When To Ski France

Heading to Serre Chevalier in January can be the perfect time to ski France
Off-piste terrain in Chatel (Portes du Soleil) in mid February is superb, but it may be best staying in Switzerland
A long season at Alpe d'Huez allows one to ski powder with the least amount of people
Val Thorens & Les Menuires are best visited during quieter times in January
Early March at Bonneval-sur-Arc, a quiet resort during French school holidays
Pralognan la Vanoise - a small resort alternative to the busy nearby behemoths
The small family resort of Aussois produces the goods in early March during French school holidays
Summer skiing & boarding is possible in France on the glacier at Les 2 Alpes
Powder skiing at 3 Vallees Meribel in mid January is pure joy
Christmas can be magical in the French Alps, but comes at a price in places like Courchevel
Mid January powder day at the 3 Valleys heading toward St Martin de Belleville
La Plagne ski resort France is great for beginners anytime during the season
Le Tour (Balme) in Chamonix is the quietest of the local resorts all season long
Skiing La Grave early in the season can have issues, best to be flexible and follow the snow
Small French ski resorts like La Norma in the Haute Maurienne are fabulous all season.
Avoriaz (Portes du Soleil) in mid February can be super busy, but the Swiss side of the resort is quiet by comparison
Tree skiing at Val Cenis in early March when the snow-pack is deepest
Brevent Flegere at Chamonix is wonderful on any sunny day, but busy all season
Bonneval sur Arc is super quiet, cold & dark in mid January, but absolutely gorgeous
Ski French Alps powder at Les 2 Alpes in the trees during mid March - woohoo!

When To Ski France

When is the Best Time to Ski & Snowboard France?

After ,’…where is the best place to ski in France?...’, the second question asked is inevitably '..when is the best time to go?…'. As with most questions the answer is not straight-forward, but there are a few rules of thumb spelt out below that if considered, should bring the best possible ski resort experience to you.

Europe & France has a large population living near the Alps & major population centres near the Pyrenees. To maximise the enjoyment of our French skiing experiences, the main factors the Powderhounds consider are:

  1. Crowds;
  2. Snow quantity & quality;
  3. Open lifts & terrain;
  4. Price.

Factors 2 & 3 are often beyond our control due to mother nature, but Factor 1 (crowds) can make even the greatest powder snow day a disappointment. So, we try to AVOID CROWDS AT ALL COSTS.

Whilst it is possible to ride a ski lift & schuss a piste every month of the year in European ski resorts, skiing & snowboarding in France is not quite a 365 day-a-year experience. But it comes close. Read on to find out where is best & when.

Best Times to Ski France with Low Crowds

It should go without saying that sleeping in until 10am & starting skiing at 11 is not a good crowd avoidance strategy in France (or anywhere else for that matter!). Dress for the cold, get to first lifts & let it rip for a couple of hours of bliss. Have an early lunch & then hit it again when everyone else heads in for theirs.

In a broader sense the following are the best times to ski France with low crowds:
  • November & December before Christmas;
  • January after the first week;
  • Middle two weeks of March; and
  • April & early May (whenever Easter isn’t!)

Times to absolutely avoid if you don’t like too many humans sharing your powder:

  • Christmas / New year period (everywhere);
  • French school holidays – particularly when Zone C (Paris & districts) is on holiday;
  • Weekends*;
  • Local public holidays;
  • Competition events;
  • Mid to late February (It is high season in ski resorts for a reason!).

* Regarding weekends. A general rule for any self-respecting Powderhound is to ski backcountry on weekends & avoid the resorts. However, Saturdays are often a changeover day for visitors staying for a week at a resort (hence they do not ski & the new arrivals have not come yet. If the nearby local population isn’t large, Saturdays can be surprisingly quiet.)

France Skiing Month by Month

Europe is the only place in the world that has lift assisted skiing all year round. In France that’s not quite true, but when there is nothing open, Zermatt in Switzerland is always only a train ride away for year-round turns. Here is our guide to tick off the ‘I skied every month last year and avoided the crowds’ list.

