French ski resorts generally have a reputation of being some of the highest and most snow-sure in Europe.
Of course, being located at a high altitude does not automatically mean that the skiing will be first-class. The higher in altitude, the more likely for rocks to form the layer under the snow and for more snow depth to be necessary for a good ski experience.
And higher altitudes usually mean fewer trees, which can lead to difficult conditions during snowfall or flat light.
The highest ski resort in France is often listed as the tiny resort of La Grave in the Haut-Alpes which tops out at 3600 metres in altitude. However it essentially has just the single route up and serves off-piste ski routes which are only suitable for skiers and snowboarders experienced in all kinds of snow.
Highest French ski resorts
Les Deux Alpes
Les Deux Alpes is one of the main ski resorts in the southern part of the central French Alps and boasts a vertical descent of almost 2000 metres – a lengthy ski run down from the glacier above the village which unusually is open to all levels of skier.
The main village, with most of the accommodation, is located between the two mountain pastures (‘alpes’) where local farmers traditionally grazed their animals in the summer months.
Most of the skiing is on the glacier side and the top lifts are reached by the Jandri Express gondola and then a funicular railway under the glacier. There is plenty of intermediate and even beginner skiing higher up the mountain, with some of the most difficult runs being those above the village itself.
On the other side of Les Deux Alpes, the smaller Vallée Blanche ski area offers a selection of easy blue runs.
Top altitude: 3560 metres
Ski resort elevation: Les 2 Alpes – 1650 metres
How to get there: the nearest airport to Les 2 Alpes is Grenoble Alpes Isère Airport at around 110 kilometres away. Chambéry Airport is slightly further but it might be worth considering the larger airport at Lyon with a wider choice of flights.
Tignes is part of one of the most renowned French ski regions, the Espace Killy, and shares the ski area with the famous ski resort of Val d’Isère. Tignes is made up of high-altitude hamlets at different altitudes which offer ski-in ski-out capability from the mostly purpose-built accommodation.
On one side of the resort the Tovière area links to the ridge above Val d’Isère and some challenging descents towards La Daille, while on the other, the Col du Palet and Aiguille Percée lift systems offer a wide variety of runs of all difficulty levels.
The high-altitude skiing in Tignes is located on the Grande Motte glacier at the end of the valley with a funicular railway from Val Claret accessing the group of lifts in the glacier area. Unusually for a glacier there are several red runs and a few black bump runs, although those looking for something easier will enjoy the long blue runs from the top of the funicular.
Top altitude: 3450 metres
Ski resort elevation: Tignes – 2100 metres
How to get there: Chambéry Airport is the closest airport for those arriving on a flight, although the more popular choice has traditionally been one of the larger airports at Geneva or Lyon. The nearest train station is at Bourg St Maurice with a regular daytime bus service up to Tignes.
You could argue that Alpe d’Huez is the least-recognised ‘big’ ski resort in France. Skiing here dates back to before the Second World War, it can boast the longest black run in the world (at 16 kilometres) and the ski area has more than 80 lifts accessing 250 kilometres of ski runs suitable for all levels of skier.
Alpe d’Huez is, like its neighbour Les Deux Alpes, located a little south and to the east of the city of Grenoble and, with its long history of skiing, is a healthy and lively mix of traditional and modern architecture.
The skiing is mostly on sunny open slopes which are perfect for intermediate skiers and there is a good beginners area close to the town. Experts will want to sample some of the lengthy black runs off the Pic Blanc top station on the glacier, but there are also some tough and quieter challenges on the slopes down to some of the villages connecting to the edge of the ski area.
Top altitude: 3330 metres
Ski resort elevation: Alpe d’Huez – 1860 metres
How to get there: like Les Deux Alpes the closest airport is Grenoble Alpes Isère Airport which is just over 100 kilometres away from Alpe d’Huez. Chambéry Airport and Lyon Airport are both alternatives for the ski resort. Driving up to the ski resort will take visitors up the hairpin bends which feature each summer in the Tour de France cycling stage.
Argentière in the Chamonix valley is a French ski resort which would usually be in this position in the article but its lift up to the highest point in the ski area is currently being rebuilt following a major fire and is not available at the time of writing.
The ski resort of Les Arcs is one of the prime examples of French purpose-built winter destination architecture at the end of the 1960s. Located in the Tarentaise region above the town of Bourg St Maurice, Les Arcs attracted criticism for its massive apartment blocks while drawing in skiers who were impressed with the altitude and ski-in ski-out capability.
The resort appearance and the critical opinions have mellowed over the years as the ski resort has expanded, with hamlets and connected villages at different altitudes and the link to neighbouring La Plagne creating one of the largest ski areas in the Alps.
The on-piste ski area has traditionally been a welcoming one for all levels of skier, with extensive beginner and intermediate runs. Experts will be drawn to the 2000 vertical metre drop from the highest point in the area, the Aiguille Rouge, as well as some of the black runs around the Varet gondola.
Top altitude: 3250 metres
Ski resort elevation: Les Arcs – 1200-2000 metres depending on hamlet
How to get there: Like the nearby ski resorts at Tignes and Val Thorens the nearest airport is at Chambéry but many visitors will use the larger options at Geneva or Lyon. A funicular railway accesses Les Arcs from the train station is at Bourg St Maurice.
Val Thorens is the highest of the ski resorts in the spectacular Trois Vallées ski area in the Tarentaise region of the French Alps.
Built entirely above the treeline and with a number of glaciers, the Val Thorens ski area used to be a little out of the way in the Trois Vallées for skiers in the more popular and lower Meribel and Courchevel ski hamlets. The addition of a ‘fourth valley’ with the improved lift link down to the village of Orelle (and the motorway through the Maurienne) has improved accessibility from another direction.
The ski runs at Val Thorens are perfect for beginners and intermediates and there are a number of options for the more experienced advanced skier around the Cime Caron. But the altitude of the resort and the fact that it is above the treeline can make it seriously inhospitable if caught in bad weather.
Top altitude: 3230 metres
Ski resort elevation: Val Thorens – 2300 metres
How to get there: Visitors arriving on a flight tend to use on one of the winter services from the airports at Chambéry, Geneva or Lyon. The nearest train station is at Moutiers with regular bus shuttle services up to the resort.
If you are looking for high-altitude ski resorts in Europe, you might like to try our article about the highest ski resorts in Austria…