The best trails in the French Alps

Trail Blanc Praz
Trail running in the UK is booming, with more races being added to the calendar every year.

Increasingly British runners are heading to France in summer for the chance to run the beautiful Alpine trails. Popular events include the Trail des Hauts Forts (External link) in Morzine or La 6000D (External link) in La Plagne and the world-famous Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (External link) .

However, there’s no reason to put your trail running on hold through winter until the spring. The latest trend is to try one of ‘Les Trails Blancs’ in French ski resorts.

It’s a very different feeling when you run on snow. Running downhill can be like running on sand, and as many of the races take place in the evening, after the slopes have been cleared of skiers, you’ll also need a headtorch to light the way.

Night Snow Trail

A great race to start off your ‘trail blanc’ experience is the ‘Night Snow Trail’ in Les 2 Alpes (External link) .

The 8th edition of this popular event takes place in January 2020.
Last winter over 500 runners took part in their choice of 5km, 10km, 15km and 20km distances. Competitors start high on the mountain at 2100m above sea level and then wind their way through the woods and ski runs, back to the finish in the centre of the resort.

Unless you take part in the 5km race it’s not all downhill though! There’s a vertical ascent of 220m for the 10km, 450m for the 15km and 700m for the 20km – all significant given you are already at altitude.

Oisans Trail Station

Trailers simply looking for a chance to run in the mountains in winter, rather than commit to a race, might also want to try the two dedicated snow trails in Villard-Reculas (External link) , bordering Alpe d’Huez in the southern French Alps.

Starting from the Tourist Office, the first 2.6km route around the Lac du Langaret takes 30-60 minutes with a total vertical of 170m.

Their second ‘trail blanc’ takes you to 2000m at the top of the Villarais chairlift on the Grande Sûre. It’s a 3.5m trail with 200m vertical and magnificent panoramic views of the surrounding mountains of Grandes Rousses, Belledonne, Taillefer and Meije.

Kilian Jornet

Experienced trail runners will know that the remarkable Kilian Jornet (External link) – multiple winner of the UTMB – spends most of his winter not running, but ski touring to build up his endurance and for the benefits of altitude training.

Also known as ski randonnée or skimo, more and more resorts are also now offering ski touring zones.

Arêches-Beaufort with Dynafit

Arêches-Beaufort (External link) has teamed up with Dynafit to offer four dedicated routes specifically in their ski area.

These new trails mean that you can follow ski touring tracks to the top of the ski area at 2320m, but without crossing any of the downhill pistes along the way. From the top the more experienced can segue onto classic hikes and peaks such as the Grand-Mont, part of the famous Pierra-Menta race (External link) .

Chamrousse (External link) is one of the resorts that offers ski touring at night. Their groomed routes to Lac des Pourettes and Lac Robert are open from 6pm to 10pm every evening (except Saturday and Thursday in school holidays).

Espace Ski de Rando

If you’d like to take your ski touring to the next level you might want to try the first ‘Espace Ski de Rando (External link) ’ in St-Pierre-de-Chartreuse.

First created in 2013, the idea of the ‘Espace Ski de Rando’ is to give participants a unique environment, totally integrated in the ski area, dedicated to ski touring. Initiation for beginners also includes an awareness session on finding avalanche victims.

Whatever you’re looking for this winter for your fitness training, you’ll find it in the French Mountains. For more information, go to www.france-montagnes.com (External link) .