One way or another, off-piste skiing always makes its way back to Haute Savoie. The symbolic French region has served the Alpine skiing scene for more than a century, with a major milestone in 1924 when Chamonix hosted the first ever Winter Olympics. Since then, resort after resort has been shaping their identity to fit in with crowds making their way into southern France, completely transforming Haute Savoie into the ski-savvy powder culture sought after by winter athletes the world over.
Over time, Haute Savoie and its charming mountain villages have developed into fully-functioning tourist destinations that take adventure to a whole new level. Every ridge, couloir, Alpine bowl, and tree-lined run has a story behind it, and the most compelling stories are found when you step off the groomed tracks and head off-piste for some of the best ski runs at the best ski resorts.
There are a number of reasons to explore what is waiting outside of the boundaries of these great French (and Swiss) locales, including reasons beyond perfect pockets of snow.
Haute Savoie is incredibly easy to access. There are planes, trains, and automobiles, of course. But many of the resorts are connected through circuits between the ridges and valleys. Portes du Soleil can take you to multiple resorts all for just one lift ticket. Cable cars network throughout meadows and peaks to carefully get you to where you can ski your best day – or week. Few places in the world cater so easily to an entire area (nearly 4,400 square kilometers) of skiable terrain.
The region takes advantage of its communes, districts, and resorts to provide the right vacation for everyone who arrives. There are small, quiet runs on La Sambuy that will open up your eyes to off-piste skiing, and there are adrenaline-pumping circuits in serious backcountry (think Avoriaz). There is a run for every single person in Haute Savoie, and a few different ways to make the most of it.
Perhaps most importantly, this area snuggled into the crossroads of Italy, Switzerland, and France is one of the most breathtaking in the entire world. Europe’s tallest peak, Mont Blanc, stands guard over valleys and ridges that have come to epitomize skiing. Pristine lakes abound, most notably Lake Annecy and Lake Geneva, set beside snow-blanketed meadows that are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Getting on your skis and taking to the off-piste trails of Haute Savoie will move you, emotionally and physically, towards a ski adventure you won’t soon forget.
As one of the largest skiable areas in the world (second only to Les Tres Vallees), Portes du Soleil consists of 13 ski resorts encompassing 14 valleys and over 1,000 square kilometers. With this much territory to ski, it is easy to find a program that fits your needs and abilities. This quaint French and Swiss enclave has 1,500 meters of vertical that tops out at 2,400 meters and features a circuit that connects the resorts for wanderlust-prone skiers. The snow-heavy climate from Mont Blanc to Lake Geneva ensures this spot (especially Avoriaz) will satisfy the hungriest of powder hounds.
Loaded with fresh snow just waiting to be discovered, La Clusaz has challenging runs rife with trees, steep drop-ins, and plenty of cols with steep lines. Keep your eyes peeled for the enchanting lakes that dot the countryside – they are particularly abundant here. For seasoned skiers, try the Combe de Bellachat for thrilling trails that keep offering up untouched snow all day long.
The Megeve / St. Gervais region is equipped with three terrain parks and a ski altitude that almost reaches 1,000 meters. There are lifts and gondolas to get to busy quick-hitters, or you can take your time meandering across the valley for a more serene and peaceful ski experience. The true value of the off-piste terrain can be found around Mont d’Arbois and Mont Joux – get there via the Cote 2000 lift.
If you wanted access, Brevent Flegere can be reached by directly from Chamonix. The views here are unrivaled and include the notorious Mont Blanc, but the best part of the area is the ungroomed snow alongside the Carlaveyron National Nature Reserve. The Alpine bowls, notably the aptly-named Flegere Bowl, are some of the best in the Alps. The ride up the Brevent Cable Car is fun, almost as much fun as heading off-track and carving a path down from the summit.
The rock faces of Grands Montets are overwhelmingly beautiful, while its glaciers are an intriguing challenge for off-piste fanatics. Cable car makes access a breeze, so head out early to get your tracks in first. The runs are steep, deep, and exciting at every turn. Powder and glaciers define the off-piste lines here, so come prepared for some serious skiing. Head to the Combe de la Pendant for a popular adventure in a sweet bowl or take the road less traveled and check out the Magic Forest for tree and glade skiing.
While it isn’t as high as its neighbors in Chamonix, Domaine de Balme always keeps a pocket of deliciously untouched powder safe for an untracked run. The Aiguille des Posettes run will send you down an open meadow with a few trees and bushes to maneuver around for a pleasant and satisfying line to the base. For a long and steep isolated run, try the Combe de la Vormaine, which takes you down some challenging chutes right to the bottom of the resort.
