, discos and restaurants. In Vars-Le-Claux the offer is also great. In the ski area Vars/Le Foret Blanche there are 6 parks – including areas for pros, and even one park only for children from 3 years, one especially for girls, and one made from purely natural elements. Finally, regarding the party facilities, I can also recommend La Plagne. Here there is also a large offer of bars to choose from. Very practical is the free bus which connects all resort districts with each other until midnight.
Many people think that French ski resorts are dominated by the huge concrete hotel buildings. Can you work against this prejudice with nice mountain villages? Of course. We offer accommodations for instance in Saint Sorlin, a typically Savoyard village, which is also known for its dairy production. Valfréjus is also not a centre of mass tourism and therefore has remained a small, pretty village with chalet buildings and where the resort centre forms a horseshoe ring around the valley run.
And where will families find the ideal conditions for a relaxing holiday? In France there are many resorts which have been accredited due to their family-friendliness. These resorts include for example Val d’Allos, Puy St.Vincent, Super Dévoluy, Vars-Le-Claux and Saint Sorlin. The main advantages that families in French ski resorts can profit from are that the apartments mostly have direct access to the pistes and they also offer cost-effective self-catering.
Finally, would you please let us know what your personal French ski area favourites are… That is difficult to say as France offers so many great ski areas. The resort I have visited the most however is Chamrousse – and not only due to the great price/service ratio. The special thing about Chamrousse is really the ski area. The beginner pistes start right in front of the door, but the further you move away from the pistes around 1750, where our accommodation is located, the more sporty the pistes become – right up to the Olympic area in Chamrousse 1650. With 92 km of piste the ski area has the perfect size to ski in one week.