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Choosing a base for skiing, school - family living in France for 1 year

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Hi,

I'm new to this forum so if I'm not in the right place and anyone has recommendations or tips on where I can look for more sources of information for this topic (and all my questions), please feel free to share Smile

We are a family of 4 ski fanatics (2 adults, kids currently age 8 and 10) looking to spend a year in France (or Switzerland possibly) to primarily ski and enjoy the mountains, brush up on our French (that goes mostly for us parents as our kids are already pretty good. I've taken French for years but not gotten to use it lots for a long time so I'm looking to pick it back up) and do a year of adventure together. We currently live in Canada (close to the Rockies), our kids are in French Immersion school since Kindergarten and they are trilingual (English, French and Swedish...the latter won't help much there but the point being they have a wide language base to draw from and their education is primarily in French as is).

Here's what I'm looking for some guidance, advice, tips and information on as I've not yet been able to find great resources on it:

1) Finding a base (where to live) with good, challenging and fun skiing (if you are familiar with the Rockies, our home mountain is Kicking Horse so our kids are skiing and hiking double black diamond runs on a challenging mountain (it's steep with lots of chute skiing, cliffs etc) and we are looking to continue along this path as a family. We'd like to be in a town close to exploring other ski resorts. We've looked a bit at Tignes and Chamonix areas. As far as the town goes something small would be nice, nature focused and hopefully with a nice, friendly and chilled atmosphere. In the summers we like to mountain bike, hike etc so overall looking for opportunities to be active and explore (which I don't think will be too hard in this area). Thoughts?

2) School - we are hoping to go when our kids would start grade 5 and 7 and would be looking for a (preferably) French school for them to attend during a year. (Back up plan I guess is to do some tutoring, home school etc.) but I'd like to find a school so they have the opportunity to meet local kids. Recommendation on schools? Anyone have experience in registering your children in French school (getting in contact with schools, registering, experiences in the French school system etc)?

3) The kids and I are Swedish and Canadian citizens so we can live, work and attend school in France (being 'EU citizens'). My husband however is 'just' Canadian (not that that is so 'just' either Smile but it presents a challenge in this case). He has his own small business and over the years we've done some bigger and longer trips with our kids and his job offers him the flexibility to work from pretty much anywhere. However, he will require some sort of visa to be able to work in France and to still work for himself. Does anyone have experience in this and could offer up some advice?

I guess those are the 3 main areas I'm exploring right now. Would appreciate any information or recommendations!

Thanks so much!
-- Mia.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
I don't have any particular answers to your questions but:
a) Welcome to snowheads!
b) Good luck! Sounds like a real adventure.
c) Let us know how you get on.

For location, I think I'd want to find somewhere that was a year round town. Of the two places you mention for example Chamonix is very much a place where people live and work all year, whereas Tignes and other similar purpose built resorts are much more seasonal. Tignes has a vibrant summer season, so better than many places, but still will be a bit of a ghost town at other times of the year. The places that are year round towns are more likely to be in the valley rather than in the resort itself, but there are plenty of places where you can be in the resort in a few minutes drive. For example Bourg St Maurice instead of Tignes (it's a longer drive up to Tignes from BStM, but Les Arcs is right on the doorstep). If you're going to be there for the whole season somewhere like Bourg St Maurice would mean you could explore all the resorts of the Tarentaise valley.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Welcome.

1. Chamonix.
2. Megeve.
3. Bourg St Maurice.
4. Val d'Isere.
5. Grenoble.
6. Geneva
7. Nice
8. Monaco.

Fly in via Switzerland and hop across the unmanned border on a tourist visa.


Last edited by Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see? on Fri 10-05-19 17:07; edited 2 times in total
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@Arctic.light, welcome to snowHeads. It all sounds very exciting.
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Arctic.light wrote:

2) School - we are hoping to go when our kids would start grade 5 and 7 and would be looking for a (preferably) French school for them to attend during a year. (Back up plan I guess is to do some tutoring, home school etc.) but I'd like to find a school so they have the opportunity to meet local kids. Recommendation on schools? Anyone have experience in registering your children in French school (getting in contact with schools, registering, experiences in the French school system etc)?
British neighbours of mine in Les Arcs placed their daughter in the local French primary school for the winter term for three years running, aged 8 through 10. The French school had a number of nationalities, mostly French but a few others who were the children of resort workers and seasonnaires.
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@Arctic.light, welcome. How very exciting.

