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ski family french alps town recommendation

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Hello my husband and I and our two teens are able to spend the coming winter ski season (Jan/Feb) in France but have not decided where to base ourselves.

Dad and kids love big mountain expert ski runs - many seasons at Whistler Blackcomb. Kids ski pretty much everything there.
15 year old son loves freeride and terrain parks. Not into ski racing. 13 year old daughter loves keeping up with the guys but not into terrain park.
I can ski most blacks at Whistler - but don't love the real steeps.
Anyway looking for a town to spend the winter where everyone will be happy. We all speak basic French, I speak more. We'd like to get a long term self catering apartment or chalet.

Big wants:
*regular ski programme kids could do with local kids - so they can make friends and improve French
*other amenities - opportunities to cross country ski, snowshoe etc. library, youth centre if possible, local schools - kids could perhaps visit or volunteer at. They will be doing online courses but would love the opportunity to visit a local school.

*Authentic French town with good community base - not just tourist base. We have spent a couple of days in Morzine which is very pretty but seems to be half British. Nothing against British tourists but we are hoping to immerse ourselves in a French environment

Towns that I have read about here and other sites are, of course, Chamonix as well as Briancon, Bourg St Maurice. Love to hear some input particularly advice for programs for my kids. We'd love to explore and do some off piste but can't afford too many guided days.

Not sure if Chamonix is user friendly for a family. Want the kids to have independence to walk around the town, get to things on their own, not rely on a car. Though we will have a car and it would be nice to be able to visit other resorts from our base.

THanks!
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Bourg St Maurice. Meets all your wants.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Chamonix would be fine for kids to walk around, take buses etc. But there's an awful lot of foreigners in Chamonix - just as many as Morzine, probably.

Bourg St Maurice would certainly be more French and easy access to some great skiing.

You could send a personal message (top right box) to a snowhead called Annie, who spent a season in St Gervais with her son - who went to school there, and skied with the local ski club too. She has a lot of relevant experience. St Gervais mightn't be a bad base, actually - it has mostly French visitors, is a proper town, and an easy drive to Chamonix for big days out. There's a lift pass - Mont Blanc Evasion - which is quite a good buy (discount on the season pass till mid November)and covers a lot of mostly French-dominated places. Not Chamonix - you'd need day tickets for Chamonix.

Welcome to snowheads. snowHead
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Pretty much any town of the Alps... Bourg, St Jean, Gap, Grenoble/Echirolles, Annecy, Chambery, Moutiers, Albertville and the villages in the direct vicinity.
Your want number one is based on one main thing : how weel you will adapt and mix with the local comunity.
Ski day at school is Wednesday and club days outings over the week-end and Wednesday. All towns have youth centres, libraries and many sport clubs ranging from Judo to archery. Chartreuse, the Cerces and Haute Maurienne are excellent for snow shoeing, nordic ski-ing and ski touring(and cycling when the snow's away). Now, if you really want French and a wee bit more remote then head for the best : Queyras.
Have fun !
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canski, Welcome to Snowheads snowHead

pam w, beat me to it! I'd have suggested St Gervais too - we've skied there a few times, and also had a summer holiday there. It's a 'real' town with a life outside of skiing, and the location is great for access, going to other places for a change of scenery (although the scenery there is hard to beat IMO), variety of shops, restaurants etc. Annie would certainly be able to advise on accommodation options - good luck; it sounds a great idea.
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Hi canski,

We live in Bourg St Maurice and as boredsurfin, says, the town meets all of your requirements.

Feel free to message me if you have any specific queries but to answer your post above. . .

There is funiculaire access to the slopes so the children can ski independantly. This gives access to Les Arcs and from there you can ski all varieties of slopes, off-piste, park, half pipe etc. There are 425km of runs across Paradkiski (La Plagne + Les Arcs) so there will be plenty to do. There is access to cross country skiing, snow shoeing etc too.

In the town itself there are large supermarkets, high st, library (small selection of english-language books), clubs, language school etc. There is a list of all the clubs/assosciations here: http://www.bourgsaintmaurice.fr/vie_associative_jaune/pageLibre000110e3.asp. Your first point of call should be the tourist office who will be able to help with longer-term stays as well as short lets. It is also worth searching on Facebook for a group called "whats on in Bourg St Maurice" which is a very loose assosciation of Brits/English-speaking-French living in Bourg.

The local schools are very inclusive and are used to teaching French-as-a-second-language-speakers but I expect that you would need to either enrol your children or not. I doubt they would take someone for a few days in the same way that an amercian/canadian school would expect you to register. You can contact the school here: http://www.education.gouv.fr/annuaire/73-savoie/bourg-saint-maurice/college/college-saint-exupery.html

For children's skiing the best option for a longer-term stay is the "club de sport" which offer a ski-training program during the winter and a general fitness program for the same children during the summer. You need to be a 3*ESF level to join and will be graded acording to ability. The focus is on race training but there is some option for park stuff. Alternatively there are various ski school in Les Arcs who offer discounts for longer term bookings.

