Are you planning your next snowboarding holiday? At Snow Trax HQ (Month: June, Temp: 23oC), we are already putting pen to paper to choose where to go next season. Of course, we all have different ideas of our preferred resort and favourite runs, so we’ll be making a decision right about November…
To aid our decision, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite runs in France; while not every single one is a white-knuckle ride over blind summits only to find yourself surrounded by danger markers, they all have their own charms and have all earned their place on this list. We’ve also attempted to rank them from easy to hard to create our own “yardstick” of skill. We’ve also added a picture and a video to each entry so you can understand what we’re talking about.
Without further ado, we present the “10 best runs in France” (according to Snow Trax employees):
1 Jerusalem, Val Thorens (Blue)
Jerusalem used to be rated as red, but work took place in 2016 to make the journey a bit less treacherous for newbies. Despite the changes, Jerusalem remains a great run due to it’s wide pistes allowing you to own the space around you, and natural rollers providing unceasing variations to your speed.
Once you reach the bottom, it’s either jump onto the St Martin Express chairlift for another run down or continue down to Saint Martin De Belleville (the lowest skiable part of the VT valley) on Biolley for a well-earned lunch.
2 Combe de Saulire, Courchevel (Red)
Combe de Saulire is another wide open run which should be experienced on a bright morning after muscling your way onto the first lift of the day. This north facing slope is pretty much always covered in a layer of soft powder with no hidden ice to be found below. The combination of wide and grippy will give you the feel of a much more competent snowboarder as you pull high-G turns all the way down.
On a clear day, with the sun shining, the spectacular views from this 3km intermediate slope might just have you stopped in your tracks. Just don’t wait too long, else you’ll end up boarding the second half with those 40,000 people you shoved passed to get to the front of the lift queue.
3 Aiguille Rouge, Les Arcs (Black/Red)
Ready for a leg burner? This 2026 metre descent from the top of the Les Arcs valley all the way to the bottom on one immensely fun adventure. After reaching the top of the Aiguille Rouge cable car you will follow the ridge which separates the ski area from the Vanoise National Park. As you descend, you’ll see many runs heading off to the right, but those all head back into Arc 1950/2000; you’re heading for Villaroger at 1200m.
When you finally reach the tree line, the run turns from black into red for the rest of the journey. You cut through the pine forest while being delivered vistas of the valley floor. Now you’re in Villaroger we suggest you get a drink because it’s a chain of 3 chair lifts to get back to the rest of the ski area.
4 The Grande Motte Glacier, Tignes (Red)
Starting at the village of Val Claret you can make it up to the top of the glacier incredibly fast by taking the funiculaire, followed by the cable car. From here you have the best views of the valley, before departing on your 1300m descent into Tignes. Take the glacier route down, while keeping your eyes on the scenery (the piste is wide enough to not spend your entire time eyeballing your next turn).
5 Grand Couloir, Courchevel (Ungroomed Black)
This is probably our favourite run on the list, but we’re going in difficulty order, so it’s not even in the top 5. After exiting the Saulire cable car, you have the option of two reds, or the Grand Couloir. At first, you might not be able to find the start of the run, but it’s there across a long ridge with steep falls on either side. Have you made it across that? Great, now there’s a 3-4 foot drop in (depending on the snowfall).
Once you’re in the couloir though, it’s a reasonably wide and snowy bit of fun before you join your friends at the bottom who took one of the reds because they decided that the entry ridge was a little too thin.
6 Sarenne, Alpe d’Huez (Black)
At 16 kilometres long, the Sarenne claims to be the longest black run in the Alps, taking around 90 minutes and descending 2000m. The run is located on the other side of a ridge from the main valley, giving you a feeling of back-country skiing while still in the resort. Unfortunately, only about half the length of the run is downhill, the rest is a barely sloping, pain-in-the-backside of a runout to get back to the next lift.
Alternatively, you could take your Snow Trax system with you for your snowboard and cruise through those last kilometres in 20 minutes; you might even be overtaking skiers as you go. We recommend you buy or rent a Snow Trax if you’re going to do the Sarenne, unless you really like walking in your snowboard boots…
7 The Tunnel, Alpe d’Huez (Black)
If you’d rather take a quicker run down from Pic Blanc than the 90 minutes of Sarenne, then the Tunnel is for you. Be warned though, it’s a more challenging run. Heading down from the top of Pic Blanc is a variable experience depending on the amount of powder available. If it’s a bit icy, you’re going to find yourself feeling a little out of your depth, but in deep powder it can feel more like a hard red.
Once the first few hundred metres are out the way, you turn right into a 200-metre tunnel (hence the name of the run) cut straight through the ridge separating Sarenne from the rest of the Alpe d’Huez valley. The tunnel is upsettingly flat, so you’ll be polling or walking (or using your Snow Trax) through it.
Once you get to the other side of the tunnel, you’re only half-way down the run. Compose yourself as your eyes adjust to the sunlight before a non-stop blast to the bottom where you can get a view of the frozen Lac Blanc.
8 Chavanette (The Wall), Avoriaz (Orange)
Technically not in France, but you start in France at the top, so we’re counting it!
With the first 50 metres being a mogul covered, 40-degree world of pain, most people having a look from the top decide to take the longer red run into Switzerland, but not you. The run then widens out for much of its length, but you will find it has a severe case of “massive moguls” due to never being groomed.
You’re not going to get much time to look around once you’re into the 1km run (with 331m of descent), so take a look around before you plunge head-first into one of the hardest marked pistes in the Alps.
9 Vallée Blanche, Chamonix (Off Piste)
Unless you’re super fit and willing to give up 4-6 hours of your day, this run is not for you. Descending 2800 metres and covering 23 kilometres is really going to test your physical abilities, so make sure you’re prepared before you leave. This is an off-piste run, so if you’re not an experienced off-piste snowboarder, and you’re not kitted out (snow shovel, transponder + receiver, and search poles), get yourself a guide.
The first challenge is the stairs from the cable car to the beginning of the run, but luckily there are is a rope to hold on to as you descend. Once your board is back on your feet, the run has everything you could want from a day on the powder; couloirs, views, powder, and ice all await those intrepid enough to make the walk down those stairs.
Once you’re at the bottom, jump on the train back to Chamonix.
10 Pas de Chèvre, Chamonix (Off Piste)
After ducking under the rope marking the edge of the ski area, you know you are on your own. This technical, steep, and completely isolated off-piste run takes you through a huge couloir before depositing you into a massive bowl from which you can traverse towards your final descent into Chamonix.
We’re going to be honest with you; we’ve not actually done this run ourselves, but after seeing the video and getting recommendations from our friends, I think we’re heading off to Chamonix this year to give it a go.
Video of the Pas de Chevre Descent (contains foreign language swearing)
Do you think we missed any runs from this list? If so, let us know in the comments.