(BiasedasIliveinCham)... For a year's stay, I think I'd want somewhere a bit more like a town. I know nothing about Bourg St Maurice. Given language capacity you are very defo looking at France, non? So no point suggesting other countries.

Chamonix has the terrain that you'd like and a fairly KH like lift system. Sorry, no that's incorrect. Not sure anywhere in france has a lift "system" like Kicking Horse wink Maybe think more like Revvy. But with a few more lifts.

It has at least one well regarded school, Jean d'Arc, which has a very poly-national population. Swedish would be useful - my niece and nephew are bilangue FR and EN but picking up SE from their chums. I don't think it's difficult to get them registered but I can find out? I'll take that conversation onto PM if that's OK?
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Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
@Arctic.light,

Welcome.

Wow - is there is French immersion school in Golden? That is WAY more cosmopolitan than I'd have thought! I thought KH was great though.

I think your key decision is how close do you want to be to the mountains - skiing on your doorstep or an hour's drive away. A related one would be does the local skiing need to be KH style or are you happy to have something more mellow and travel for the exciting stuff.

If you want to be in town that is also a mountain resort AND you want steep skiing on your doorstep then I don't think anywhere in France competes with Chamonix (or its surrounding villages).
If you can go for more mellow skiing then you could think about Megeve or St Gervais (both under and hour to Chamonix). Further afield, I'd consider Annecy - there is some skiing nearby but its not really a ski resort. Lovely though.

A place that I don't know but sounds like a good option is Briancon in the Serre Chevalier area - good variety of skiing, lovely small town and you can access adventurous steep skiing in La Grave with a bit of a drive.

Good luck!
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After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Can't help, but welcome and keep this thread up to keep us up to date with your exciting plans. Very Happy
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ah, Yes! @jedster, Annecy. Love Annecy.

But also love the 3 minute walk to my nearest skiing...

Choices, choices...
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Briancon or surrounding villages. Lots of pow and skiing as gnarly as you like over the pass at La Grave.

Oops see it's already been mentioned but its where I'd pick for family amenities and good skiing - suspect there are plenty of Swedes around too judging by La Grave clientele
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I would also consider the french speaking part of Switzerland. Probably more expensive to live there, but the Swiss rail system is a real quality of life changer. look up the Swiss Magic Pass. Incredible deal if you are going to be there for an entire season.
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Chamonix is a good suggestion. Might be a bit too big and busy for you though assuming you live in golden now and like you say want something small and nature focused (Chamonix can have issues with the pollution).

Remember that European resorts do not control the terrain off the groomers. So while you can find kicking horse terrain you will need avalanche equipment (and possibly crevasse rescue), and knowledge how to use them. People certainly manage to ski off piste with kids in Europe, but I'm always a little unsure of the safety myself - do I trust 8-10 year olds to make good decisions? Do I want to put them in the kind of position where they are having to try and rescue a parent? It's something to consider.
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See also this topic:-
https://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=142925
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You know it makes sense.
under a new name wrote:
@Arctic.light, welcome. How very exciting.

(BiasedasIliveinCham)... For a year's stay, I think I'd want somewhere a bit more like a town. I know nothing about Bourg St Maurice. Given language capacity you are very defo looking at France, non? So no point suggesting other countries.

Chamonix has the terrain that you'd like and a fairly KH like lift system. Sorry, no that's incorrect. Not sure anywhere in france has a lift "system" like Kicking Horse wink Maybe think more like Revvy. But with a few more lifts.

It has at least one well regarded school, Jean d'Arc, which has a very poly-national population. Swedish would be useful - my niece and nephew are bilangue FR and EN but picking up SE from their chums. I don't think it's difficult to get them registered but I can find out? I'll take that conversation onto PM if that's OK?



Thank you! Haha... we are definitely used to hearing visitors 'comment' on the lift system here Smile It has it's advantages though, if you are willing to put in some effort into finding snow Wink Would love any more info over PM! Sorry, I am new to this forum and didn't realize I was not getting notifications for new responses (will check more often now!).
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
jedster wrote:
@Arctic.light,

Welcome.

