Ski touring is the latest big trend in snowsports and no serious skier or rider is now without a stash of ski touring kit in their garage or loft. Running alongside traditional lift-serviced downhill skiing, touring options are cropping up in all the major French resorts.
So… legs and lungs to the ready, here’s our lowdown on the best ski touring and split-boarding options in the French Alps. Whether you’re always on two planks or split-boarding is your game, there’s a resort out there for you...
First-off – the equipment
You need specialist gear for ski touring, including specific skis with adjustable bindings, ‘skins’ to stick to the base of your skis when in walk mode, touring boots and telescopic poles. Touring equipment doesn’t come cheap so if you’re not ready to invest just yet there are heaps of options for rentals in resort and all the major rental shops have touring kit in stock. As well as the skis and boots, you’re also going to need a backpack that can carry skis & poles, and you'll need to load it up with:
- A thermos flask with your favourite hot drink
- A water bladder or bottle
- Snacks and/or lunch
- Thin gloves and your usual ski gloves
- A Buff or neck warmer
- High SPF suncream
- Spare layers
- Helmet & goggles
- If you’re venturing away from marked & controlled areas it’s essential to carry an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe – and make sure you know how to use them!
Where go ski touring?
A great place to get started, consider Val Thorens if you're a ski touring novice. To encourage people to give the sport a try, Val Thorens has created the perfect introduction to touring with an all-levels trail called La Camille. This 1.9km itinerary has 235m of gentle climbing and lovely views all along the route. La Camille starts next to the Chalet Des Neiges Hermine residence, just 150m from the 'normal' slopes.
© T.Loubere OT Val Thorens
Dynafit Snow Leopard Tracks: with the help of volunteer professionals, you can join these group sessions for a sociable ski touring experience. Borrow top of the range skis & boots free of charge from Dynafit and head up towards Chalet de la Marine to enjoy delivious Savoyarde fayre as the sun sets, before skiing back down guided by the light of your head torch. You need to be a member of Club Val Thorens, but joining is free and quick to do.
Ski Touring Top Tip #1 >> Find a flat area of snow and have a few practice-runs, switching from walk mode to downhill mode. You’ll soon get used to fixing your skins on and putting your snowboard back together (for split-boarders). Also practice your kick turns before setting off – it’s a key technique and you’ll need to master it quickly!
There are 7 dedicated ski touring itineraries across La Plagne’s satellite villages, with plenty of options for anyone just starting out as well as more advanced terrain. You can pick up a free ski touring guide at the La Plagne Tourist Office.
Col de Forcle from Plagne Bellecôte: A 5km route with 350m of climbing featuring a mixture of pisted and non-pisted ascents, ideal for getting into the technique. Magnificent Mont Blanc views will help propel you to the top!
Plagne Montalbert - Le Fornelet: Great for practising techniques such as kick turns, this intermediate-graded itinerary has 545m of ascent over a 4km forest trail. Head back down to Plagne Montalbert on the "Montalbert" blue piste.
Local ski school Oxygène run dedicated ski touring lessons and you can hire equipment from them too.
Ski Touring Top Tip #2 >> Touring in a ski resort often means shared access on the trails so, just as with other winter sports, keep an eye out for others using the slopes.
The home of mountaineering, it’s no surprise Chamonix is on the list of go-to places for ski touring in the French Alps. Surrounded by sharp, steep peaks and numerous glaciers you won’t fail to be in awe of the mountains here.
A resort in its own right and just a few kilometres from Chamonix, Les Houches is a great place to start for less experienced tourers. Next to the Prarion lift in the valley, you can embark on a 850m climb and finish up at the top of the Prarion lift at 1860m. The route is marked all the way up and it’s a great choice when you’re just getting into things.
© OT Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
If you’re looking for a serious challenge, Chamonix is certainly the place to find it! There are so many options but among the classics are the Crochues Berard (9.5km, 535m ascent, La Flegère-Le Buet), Le Col du Belvedère (650m ascent, top of Index chairlift at La Flegère-Col du Belvedère via Lac Blanc – warning: this route involves a roped descent!) and Le Col du Passon (480m ascent, top station of Les Grands Montets-Le Vormaine at Le Tour).
Ski Touring Top Tip #3 >> We strongly recommend you hire a guide if this is your very first time or if you’re choosing more of a challenge, especially in a place like Chamonix.
There are three excellent and easily accessible ski tours in Avoriaz:
La Crête d'Arare: from the top of Les Prodains cable car in Avoriaz village, there are great views from the off. This is a short 2km route with 470m of ascent and blue, black or off-piste options for your descent.
Les Jordinières: begin at the bottom of Les Prodains cable car you’ll climb 600 metres mostly through the forest leading up to Avoriaz – an excellent thigh and glute burner!
Le Vanné: great for beginners, this is a mostly forested itinerary between the village of Les Lindarets and the top of the Crêtes des Lindarets, a gentle 4km climbing up 350m with a lovely view to greet you at the top.
Advance to Point de Vorlaz if you feel ready, but definitely go with a guide on this route!
Ski Touring Top Tip #4 >> When ascending, skiers set your boots to climb mode, snowboarders keep your boots fairly loose, so you can manoeuvre your way up comfortably.
La Daille-Folie Douce: Break up this 3km beginner’s itinerary with a welcome drink at Val d'Isère's famous après-ski spot La Folie Douce, but maybe keep it non-alcoholic as you’ll need to ski back down to La Daille afterwards!
© Val d’Isère
Solaise: over at La Solaise there's another marked trail with 425m ascent over 1.8km through the Rogoney forest.
Ski Touring Top Tip #5 >> Ski touring is calorie busting so don’t forget your snacks and put them in an easy to reach place. Go for high energy foods like trail mix, nuts and muesli bars – and have a decent breakfast!
Tignes has a 3 dedicated ski touring trails that are patrolled and secured, meaning you can have a go without taking on the risks associated with venturing off-piste.
Once you’ve got your confidence up, head a little further out and discover the serenity of the Vanoise National Park. Evolution 2 and Ski New Gen ski schools both run dedicated touring lessons to get you further into the wilderness.
Ski Touring Top Tip #5 >> Try not to get your skins wet with snow when switching from uphill to downhill mode as this can make them less sticky for the next climb.
There are a few itineraries on offer in Les Arcs from easy to difficult:
Tetras, Arc 1800: this easy trail starts from the top of the Villards cable car (you’ll need a lift pass or you can buy a single ticket for 5€) and from there you head towards the Tetras (grouse) forest where you might catch a glimpse of the hibernating birds – careful not to disturb them! – before the trail opens out and you climb upwards towards the summit. Towards the end you’ll being going up the downhill Grand Melèzes piste and touring etiquette means you must stick to the left-hand edge of the piste and keep an eye out for skiers and boarders coming down.
For more of a challenge try Les Verdaches in Peisey-Vallandry, which meanders up to the top of the Grizzly chairlift. You’ll be off-piste all the way so you need to be confident in your abilities. Choose any marked piste to get back to the bottom.
© Les Arcs
Ski Touring Top Tip #6 >> Stay hydrated and that beer at the end of the day will taste all the better!
Now you have our top tips for ski touring in the French Alps, check out our huge range of ski accommodation and book your stay today.
Posted by Victoria Mclean on Monday 10 Oct 2022