Skiing France's big three: Les Arcs, Avoriaz & Val Thorens

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France's enduring popularity as one of the world's top ski destinations shows no sign of abating. With three of the world's biggest ski domains all clustered around the French Alps the choice of resorts can easily boggle the mind.

A guide to skiing's big three: Les Arcs, Avoriaz & Val Thorens © Richard Allaway - Flickr Creative Commons
A guide to skiing's big three: Les Arcs, Avoriaz & Val Thorens © Richard Allaway - Flickr Creative Commons

In this whistlestop guide to the leading ski destinations of Paradiski, Portes du Soleil and the Three Valleys, we hope to shine a light on the best of each resort, helping you to narrow down the options.

Getting to France's top ski resorts: browse the latest deals on ski breaks to these three resorts and more in France* with Crystal Ski*.

Paradiski: Les Arcs

Four resorts make up this corner of the huge Paradiski domain and three of them are typically modernist 1960s purpose-built resorts. If you want cosy Alpine charm, opt for snug little Arc 1950, whose buildings have been designed in traditional Savoyard style.

Its pretty traffic-free centre makes it a hit with families, as all cars have been banished to underground car parks and you can enjoy unfettered views of Mont Blanc.

Ski from your door straight to the lifts at Les Arcs © Hemis - Alamy Stock Photo
Ski from your door straight to the lifts at Les Arcs © Hemis - Alamy Stock Photo

Ski from your door straight to the lifts, where you'll have 200 km of pistes to explore for every level of skier. There's a lot of variety, from sheltered wooded slopes to the seriously challenging black runs clinging to the towering Aiguille Rouge peak at 3,225m.

Intermediates and confident beginners have plenty of cruising terrain, and novices can learn safely in the 'ski tranquille' areas.

"If you want cosy Alpine charm, opt for snug little Arc 1950"

If Les Arcs*' 200 km of pistes aren't enough, just ski to the southern edge of the domain Peisey-Vallandry and take the cable car to La Plagne*, which opens up another 225 km of Paradiski's pistes.

Once the lifts close, the fun continues at Hotel du Golf 1800*. This sprawling complex includes an indoor pool, jazz bar, kids' clubs, indoor swimming pool and Deep Nature Spa.

In the centre of Arc 1950, just seconds away from the ski lifts, is Prince des Cimes Arc 1950*, a luxurious ski-in, ski-out resort two minutes from the lifts.

Les Arcs snow report (ski season)

68
76
71
91
89
83
100
89
85
98
92
92
94
85
85
86
69
63
69
42
48
25
25
12
5
Nov 3
Nov 4
Dec 1
Dec 2
Dec 3
Dec 4
Jan 1
Jan 2
Jan 3
Jan 4
Jan 5
Feb 1
Feb 2
Feb 3
Feb 4
Mar 1
Mar 2
Mar 3
Mar 4
Apr 1
Apr 2
Apr 3
Apr 4
May 1
May 2

The Les Arcs snow report shows potential for good quality snow for each week of the ski season based on 15 years of historical observations.

Planning a ski trip? Give our ski resort comparison tool a whirl to compare snow cover in each destination.

Portes du Soleil: Avoriaz

For more ski-in, ski-out convenience, it's hard to beat Avoriaz* in the Portes du Soleil domain, whose 12 linked resorts straddle the French-Swiss border.

Although it was also built during the 1960s French ski boom, the village stands apart from its contemporaries. The high rise architecture is easier on the eye being more futuristic than brutalist, and the snowy, car-free streets filled with horse-drawn sleighs add even more charm.

Powder on the slopes of Avoriaz © Oreli B - Office de Tourisme Avoriaz
Powder on the slopes of Avoriaz © Oreli B - Office de Tourisme Avoriaz

High altitude Avoriaz is in an excellent position within the Portes du Soleil. Its 75 km pistes spill out in all directions and make it straightforward to reach the other resorts in the domain. With 650 km throughout Portes du Soleil, it's also a great place for clocking up kilometres.

Expert skiers will want to tackle the infamous Swiss Wall in the Chavanette sector on the Swiss border. Ski through the woods of Lindarets and you reach the very French resort of Châtel*. Hop aboard the cable car to British favourite Morzine*, which is linked to even more slopes at Les Gets*.