Wow - is there is French immersion school in Golden? That is WAY more cosmopolitan than I'd have thought! I thought KH was great though.

I think your key decision is how close do you want to be to the mountains - skiing on your doorstep or an hour's drive away. A related one would be does the local skiing need to be KH style or are you happy to have something more mellow and travel for the exciting stuff.

If you want to be in town that is also a mountain resort AND you want steep skiing on your doorstep then I don't think anywhere in France competes with Chamonix (or its surrounding villages).
If you can go for more mellow skiing then you could think about Megeve or St Gervais (both under and hour to Chamonix). Further afield, I'd consider Annecy - there is some skiing nearby but its not really a ski resort. Lovely though.

A place that I don't know but sounds like a good option is Briancon in the Serre Chevalier area - good variety of skiing, lovely small town and you can access adventurous steep skiing in La Grave with a bit of a drive.

Good luck!


Hi there,
Thanks so much for your response! We currently live in Calgary and are weekend warriors in Golden/KH Smile There is a late French immersion program here though (not an early immersion) and they are trying to start a French school... so who knows what the future may hold.

Re: the skiing I definitely think we'd like something like KH as our 'local' skiing. Considering how and what everyone in this family like to ski (we are admittedly spoiled with the terrain and snow we have here) I think anything less challenging would get 'boring' (in lack of a better term) quick... if that makes sense (and not too snow snobby! Smile)?! We'd probably like to try a lot of the nearby ski places.. even those that maybe are a bit more mellow but I suspect some of the more mellow places would be a one time visit.

I visited Annecy years ago and definitely got a good vibe. I get that mountain town vs. smaller city means a difference in amenities, school options etc. I feel our priority is to have adventure and an active lifestyle on our doorstep. Sure, we need to make our 'week day' life work too for our kids (school) etc too so it's a balance for sure.

Thanks for the recommendations on towns, I will research those more closely!
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 Poster: A snowHead
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Dave of the Marmottes wrote:
Briancon or surrounding villages. Lots of pow and skiing as gnarly as you like over the pass at La Grave.

Oops see it's already been mentioned but its where I'd pick for family amenities and good skiing - suspect there are plenty of Swedes around too judging by La Grave clientele


Thanks! Next on my research list!! Smile Without having looked into this place at all I assume it's big enough to still have a school...?
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boarder2020 wrote:
Chamonix is a good suggestion. Might be a bit too big and busy for you though assuming you live in golden now and like you say want something small and nature focused (Chamonix can have issues with the pollution).

Remember that European resorts do not control the terrain off the groomers. So while you can find kicking horse terrain you will need avalanche equipment (and possibly crevasse rescue), and knowledge how to use them. People certainly manage to ski off piste with kids in Europe, but I'm always a little unsure of the safety myself - do I trust 8-10 year olds to make good decisions? Do I want to put them in the kind of position where they are having to try and rescue a parent? It's something to consider.


Hi,

Thanks so much for your response! Yep, I hear you on the control beyond ski resort boundaries. My husband and I have all the gear and tour out here but we do not bring our kids on those kinds of days. Like you say, they are not yet old enough to have the knowledge to use the gear and simply not a risk we'd like to take. I would think we'd do less touring while away due to this reason (here we can go when we have family around to take the kids or when they are in their ski program but obviously this would look different when we are over there).

We don't currently live in Golden but we have a small place here and we spend most of our weekends and school breaks out here.
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Briancon has schools. It is a working town with a gondola into the serre chevalier ski resort. Good access to other resorts too.
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Arctic.light wrote:


My husband however is 'just' Canadian (not that that is so 'just' either Smile but it presents a challenge in this case). He has his own small business and over the years we've done some bigger and longer trips with our kids and his job offers him the flexibility to work from pretty much anywhere. However, he will require some sort of visa to be able to work in France and to still work for himself. Does anyone have experience in this and could offer up some advice?


Yes, if you can avoid having to apply for a visa then do so. Your husband will only be able to stay a limited amount of time in the Schengen zone but he should be able to leave and come back in. I don't know the details.

At middle school there shouldn't be too much worry for your kids. At college and lycée level you need to think a bit more.