Bourg St Maurice has a good mix of local French residents, English-speaking residents, French seasonal workers and English seasonal workers as well as plenty of families who don't fall into one catagory or another.

I don't want to sound negative but to be honest if your French is basic and you will only be staying for a few months you will find it hard to immerse yourselves in local French life which ever ski resort you go to. Local parents (French and English) try to discourage their children from making friends with transient families (to reduce the heart-ache when their best friend in the world leaves every year and has to be replaced) and in any area where skiing is the main source of income, most people work 50hr+ per week in the winter and don't have enough time to think about making new friends. Think about your life at home and how many times you have made good friends with people who have moved to your area for just a few months - not many I'm guessing.

If integrating is your main aim then I would recommend intensive French lessons before you come, enrolling the kids in school, working in French jobs yourselves and considering spending considerably more time in the area than you have already planned.

Whatever you decide to do, I am sure that you will have a great few months and thoroughly enjoy your time here. Happy planning!

Heather
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Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Can't find a club de sport website for Bourg but you can call them on 04 79 07 72 16
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Thanks so much everyone for these very helpful replies. We will definitely take a closer look at Bourg St Maurice as well as St Gervais. Heather you are not negative, your comments are very thoughtful and I get what you are saying about being unrealistic that we will be fully immersed. Thank you for the kind offer to message you with specific queries - I may take you up on that!

I should also mention that my son is an avid ski and bike film maker who is always striking up friendships and doing film projects with sponsored skiiers and pro bikers visiting Whistler. He would love the opportunity to film skiiers in France! His last project was a finalist at Crankworx mountain bike festival and we would love for him to be able to develop this skill.

In terms of volunteering I was hoping the kids could maybe volunteer with a ski school for younger children or perhaps with a reading program in the elementary schools or library. It may be unrealistic to set that up for a couple of months but maybe it could be done. Both have done volunteer work at home. We missed the chance for my son to get his level 1 coaching in Canada and it seems the French equivalent is a far more lengthy, costly and involved process so unfortunately he can't pursue that until next season.

As far as ski school, would the kids need to be tested? would that be a lengthy process? Does anyone know of programs that are focussed on freeride/park and not on ski racing? Its been very hard to find that info online. Thanks! And would there be a lot of freeride big mountain skiing and skiers around Bourg St Maurice?

Would a local school be okay with the kids joining in on ski day - Wednesday? I guess it would depend on each school. Of course we would cover any costs involved but it would be wonderful if they could be with a regular group.

I have not heard any comments about Briancon....how would it differ from Bourg St Maurice? And Chamonix is still on the table...

thanks again everyone and thanks for the warm welcome!
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I'd think Briancon should be on your list - if anything the Serre Chevalier area is less "British" than anywhere in the Tarrentaise and there's the ultimate big mountain ski area just over the Lauteret at La Grave as well as a big connected area on your doorstep.

It's also a proper town.
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We've been to St Gervais a couple of times and, as others have said, it's a proper town and not just a ski station. Very convenient for Megeve, Chamonix, Les Contamines and even Flaine etc aren't far away. If you need the airport Geneva is only an hour away.
Much more charm than Bourg St Maurice but Bourg gives you direct access to the Paradiski with Espace Killy just up the road plus the Trois Vallees for an easy day trip.
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I would also suggest Briançon as being able to offer everything the OP is after and probably at considerably less expense for a long-term let! The whole area is fantastic and beats the over-developed and much hyped Haute-Savoie region into a cocked hat. I love the region and was pleasantly surprised to find out that my current location is twinned with Briançon so we have lots of exchanges going on.

Check out their web site to see what is on offer: http://www.ot-briancon.fr/

As I remember it there is a télécabine (Prorel?) coming straight out of the middle of town that links you directly into the Serre Chevalier lift system. And as fatbob says, plenty demanding stuff available further up the valley! Toofy Grin
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Buses are free and run frequently in Chamonix so you don't have to rely on a car to get around. Plus town itself is not that big, you only need a bus to go to different ski areas (not that long a travel too) and your kids are big enough to manage it. Chamonix got reputation of not being family-friendly because families with little kids on short breaks prefer ski-in/ski-out, but this doesn't apply to your case especially that all of you are good skiers. Spending a season in Chamonix will give your kids bragging rights to last very long time:) Skiing in Megeve/Contamines is fairly tame and staying somehwere like St Gervais you will need to rely on a car big time to get to more interesting skiing for your level. Flaine is probably the ugliest resort in the world.

