Is there enough snow for a final fling in the French Alps? You bet there is. We can’t remember a season with such glorious depths as these.
Arc 1950 – Higher skiing at lower prices
This is not quite the highest, but certainly it’s by far the most attractive of the ski villages at varying altitudes that make up Les Arcs. Right now there’s a cracking 180cm in 1950 itself and the best part of 2.5m at the top lift station. What’s more, the skiing starts right outside your door. With 200km of high-quality pistes, and another 225km in neighbouring La Plagne, it’s a compelling package for those who want to ski hard without paying Courchevel or Val d’Isere prices.
By anyone’s standards, this is great skiing that is best suited to strong intermediates who want a huge variety of terrain and like to put a big mileage beneath their skis each day. Die-hard experts will find plenty of demanding bowls and steep couloirs, too.
Don’t expect too much of the Paradiski link to La Plagne. There should be enough natural and artificial snow to keep the double cable running through the final weeks, despite the fact that the link is at low altitude. But the reality is that there is so much terrain in Les Arcs you probably won’t bother with more than one exploratory trip across.
Where to stay: Residence at Arc 1950.
La Plagne – Family-friendly fun
The other half of the Paradiski area has ten – yes ten – quite separate villages that are all linked into a network of 225km of piste. You can commute up the mountain from the farming hamlets of Les Coches, Montalbert, and Champagny, although at this time of year it’s best to grab altitude.
At 2050m, Belle Plagne is the highest village in the resort, and all things considered it’s the best place to stay for quick access to the full range of La Plagne’s skiing. Justly it has built its reputation over the years as a centre that’s great for families, though the core of the ski area is the 3417m Bellecote with a snowsure glacier and some outstanding steeper runs and off-piste opportunities.
La Plagne is not famous for its mountain restaurants, but there’s a wide choice of places to eat at generally lower prices than in the 3 Valleys or Val d’Isere.
Where to stay: The Montagnettes in Belle Plagne.
Tignes – High and mighty
‘Ski here 365 days a year’ used to be its motto, with skiing on the Grande Motte going up to 3450m. A declining market for summer skiing means that sadly this is no longer true. But you get the picture – this is the most snowsure resort in France with the best and widest developed glacier in the whole of Europe. At this stage of the season there’s 130cm in Tignes Le Lac and more than twice that at the top of the lifts.
Tignes plays host to the X Games from March 20 – 22. With all the best freestylers on the planet, the competition is a fantastic spectator sport – and free of charge.
The spring skiing here is not just confined to the Grande Motte. Last year on April 30 we skied all the way down to Tignes Les Brevieres at 1550m – and there wasn’t a rock in sight. No doubt, it will be the same this spring.
Espace Killy, the combined 300km area of Tignes and Val d’Isere, doesn’t close until May 5. Tignes itself stays open until May 12.
Where to stay: Village Montana.
Val Thorens – Roof of the 3 Valleys
It’s arguably Europe’s highest ski village set way above the tree-line with superb skiing of its own as well as links to
From late November to early May, snowcover is rarely called into question – 150cm at the moment in the village and 320cm up on the ridge separating the 3 Valleys from the fourth, the Maurienne.
Last season saw the opening of the futuristic Altapura hotel, created by artist and designer Jocelyne Sibuet who also owns a swathe of luxury Megeve properties. Next winter the Koh-I Nor opens as the highest five-star hotel in Europe.
Where to stay: Val Thorens has some of the best self-catering accommodation around, including the family-friendly Hameau du Kashmir.
Les Deux Alpes – Double Peaks in the Dauphine
With its top lift at 3600m, this is one of Europe’s most snow-safe ski resorts and a popular setting for out-of-season ski and snowboard camps. Currently there’s 120cm in the village and 210cm up at 3200m. Stunning scenery, full-throttle nightlife, and low-ish prices combine with 223km of high-altitude pistes to make this a premier destination for early and late season skiing.
The resort is best suited to intermediates and stronger skiers. Beginners should note that the gradient of the main mountain is ‘reversed’ – so the easy slopes are higher up and the final descent is steep. It makes sense for novices to download by gondola.
Experts can explore the glacial terrain of La Meije and ski all the way down to the village of La Grave. It’s important to note that this is serious high alpine terrain and you’ll need to employ a qualified local mountain guide.
Where to stay: Residence Alba.
Alpe d’Huez – High on Vertical
At the turn of the century when global warming seemed to be a considerably bigger threat to European skiing than it is today, Alpe d’Huez built lifts on its glacier – not for summer skiing, but to ensure good cover at the start and end of each season.
As a result Alpe d’Huez, and the linked village of Vaujany, offer excellent spring skiing. But with 180cm in the village at the moment and the best part of 4m at the top of the lift system, the glacier lifts are just a useful addition.
The 3330m Pic Blanc is the starting point for some epic runs – both on and off-piste – and it’s not unusual even at this time of year to catch a full 2000m of vertical, including the Champagne run.
Where to stay: Residence Cristal de l’Alpe.
This is one of the last resorts to close – the fermeture takes place this year on May 5. They’ve had a spectacular winter and are still recording 130cm in town and more than twice that on top. Val has its own Pissaillas glacier above the outlying hamlet of Le Fornet. This is the starting point for some spectacular off-piste opportunities at this time of year including the run down to Bonneval in the adjoining Maurienne Valley. It involves a short hike from the top of the lift system and a wonderful powder descent all the way to the valley. It’s a long taxi ride or a short helicopter hop back to Val.
The whole resort stays open into May and the link to Tignes provides a lot more high-altitude skiing on the Grande Motte and elsewhere.
Where to stay: Chalets du Jardin Alpin.