This collection of five resorts is spectacular for its scenery, which includes a ridgeline above the Arve and Giffre Rivers and their valleys. The vertical altitude available to ski is unreal, with a chance to ski from 2,480 meters down to 800 meters. This is part of the Classic Cascades Run, a 14-kilometer tour that places you in the peaceful mountain setting and one of the main attractions for this sweet ski spot.
Another low-key gem, Le Grand Bornand is loaded with snow-blanketed meadows as you head up to Chinaillon at 1,300 meters. The community takes pride in upholding the quiet nature of the resort while diligently keeping it among the other state of the art venues in Haute-Savoie. Tree-lined runs are in large supply, and powder hounds will be the long lines from mountain top to bottom.
At the center of the Bauges Regional Natural Park, La Sambuy has almost 700 meters of vertical to explore, and that’s just the groomed tracks. Its proximity to Annecy and prime views of Mont Blanc add charm to the resort. Lake Annecy is a special site to behold, as well. Newbies breaking into off-piste will love the charming resort and its bumpy off-piste.
The lifts at Les Contamines-Montjoie reach nearly 2,500 meters, so you know you can explore a lot of off-piste territory. Climbing to the powder and corn snow on either side of the mountain is fairly simple, and the long open runs are a fitting reward. As you descend back towards the valley, tree skiing makes for an exciting finish to the line. With a little bit of traversing, the l’Aiguille de Roselette route will give you a gentle descent to Hauteluce with unbelievable vistas, a reward worth its weight in untouched powder.
No Haute Savoie list would be complete without the iconic 20 kilometer Vallee Blanche Route, which heads down from Aiguille du Midi and its cable car summit. The vertical drop is a whopping 2,800 meters and takes you all the way back into Chamonix, weather permitting. The razor-edged arete from the cable car will increase your blood pressure and have you stoked to take your descent in the shadow of the infamous Alps of the region, like Monte Rosa and Matterhorn. The run is long, full of glaciers, and tests your mettle on traverses and steep drops. This is an absolute must if you are going to ski Haute Savoie properly.
The best time to ski Haute Savoie is in the winter, from January through March. Depending on which resort you choose to visit, the season can begin as early as late November and last in to May. This depends on the snow itself, of course, but the opportunity to find a program at the beginning or end of the season is usually possible.
Affordable trips up the mountain abound at Haute Savoie, with many guided trips starting at €60 or less a day. It all depends on who you are bringing with you, how long you want to stay, and what you would like included in your trip. Most guides will include items such as avalanche safety equipment. You should always check and see what items are included in your price and pay attention to the requirements.
A week-long trip can range anywhere from €450 to €1,200 – the former is a basic guiding fee trip while the other includes accommodation, meals, and in-trip transportation. Discuss what you would like and need with your guide to establish your requirements, and you will be able to craft your own personal program.
Getting to the resorts of Haute Savoie usually involves flying into Geneva (within 50 kilometers of the region) or Lyon (within 200 kilometers of the region). Both airports have Altibus service, which means they have shuttles that get you right to your resort. Direct flights can be found from London, Berlin, Istanbul, and even New York. Smaller regional airports include Chambery and Grenoble, which are serviced by European flights from London, Amsterdam, and Warsaw, to name a few.
The train is also a viable option, with the TGV servicing Lyon, Annecy, and Annemasse. London, Belgium, and other European cities have direct trains to Haute Savoie. SnowBuzz is a shuttle company that assists resort access from the train stations. The network of developed roads throughout France and Western Europe certainly helps any bus or car travel, should you be interested in driving the scenic route to the area.
When it comes to staying in Haute Savoie, it really depends on your trip and comfort level. For Grands Montets, Domaine de Balme, Brevent Flegere, and Vallee Blanche, staying in Chamonix is a great jumping off point close to your program. Chalets at Les Houches and Les Bossons provide an unforgettable immersive experience, as does central Chamonix. The latter also has seamless access to Brevent via its cable car.
Annecy is a great place to stay as well, particularly for programs in La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand. Its proximity to the lake of the same name make these stays scenic and accessible. As the capital of the region, it is certain to effortlessly impress with its accommodation and hospitality.
Make your French ski dream come true and choose a program in Haute Savoie to explore one of the most exciting off-piste skiing destinations on Earth! Grab a certified guide and book your trip today!
Stay up-to-date on the best adventures!