They are all very good for beginners/intermediates hence their reputation for being "good for families". Yeah, for families whose kids still on snow-plow they are great, but for your family they will be not friendly, if your kids ski Whistler/Blackcomb they won't like it there at all and their skiing has nothing to gain there. Also, mountains top up at around 2500m so for spring skiing it's not ideal. During poor 2010/2011 season there was nothing to do in Megeve by mid-March. I think if you go there for the season you will be making a very big mistake and will spend too much on petrol to get to places with better skiing (i.e. Chamonix). In Chamonix the only time you will be probably using your car is when it's dumping and Brevent/Le Tour/Argentiere closed due to high winds and avy danger ,then you drive to Les Houches. Buses go there too, but it's longer distance and you want a car to beat the crowds. You can also drive to Switzerland from Chamonix and ski a day in Verbier, I think it will be included in your season pass, and skiing-wise it's a top resort if you can ski well. Staying in Chamonix and visit Megeve one day just to see what it's like makes sense in your case. Doing other way around makes no sense at all.
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Quote:

During poor 2010/2011 season there was nothing to do in Megeve by mid-March.

That's not entirely true, but it's true the skiing was poor in late season that year, as it was in many places, including the Chamonix Valley (except the very top - which, like anywhere high at a time of poor snow, can get hideously crowded with long lift queues). Brevent/Flegere closed early I think, having been very poor for some time.

I think the OP might need to make a bit of a choice between quick access to the gnarliest and most famous skiing versus being in a more genuinely French environment with a bit more chance of integrating a bit with the local scene (likely to be more friendly to outsiders when they are not absolutely swamped with them).
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
Chamonix is French enough and if they speak French locals appreciate it:) Season is enough time to integrate in most places, thogh of course this is easier to achieve in a village rather than town. I just don't think they will appreciate skiing on offer in other resorts as their black runs would be red in Chamonix. A friend went to Les Contamines on one of these last minutes deals and her children totally hated it. It's better to stay in Chamonix and travel somewhere sometimes for dinner etc rather than being stuck for a season in the resorts more suitable for beginners and having to drive all the time if skiing is their priority. Plus what you say about GM being crowded in poor season highlights the importance of staying closer to the place rather than being up by 6 every day to drive. Who knows what 2012/2013 might bring? Can be like 2008/09 when it didn't stop snowing almost till June but can be like 2010/11 too...
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
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canski, thanks for your reply and I'm pleased to help - do feel free to message with questions.

An excellent point from pam w, above about choosing between the skiing and the French environment.

Whatever option you choose I am sure that you will enjoy it and have a great time - happy planning!
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
canski, I'm not sure if you're looking to provide a bit of education/cultural experience alongside an extended ski holiday for the kids, or if the education/cultural experience bit is your primary motivation. I was once in a similar position as I used to homeschool international children and was charged with overseeing an American teenage girl's 3 month experience in a Swiss ski resort. Her parents wanted her to integrate with local kids and get involved with their lifestyle and language. I was lucky - I had local friends working there, one of whom had a younger teenage sister that we organised something with (she took her out skiing with her group of friends, to parties etc. with the motivation of wanting to practice her English and giving my student the chance to practice her German amongst a group of peers). I have no idea if the towns you've been looking at run cultural exchange programmes, but it might be worth considering looking into that. If you are just going for January and February rather than a season, it could be difficult to join a season-long programme but worth investigating. If you looked into smaller ski places, I would recommend phoning the tourist office - sounds strange as it's not a tourist thing you're looking for, but the people who work there will know all the locals with teenage kids and might have an interest in working out an arrangement with English speaking teenagers because they don't get much exposure to English in the authentic French ski places.

And as for the "your kids will be bored with the skiing" bit... what do you think the teenagers who have grown up in the area and have been skiing since they can walk do? Sit around twiddling their thumbs because they've been able to ski all the pistes in the region since they were in junior school? No, they are hanging 360s off the 50% slope drag lift up to the snow park, doing their jumps and then taking secret off piste routes over mountains they know like the back of their hand and swinging through the trees like monkeys.
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Well, there is one thing you can do for the kids if you want them to interact with others outside of the ski/education world. Make them join the local scout group, which could be either Scouts d'Europe, Scouts de France, Europa Scouts, Scouts Unitaires de France or Eclaireurs de France. Just bear in minds their difference, mostly based on their attachment to Baden Powell's original scouting dogma.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Quote:

As I remember it there is a télécabine (Prorel?) coming straight out of the middle of town that links you directly into the Serre Chevalier lift system. And as fatbob says, plenty demanding stuff available further up the valley!



Yep, a good call, but that side of the valley can be pretty bare for much of the season, especially lower down. . Still, a lovely proper town, with a cabin out form the middle of town to some utterly awesome skiing!