Briançon is a little bit of the back end of beyond. If you fancy visiting anywhere else in France it is not the best starting point.
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...but on the flipside pretty good for accessing Italy
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Hells Bells wrote:
Briancon has schools. It is a working town with a gondola into the serre chevalier ski resort. Good access to other resorts too.


Thanks! Will definitely look into Briancon further!
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Dave of the Marmottes wrote:
...but on the flipside pretty good for accessing Italy


Yes Turin, Milan, Venice even but the same can be said for somewhere in the Savoie, with no cols to cross and the possibility of using the train, plus you can get up into France pretty rapidly. It depends what the OP wants. Briançon is a pleasant small, historic town but it really is in the middle of nowhere. I'd suggest somewhere like St Jean de Maurienne as an alternative - TGV line, rail access to Turin, Milan, not far from Chambéry, Lyon (no 2000 meter col to cross). Arguably better skiing available locally. It is not a ski resort though, which Briançon with its lift can claim to be.

The downside of the aforementioned Switzerland is their level of French is... ahem, limited; you'd be better off in Montreal Happy. If you want a proper French language immersion then the Hautes-Alpes or Savoie would be better bets. In that case I'd avoid the big foreigner magnates like Chamonix where everyone speaks English, even the skandies.

Depends on the OPs budget, pretensions to try and find work etc. I've nothing against Briançon but couldn't imagine spending a year there, a few weeks holiday would be pleasant enough. The col d'Izoard has just opened too Happy for cycling. The OP should certainly give it a close look though.

Looking at Whitegold's list. Grenoble would maybe be a bit of a shock! Ok if you were coming from the Bronx you'd feel at home. You'd have to be very careful where you put your kids in school. Monaco would be complicated, I guess it was a joke.

As for schools. It varies. The French school system has funding issues and some areas it is very difficult to get your kid into the local school. Probably the ski towns are more used to people pitching up.
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Quote:

Yep, I hear you on the control beyond ski resort boundaries. My husband and I have all the gear and tour out here but we do not bring our kids on those kinds of days


I'm not quite sure you understand, or perhaps I'm not understanding you. You say you want kicking horse challenging terrain, but you will not that get that in europe unless you are willing to ski what would be considered out of bounds in Canada. In european resorts there is no boundary, only the marked trails (predominantly groomers) are controlled. Even the areas between two groomers are not necessarily controlled or safe. There is no resort which has anything like kicking horse steeps and chutes that are avalanche controlled. So your kids will basically be stuck on groomers.
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boarder2020 wrote:
Quote:

Yep, I hear you on the control beyond ski resort boundaries. My husband and I have all the gear and tour out here but we do not bring our kids on those kinds of days


I'm not quite sure you understand, or perhaps I'm not understanding you. You say you want kicking horse challenging terrain, but you will not that get that in europe unless you are willing to ski what would be considered out of bounds in Canada. In european resorts there is no boundary, only the marked trails (predominantly groomers) are controlled. Even the areas between two groomers are not necessarily controlled or safe. There is no resort which has anything like kicking horse steeps and chutes that are avalanche controlled. So your kids will basically be stuck on groomers.


I understand. Thx!
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I live in Bourg d'Oisans at the bottom of Alpe d'Huez with Les 2 Alpes a short drive away and other resorts like Serre Chevalier not too far away.(La Grave also).

The village might suit you for the school needs with the bonus there is a new school currently under construction. As well as French there are Dutch, Irish, Australian, German, Spanish, English and Scottish all living here. Good base for summer for hiking in the Ecrins and surrounding area.
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Thank you! That will definitely go on the list of places to look into closer!
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davidof wrote:
The downside of the aforementioned Switzerland is their level of French is... ahem, limited; you'd be better off in Montreal Happy


Are you saying the French they speak in the Suisse Romande isn't French, somehow? Or all those native French-speaking Swiss only use some sort of sub-vocabulary? I know there are some (minor) vocabulary differences, and they are often made fun of for speaking French (relatively) slowly but I don't understand the comment.

It's just that I'd agree with the earlier post suggesting the OP at least does a bit of research into being based in SW Switzerland. It may not be an option for various practical/economic reasons, but surely not because the Swiss speak some sort of inferior version of French? That's like telling a Canadian not to visit Australia because their English is .. ahem, limited.
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