Children, kings of the ski slopes!
French ski resorts are well-practised in catering to family holidays, with a whole host of activities on offer to keep youngsters entertained. "Miniature" resorts and those awarded the FAMILLE PLUS label offer much more than just the traditional snowball fight, toboggan rides and traditional skiing... nowadays it's all about offering activities and services across the board, at the same time providing inspiration for their parents and ensuring happy families all round!
The FAMILLE PLUS label: a guarantee of efficient, friendly service
Supported by the Ministry of Tourism, this label is awarded to tourist sites and those working in the tourist industry for their considerable efforts in co-ordinating an extensive range of activities, reduced prices and services specifically targeted to children. Some 40 pioneering resorts who originally signed up to the "P'tits montagnards" charter now make up close to half of all the ski destinations which provide a special welcome to their younger visitors.
The label comprises six specific commitments(*) which, for example, might include the provision of a crèche to take care of tiny tots aged 6 months and over (with several flexible packages available for parents) or a ski school for three-year-olds and upwards as they make their first foray onto the slopes.
Examples of child-friendly resorts
- Villard-de-Lans and Corrençon, the jewels of the Vercors (Isère)
Situated on the high plateaux of the Vercors mountain range, where visitors can enjoy limitless Nordic and downhill skiing, this "traditional town/high-altitude mountain resort" combination offers younger visitors a number of dedicated facilities including a toboggan run with full safety features, a kids' centre (for children aged 3 to 12 with a full schedule of activities) in Corrençon, and a kids' village in Villard.
- Vaujany, at the heart of the Oisans (Isère)
Situated at an altitude of 1,250m, this discreet village linked via a fast cable car to the huge ski area of Alpe d'Huez, boasts an "aquatic centre" (with a swimming pool, slide etc), organises "fairytale" evenings, and offers reduced rates for skiing and free admission to its three museums (heritage, Hydrelec, fauna).
- Combloux, a pretty village close to Megève (Haute-Savoie)
Linked to the Megève ski area, and built in the same, well-preserved architectural style, this quiet village resort, with its superb views of the west-facing slopes of Mont Blanc, has long championed activities for children, with options that include horse-drawn sleigh treks, farm visits and tastings.
- La Clusaz, with its decor of beautiful chalets (Haute-Savoie)
Nestled amid the superb landscapes of the Massif des Aravis, this charming resort offers a wide range of facilities and an extensive programme of activities specifically geared to children. One particular example is the Christmas "Pestacles" festival.
- Samoëns, the pearl of the Grand Massif (Haute-Savoie)
Situated in the Haut-Giffre, Samoëns is unique in being the only ski resort which is officially classified as a "town or village of art and history". With its traditional village feel and wonderful regional heritage (e.g. farm visits), it is the perfect family destination. Not forgetting the superb skiing opportunities in the nearby Flaine, les Carroz and Morillon ski areas, which can be accessed using the reasonably priced "Pack Famille" ski pass.
- Les Menuires, at the heart of the 3 Vallées (Savoie)
One of the four main resorts in the huge 3 Vallées ski area, Les Menuires has made significant steps to halt its urbanisation, which now offers a more practical feel for visitors and an extensive range of après-ski activities. The resort also organises an impressive calendar of shows and events, such as Carnival Week, the Boule de Notes festival etc.
- Serre-Chevalier, a leading Alpine ski area
This major resort in the Southern Alps consists of three urbanised sites in the Guisane valley (as well as plenty of picturesque villages nearby), with links to the listed town of Briançon, the "Cité Vauban". Facilities for kids here include the inexpensive Piou-Piou clubs in Chantemerle and Villeneuve, the Jardin des Neiges in Le Monêtier, as well as specially designated and safe "beginners' areas" located throughout the ski area, both in the valley and in the surrounding mountains.
- Orcières 1850, in the sunny Hautes-Alpes
With its remodelled ski area (making it easier for families to get around), igloo village, where youngsters can experience traditional "Eskimo adventures" (including a magical night "under the ice"), and an extensive and fully equipped sports complex featuring an ice skating rink, swimming pool, spa etc, Orcières 1850 in the Champsaur Valley is an ever-popular winter destination for kids.