Oh, and lunch at Le Bercail at the top of the Frejus bubble. Nom. Nom. Nom. And you HAVE to try the sugar cubes. Trust me.
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Thanks again for all the great advice. We have narrowed it down to Briancon after a quick tour through the area (checking out Chamonix, St. Gervais, Morzine etc). We did talk to a very helpful person in the tourist office who has put us in touch with someone who runs a teen ski club. Chamonix was nicer than I had anticipated but we are needing to get to Torino for a few visits and found travel from Briancon much easier. It is a lovely town and there does seem to be more affordable accommodation as well as access to other ski resorts. We are hoping to do some cross country skiing too. Any more details on the area/activities are greatly appreciated. I will ask about cultural exchange programs.
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
canski, I can't help with more info on Briancon but am sure you'll have a wonderful stay and a fantastic experience. Enjoy snowHead
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canski, There are a few snowHeads with regular bases in and around Serre Chevalier, maybe doing a search or contacting one called Hells Bells (I believe she is in Chantemerle right now) will give you a head start.

Good call on selecting Briançon - although it is many years since my stay in the area, I still love the area and am hoping to return when I have more freedom to travel.
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Quote:

Grenoble/Echirolles

volklwaffen, are you mad? An hour's drive from resort, and Echirolles is crime central.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Samerberg Sue, I am in Serre Chevalier, but in Monetier-les-Bains, not Chantemerle, wink , canski, there is plenty of cross-country skiing, either along the Val de Clarée or up in Monetier, so Briancon sounds like it would be a good choice. If you are looking for a seasons accommodation, best get in soon, as it is going fast, I know some people who have lost options on accommodation this week as someone else got there first. Do PM me or post in here if you want any more info.
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hells Bells I will pm if ok thanks. if it doesn't work will try email.
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Anyone know if chris still posts here (under another username). He and his wife lived in SC for quite a few years before moving back to the UK (Oxfordshire IIRC). If he's still around, I'm sure he'd be another great source of info.

You could also maybe try getting in touch with Karen Lucas (Brit) who runs Les Marmottes in Chantemerle with her husband, Denis. Don't have the direct contact details any more, but you might try Hannibals Ski (run by her father).
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canski, PM sent. Chasseur, chris moved back to the uk over three years ago, and hasn't posted since. Someone else tried to contact them recently, as they were running a B&B in Herefordshire, but had no success. I've suggested canski contacts Mel at Eurekaski as she is living in Briancon, and has lots of contact with agents for accommodation etc.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Hells Bells, thanks. I think chris did post a few times when he got back, but silence, as you say, since then - hence wondering about the username change. Shame - nice people and had some fun times in their company down in SC. Good shout re Mel.
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So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
Good choice with Briancon. We've been there quite a few times in the summer and winter and it is probably the best value French ski resort in my opinion. Towards the end of the season the snow can be a bit rubbish coming back into Briancon as the slopes really get the sun, but there the gondola to download on. A few things you should try and do.

Visit La Grave, but I'd recommend a guide. You'll need avalanche safely kit but I think you can rent this locally.

Try cross country skiing in the Nevache valley.

Snow shoe up to the refuge on the col d'Izoard and ski back done. (haven't done this yet but a local guide recommended it to us last year!)
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
Lucky kids, getting two months (or more) off school to go skiing!

Briancon's a lovely town, good choice.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
canski,
Agree with others that Briancon is a great spot. Lift pass for the season covers days in several other areas and is great value. It used to be cheaper if bought before December, don't know if it still is.
For X country the quickest spot is just up the valley at Nevache which is very enjoyable but can be a bit cold. There is plenty up at Monetier and the Vallee Claree is also close by and a real treat. Stunningly attractive with loads of tracks.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
@canski,
Hi,

Our family is looking into spending a year in France and I was wondering if you would mind sharing some of what you have discovered about living in Briancon as that is at the top of my list of places to serve as our base. (I'm assuming that you are moving there next month).

Short about us; family of four, kids are 11 and 9. Both kids have been in French immersion since kindergarten. We ski Kicking Horse Mtn in Golden (on skis about 60 days/year) so looking for challenging terrain, and to have options to explore, to keep everyone happy. We are looking to enroll our kids in French school. Our main purposes to going to France is to explore the skiing, improve our French, explore the mountains and surrounding areas (in all seasons). I'm Swedish so both myself and our children have EU passports. Will need to figure out the best way for hubby to get a visa. Which is a whole other topic but for now, just looking for more info on Briancon and getting settled there.

Wondering if you have any tips on how/where to find long term accommodation? And basically any tips or resources you have found helpful.

Thank you so much!
-- Mia.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@Arctic.light, you have replied to a 7 year old post, so Canski may not be around any longer.
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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?
@Weathercam may be able to offer some advice.

See:
https://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=149219
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