We all know France for its historic cities and iconic cuisine, but many forget about the incredible mountains. Well, let me tell you: the French Alps are an essential part that you shouldn’t overlook. Sure, hiking is a great to get to know the region. But the snowy months are the best season for winter lovers. The opportunities are endless. Skiing or snowboarding in the French Alps means exploring some of the most incredible slopes in Europe, like those near Chamonix and Val Thorens. If you’re lucky, you’ll have be able to test the powdery snow in Les Trois Vallées: the largest interconnected ski area in the world. This year, I got the chance to do so myself. And it wasn’t just amazing to be back on the snowy slopes. My trip to Les Menuires also turned out to be the perfect opportunity to step out of my comfort zone.
Skiing in the French Alps for the First Time
Les Menuires is a small but versatile town in the vast ski area of Les Trois Vallées, where you’ll find access to slopes of all shapes and sizes. From innocent blue baby runs to spicy slopes of the black variety; you’ll find pretty much every type of downhill runs in the French Alps. I personally stuck to the blue ones with an occasional run on the red trails, checking my route along the way with the Les 3 Vallées app (definitely download it before you head out).
Although it wasn’t my first ever time to hit the slopes, skiing in the French Alps felt like an entirely new experience in many different ways. I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m 100% a summer child (born in late June) and I usually like my water very liquid. I’m an excellent swimmer, but a well below average skier. I’m not technically bad at it, but the feeling hasn’t come naturally. So I suppose it’s not really ‘me’, but does that mean I shouldn’t keep trying? I think the answer is definitely ‘no’. I still really wanted to go.
Challenging Myself in Les Menuires
Why? Because I’m always scared of getting trapped in my comfort zone. So I knew this snowy trip to Les Menuires was the perfect opportunity with the right timing. Challenging yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you’re fighting against your innate character. It’s about expanding your comfort zone and evolving your mentality. When it comes down to it, that’s how you grow as a person.
But skiing in the French Alps wasn’t the only ‘first’ during my trip to Les Menuires. There is so much the region has to offer. I’m convinced even non-skiers would probably experience one of the best winter holidays ever. To name a few of my highlights: eating breakfast on top of a mountain and participating in the first track (I was one of the first ones on the slopes that day)! Then there was cycling down a snowy and slippery mountain with a fatbike even though I was scared shitless. And of course, I shouldn’t forget to mention sledging down a mountain with exactly 0% sledging experience. Let me elaborate.
Skiing First Track in the French Alps: A Different Kind of Early Bird Experience
Imagine this: you’ve made it to the top of a mountain all you can hear is the groomed snow cracking underneath your skis. The slopes are untouched, there’s no one to be found and the sun only slightly reaches above the horizon. I didn’t even know it was a concept, but in Les Menuires you can sign up for the ‘First Track‘. Together with a guide and a few others you’ll take the very first gondola up at La Masse and join the very first run down the slopes that day.
It’s a unique experience that I never had before. There’s nothing else but the landscape that swallows you up. Nothing can distract you from gliding through the snow and watching the scenery slide by. There’s nothing else going through your mind besides the mountains and perhaps the unstoppable thought of a croissant.
After your first run, you’ll go back up, have your breakfast to prepare for the rest of the day while admiring the dramatic snow-capped summits. You can sign up for this early bird experience between late December and early April for 15 euros, which includes breakfast but excludes a regular ski pass. I personally think it’s a relatively small price to pay for such an entrancing experience. You can choose to do the blue or red slope, so you don’t have to feel nervous about not being extremely experienced. Just make sure to secure your spot ahead of time.
Downhill Fatbiking in Les Menuires (and Actually Surviving)
The word basically says it all; a fatbike is a mountain bike on steroids with extra thick tires and a though profile made for slippery surfaces. You can ride a fatbike everywhere and in every season, but a trip through the snow is arguably the most epic option. It turns out Les Menuires is probably the perfect location to make your first attempt at downhill fatbiking. Why? Well, because even I managed to survive.
After a brief explanation from our guide Gérard, we had to put on our full body protection. That’s when my smile slowly started to fade. We didn’t just need to put on a full face helmet, we also had to wear protection on our back, shoulders, chest and arms. I was starting to doubt every life decision that led me to this moment, but the guide (thankfully) didn’t give us time to think. He sent us to the gondola, up we went and down we now had to go.
For the first few seconds, I froze and couldn’t force myself down the trail. But then I decided if this was the way I was going to leave this Earth, it was a pretty spectacular one (don’t laugh at me). Off I went and I could hardly believe that I was going down a snowy mountain on a freaking bicycle. And believe it or not: I didn’t take a single bite of snow, so the whole experience ended up making me hungry for more. If you ever get the chance to go fatbiking in the snow, do it. It’s a ride like no other.
Sledging Down a Mountain with Zero Experience
When I thought about skiing and fatbiking, sledging down the mountains sounded like a fun little adventure. But when I picked up the plastic Roc’n Bob sledge near the gondola and they handed me a helmet, I realised it probably wouldn’t be exactly the same as going down the slide at a playground. Pro tip: try not to miss some of those turns in the toboggan trail. You’ll be flying off-piste before you know it.
But even with exactly zero experience and an unjustified amount of confidence in my non-existing sledging skills, I made it down without a scratch and still giggled as much as I originally expected. Just know the snow WILL find a way inside your ski pants. But it’s definitely worth it.
Practical Tips for Skiing in the French Alps (Les Menuires):
Ski pass: An adult solo ski pass for Les Trois Vallées (which includes the Les Menuires area) for one day usually ranges between 40 and 60 euros. There are also duo and family options and the prices vary according to season and the amount of days. Check this website for detailed ski pass rates for Les Trois Vallées.
Food: Great places to eat while on the slopes in Les Trois Vallées are Le 7ieme Ciel and Chez Pepe Nicolas. Interesting restaurants to have a bite in Les Menuires itself are Yourtes de Belleville (dinner in a traditional Yurt) and Marmite au Bruyeres (dinner in an old gondola).
Transport: The nearest airport to Les Menuires is Geneva. Renting a car after your flight to drive to Les Menuires is the recommended option. The gondolas that will take you up the slope are within walking or skiing distance in Les Menuires.
Navigation: Download the useful Les 3 Vallées app ahead of your trip to check the gondolas and slopes and plan your route if you’re not skiing with a guide.