December

If mother nature has done its job, at least 4 ski areas will already be open the time December arrives. Tignes has the longest ski season of any French resort. It will try and turn lifts from Late Sep through to May & then a summer season from mid-June to mid-August. From mid-November, its neighbour Val d'Isere will join in & open for the first time since summer. Les 2 Alpes & Val Thorens usually open in November so should be spinning lifts as well.

Early December can see huge snowfalls in the southern Alps. If snow hits the south, look at Serre Chevalier, Alpe d'Huez and Montgenevre pre-Christmas. Otherwise high elevation ski areas including Avoriaz, Courchevel, Meribel & the family friendly La Plagne

Early December can also be excellent in the Pyrenees. Places like Cauterets, Gavarnie & even Ax 3 Domaines can get huge early season dumps. Do them as a last minute road trip.

Christmas in France at the snow fields, as with all of Europe, is a major affair. The French don’t quite do Christmas as well as the Italians, Swiss or Austrians (& even though prices are up & crowds are aplenty) it can be a magical time to visit, especially as a family. Expect decent snow in all the higher ski resort villages (including all those mentioned previously), but look at the small ski resorts like Bonneval sur Arc for a Christmas with a difference. At lower elevations however the snow can be hit & miss in December. The ski resorts of Chamonix & above Megeve may well have adequate snow cover, but the villages are relatively low, so may still be ‘green’.

Meanwhile in Austria & Switzerland, Hintertux Glacier & Zermatt (& Mölltal Glacier) are open all through December. As is Saas Fee. You will notice a theme here!

January

January is the best time to ski any French ski resorts, particularly any with low elevation bases (below 1500m) or the frequently busy gargantuan sized interconnected ski areas.

As it is quieter after the first week of January & the snow is cold & deep, it can be a good time to hit some of the French Alps mega resorts like Portes du Soleil & anything in the 3 Vallèes.

Similarly, the Chamonix & huge Tarentaise valley ski resorts are particularly good in mid-January with lower crowds and prices than later in the season. Tignes, Val d'Isere, Les Arcs, Brevent Flegere & Grands Montets are ripe for the picking.

Ski areas close to Geneva like La Clusaz can be fun to ski mid-week in January but must be avoided on weekends.

Meanwhile in Austria, Hintertux Glacier (& Moelltal Glacier) & in Switzerland, Saas Fee & Zermatt are still open!

February

Snowpacks are deepening. Generally, the start of the next ‘high season’ will coincide with the beginning of the various school holiday periods throughout the month. Know that the price of lift tickets and lodging are higher accordingly. But not everywhere.

As resorts get busy in the Haute Savoie & Tarentaise (time to avoid the French mega resorts), head instead to the Haute Maurienne Vanoise valley. The gorgeous resorts of La Norma, Bonneval sur Arc, Aussois & Val Cenis are world class, but without the reputation & corresponding popularity. Base yourself in a self-contained apartment at Val Cenis.

Alternatively, ski the international Via Lattea, based out of Montgenèvre, for the best value lift pass price in western Europe & low mid-week crowds.

The Powderhounds gem of Sainte Foy can provide a haven in the Tarentaise valley during February. If you have a car, it is easy to ski the quiet Villaroger sector of Les Arcs & the great value Espace San Bernardo (La RosiereLa Thuile) from Sainte Foy.

Similarly, peak season in February can be the perfect time to visit small resorts like Pralognan la Vanoise.

Hintertux & Zermatt (& Mölltal) are still open! So is Saas Fee.

March

Everywhere is glorious in March, but for powder hounds, the places to go searching are La Grave & the Mont Blanc massif (i.e. Chamonix). Note that on a sunny day there may be loads of humans in the backcountry. Later in March most ski resorts are all but deserted mid-week providing stellar skiing.

