The Essential Skiing Guide: France

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The Independent Travel

Forty per cent of all Britons still head to French resorts – and it's easy to see why. Most of the country's 300-plus ski areas were developed after the Second World War, with many of them purpose-built for skiing. The result is numerous convenient, high-altitude resorts, with ski areas that have expanded to be the world's largest.

They're easy to reach on fast, smooth motorways from Calais and direct Eurostar links from St Pancras to Les Arcs. However, most people fly in via Chambéry or Geneva, often discovering one of the two flaws in the plan – over-crowded airports and access roads to the ski areas. These are best avoided by not travelling on Saturday afternoon.

The other downside is that these big-altitude resorts can seem soulless and almost city-like – hardly lending that sense of freedom, which, for most, is the big attraction of winter sports. If you prefer ambience, stay in one of the small traditional villages now lift-linked to the big circuits and offered by tour operator Peak Retreats.

Did you know?

The potential for the world's largest ski area, with 600km (373 miles) of piste, the Trois Vallées was first identified by a British survey in the 1920s.

Most big French resorts have affordable care for children from a few months old.

The French Pyrenees offer friendly, sunny, high-value skiing, easily accessed by low-cost airlines.

Ski in to Italy from La Rosière or Montgenèvre, or in to Switzerland from Avoriaz.

Although the big area lift passes are not the cheapest, you do get more kilometres of piste for your euro than in any other country.

As well as being easy to reach overland, more French resorts have ISO 14001 environmental management certification than any other country.

The world's longest lift-served ski run, the Vallée Blanche, descends for 22km (13.6 miles) into Chamonix.

Best resorts for novices

Alpe d'Huez (00 33 476 11 44 44; alpedhuez.com); Cauterets (00 33 5 62 92 50 50; cauterets.com); La Rosière (00 33 4 79 06 80 51; larosiere.net); Montgenèvre (00 33 49 2 21 52 52; montgenevre.com); Val Thorens (00 33 4 79 00 08 08; valthorens.com).

For intermediates

Avoriaz (00 33 4 50 74 02 11; avoriaz.com); La Plagne (00 33 4 79 09 79 79; la-plagne.com); Les Arcs (00 33 4 79 07 12 57; lesarcs.com); Méribel (00 33 4 79 08 60 01; meribel.net); Serre Chevalier (00 33 4 92 24 98 98; serre-chevalier.com).

For experts

Argentière (00 33 4 50 54 02 14; argentiere.com) ; Bonneval sur Arc (00 33 4 79 05 95 95; bonneval-sur-arc.com); Courchevel (00 33 4 79 08 00 29; courchevel.com); La Grave (00 33 4 76 79 90 05; lagrave-lameije.com); Val d'Isère (00 4 79 06 06 60; valdisere.com).

For families

Le Grand Bornand (00 33 4 50 02 78 00; legrandbornand .com); Les Gets (00 33 4 50 75 80 80; lesgets.com; Morillon (00 33 4 50 90 15 76; ot-morillon.fr), St Lary (00 33 5 62 39 50 81, saintlary.com); Valmorel (00 33 4 79 09 85 55; Valmorel.com).

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