"For more ski-in, ski-out convenience, it's hard to beat Avoriaz"

If you're looking for distractions off the slopes, try the enormous Aquariaz water park filled with jungle-like vegetation. Whizz down the Slidewinder (like a watery halfpipe) or relax in the gently bubbling pools. The views from the outdoor hot tubs are fantastic.

For non-ski fun, you can have a go at dog-sledding and night-time tobogganing. Like many large resorts in France, the choice of après ski activities is huge, everything from electric fat bikes and snow scoots to caving.

Ski to Morzine and Les Gets from Avoriaz © skifinderuk - Flickr Creative Commons
Ski to Morzine and Les Gets from Avoriaz © skifinderuk - Flickr Creative Commons

For a little post-ski luxury, check into five-star L'Amara Apartments*. It has wonderful views of the Morzine Valley as well as a very welcome spa and indoor pool.

Avoriaz snow report (ski season)

65
78
82
77
91
84
98
92
98
96
94
88
88
83
91
84
82
66
72
47
58
35
29
24
26
Nov 3
Nov 4
Dec 1
Dec 2
Dec 3
Dec 4
Jan 1
Jan 2
Jan 3
Jan 4
Jan 5
Feb 1
Feb 2
Feb 3
Feb 4
Mar 1
Mar 2
Mar 3
Mar 4
Apr 1
Apr 2
Apr 3
Apr 4
May 1
May 2

The Avoriaz snow report shows potential for good quality snow for each week of the ski season based on 15 years of historical observations.

Three Valleys: Val Thorens

It's Europe's highest ski resort and the place everyone flocks to when there's little snow elsewhere. Built high above the tree line at 2300m, Val Thorens* is becoming one of the most popular resorts in the Three Valleys (Trois Vallées) ski domain. It's also getting smarter and more upmarket, with new five star hotels cropping up.

The compact centre is mainly car-free and full of ski-in, ski-out accommodation, including the much-loved Hotel Le Fitz Roy* near the middle of the village. It's a short walk from the heart of the resort, Place de Caron, which is where you'll find most of the restaurants and shops.

The final run down into Val Thorens © Delphotostock - Fotolia.com
The final run down into Val Thorens © Delphotostock - Fotolia.com

It's the 150 km of snow-sure north-facing slopes that pulls people here, along with some of the best off-piste terrain in the Three Valleys. Take the gondola up to Cime de Caron at 3,200m, where the spectacular views extend to the neighbouring Maurienne Valley. Get there early in the day if you want to avoid the queues.

"It's the 150 km of snow-sure north facing slopes that pulls people here"

While the pistes are good for skiers of all levels, intermediates, in particular, will jump at the chance to cover a huge amount of terrain within the Three Valleys. Les Menuires* next door is one of the more underrated resorts in the Three Valleys but has superb skiing.

Méribel* is also just over the Col de la Chambre. If you're really keen, you can even ski right across to Courchevel 1650*, if you don't mind a bit of a thigh-burning return.

For après ski relaxation, dip into the warm waters of the hot tubs, swimming pools and balneotherapy bath at the Val Thorens' Sports Centre and Aqua-Spa. Children have their own play areas, with paddling pools and waterfalls, along with water-based organised activities.

If that's all too staid, join the daily après ski party on the mountain at the Val Thorens outpost of La Folie Douce, France's most raucous collection of mountainside outdoor clubs and restaurants. People come from all over the Three Valleys to dance on the terrace against the enchanting backdrop of snow-covered mountains.

Val Thorens snow report (ski season)

89
100
100
100
100
100
100
100
100
100
100
100
98
98
100
100
96
91
91
79
87
80
69
67
58
Nov 3
Nov 4
Dec 1
Dec 2
Dec 3
Dec 4
Jan 1
Jan 2
Jan 3
Jan 4
Jan 5
Feb 1
Feb 2
Feb 3
Feb 4
Mar 1
Mar 2
Mar 3
Mar 4
Apr 1
Apr 2
Apr 3
Apr 4
May 1
May 2

The Val Thorens snow report shows potential for good quality snow for each week of the ski season based on 15 years of historical observations.

Les Arcs, Avoriaz and Val Thorens are just three exciting ski resorts that pepper France* and throb with life during the ski season. Whether you're a pro on two skis or a complete novice, there's a ski holiday for you.

Donning those skis this winter? Check out the latest deals from Crystal Ski.

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Mary Novakovich

Mary Novakovich
Article updated on Saturday 13th November 2021 in: Adventure Europe Season Skiing & Snowboarding

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