Keep an eye out on the Pyrenees. The western resorts of Cauterets & Gavarnie can get pounded by late storms. A road trip there could reap rewards.

Hintertux & Zermatt (plus Moelltal) are still open!

April

April can bring some huge snow dumps to the higher elevations but expect lots of milder temperatures and ego corn snow. If it does snow, get out there as the crowds have gone & prices are low.

The vast majority of ski resorts will close in the first two weeks of April. The sun is out, snow is soft, days are long, and partying is definitely on. Several of the larger (& smaller) hgh altitude places will still be in full swing- you should know their names by now!

There are so many peaks in the French Alps worth climbing in April for great spring backcountry turns.

Hintertux and Zermatt (and Mölltal) are still open!

May

Most French ski resorts have closed, but Val Thorens in the 3 Vallèes will be a beacon of hope. Party hard at the La Folie Douce for the last resort turns until summer. The combination of Tignes -Val d’Isere will still be turning lifts into May. Early in the month other options usually include Grands Montets in the Chamonix valley & possibly La Grave which is worth some sneaky high altitude turns without the crowds.

Hintertux & Zermatt are still open! Sadly, Pitztal Glacier & Moelltal Glacier close in the middle of May (Mölltal only for a month) – they deserve a break!

June

June can be the best time to ski the remoter backcountry peaks of the high alpine zones in the French Alps. A few high elevation ski resorts, with limited skiing & boarding on glaciers, are opening for a short summer ski season. They include Tignes (a 2 month season on up to 20km of trails) and Val d'Isere (a one month season with 6km of trails). Les 2 Alpes glacier will also be open for easy turns & a wicked terrain park.

Of interest, the very strange ski area at Passo Stelvio in north east Italy opens in June (or even May) as the snowpack decreases(!) to a reasonable level for summer skiing. It closes in early winter as snow levels become unmanageable – go figure.

Elsewhere, Hintertux & Zermatt are still open! Yay, Moelltal Glacier opens in the middle of June. A couple of small glacier ski areas are open in Norway too!

July

High altitude Glacier based skiing is all the go. Val d’Isere closes its short summer ski season early in the month of July but Tignes & Les 2 Alpes remain open throughout the month.

Hintertux Glacier & Zermatt (plus Mölltal) are still open! Saas Fee in Switzerland opens its glacier skiing and doesn’t close until April! If traveling abroad to Australia, for something completely different check out Mt Hotham on a powder day!

August

Lean times are ahead from early August. Tignes & Les 2 Alpes close their summer skiing. Travel to Hintertux, Zermatt, Stelvio Pass, Moelltal & Saas Fee is required if wanting to hit the lifts.

September

All French ski resorts are closed for skiing & snowboarding. Tignes may well try & open in late September if there is sufficient new snow. Head to Hintertux, Zermatt, Moelltal & Saas Fee if wanting to hit the lifts.

October

The high-altitude Tignes will open some terrain in October, but otherwise there is no lift assisted skiing in France yet. Numerous Swiss & Austrian (& maybe Tonale in Italy) glacier-based resorts are opening, providing an alternative to the eternal Hintertux, Zermatt, Moelltal & Saas Fee. Perhaps head to Siberia for some awesome early season cat-skiing with Pri Freeride.

November

By the end of November, many ski resorts are endeavouring to open, although some will only be on weekends and with limited lifts. Higher elevated areas like Tignes, Val d'Isere, Les 2 Alpes & Val Thorens. If early good snow arrives keep a watch on all of the larger ski areas like the 3 Vallees, Les Arcs, Serre Chevalier & Alpe d'Huez.

Hintertux Glacier and Zermatt (plus Mölltal) are still open! As is Saas Fee. Yep, Hintertux and Zermatt are open all year, Moelltal Glacier does 11 months.

And now it is just getting cold again for the snow to drop right down into the low valleys. Winter is back. Yay!