- Massif du Sancy: Super-Besse/Mont-Dore, the jewels of the Auvergne
Both resorts offer good leisure facilities for youngsters, including a ski rink (each with their own appearance and style), a safe and secure area for toddlers, hiking paths that are suitable for pushchairs, plus discounts on "Pack Famille" ski passes.
- Saint-Lary-Soulan, an attractive resort in the Pyrenees
Nestled in an unspoilt valley, this small town full character comes to life in winter as visitors flock to the high ski slopes above the town (Soulan, Plat d'Adet). The Maison de l'Ours (Bear Centre) and the "Spa and Well-Being" complex are popular alternative options for children and parents alike after a day or two on the slopes!
- Other new ideas and initiatives in the Savoie and Mont Blanc areas
- Le Monde de Vardachou, a snowshoe trek for kids, following the trail of the little squirrel, Vardachou, in Arêches-Beaufort (Savoie).
- Le Territoire du Grand Cry in Les Gets (Portes du Soleil), with its re-creation of an Indian village (suitable for children aged 5-12).
- Toboggan runs for specific age groups (2 to 6, 6+), in Châtel (Portes du Soleil).
- Build your own igloo in Megève (Pays du Mont Blanc) etc.
Charming, smaller ski resorts
With just a few ski lifts and limited skiing opportunities, but with a more intimate atmosphere and a landscape that is pristine and completely different, our small ski areas and tiny ski resorts provide a unique and wonderful contrast to the larger, more built-up resorts with their extensive ski areas.
- Le Semnoz, overlooking Lac d'Annecy
A renowned ski playground in a grandiose setting which has developed a big following with snowkiters, in particular. Avoid Sundays if you can, when locals take to the slopes.
- Le Sappey in the Chartreuse region
Despite its proximity to the city of Grenoble, visible from its slopes, Le Sappey stands in a wild and unspoilt setting at the heart of a "parc naturel régional". The ambience here is much more intimate, characterised by family-run hotels, cosy bed & breakfasts, a few drag lifts and several cross-country skiing trails through the surrounding forests.
- Saint-Véran, in the Queyras
This picturesque, well-protected village, the highest "old" village in Europe (2,042m), is connected via several drag lifts and one ski lift to Molines, an equally charming and quiet village, where families can explore thirty or so downhill runs. With its cross-country ski trails and welcoming inns, this corner of the Queyras has its own distinct atmosphere.
- Réallon, overlooking Lac de Serre-Ponçon
Clinging to the slopes of the Aiguilles de Chabrières, in the Embrunais, this resort on a human scale boasts superb views of France's largest man-made scale.
- Chabanon, a haven in the Alpes de Haute-Provence
Located in the unspoilt Vallée de la Blanche, not far from the Ubaye river, this ski resort stands amid a wild and grandiose landscape perfect for cross-country skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts who are keen to get away from it all.
- Gavarnie-Gèdre, at the heart of the Hautes-Pyrénées
Nestled in the famous Cirque de Gavarnie (an impressive natural amphitheatre crowned by lofty mountain peaks), this ski area is renowned for its excellent snow conditions.
- Artouste, an attractive corner of the Béarn
Tucked away in the delightful Vallée d'Ossau, south of Pau, this resort renowned for its spectacular mountain train which runs in summer, also boasts a number of attractive pistes, a "kidpark" and "snowpark".
- Le Schnepfenried, in the Vosges
This attractive, "miniature" ski resort, one of many similar resorts in the Vosges mountains, is surrounded by a number of welcoming farm-inns (renowned for their cheese specialities) on the Alsatian side of the Munster Valley. The perfect location for a quiet family ski holiday far from the madding crowds.
- Chalmazel, between the Auvergne and Forez
During winters with abundant snowfall, this ski area hidden away in the forests of the Monts du Forez (north of Saint-Etienne) is popular with young freestylers. Despite being a long way from some of the country's trendier ski areas, the dynamic freestyle ski club here is hugely popular.
(*) FAMILLE PLUS, 6 unique selling points
1. A friendly, personalised welcome for families
2. Entertainment specifically geared to visitors of all ages
3. Tailored prices for children and adults
4. Individual and family-based activities for youngsters and adults
5. Nearby medical facilities in the event of minor illness or injury
6. Supervision and tuition by professionally qualified staff