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Skiing Holidays in France

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Skiing in France is a very important feature of the year's sporting calendar, not only for professional skiiers but for families, students, businessmen and tourists. In January and February you will see many tanned, healthy looking businessmen wandering around the financial district in Paris, claiming to have just returned from sport d'hiver (winter sports, ie skiing).

Out of France's 400 ski resorts, French people all have their favourite place to go skiing, and woe betide anyone who can't ski at all as it is an essential part of life. It has even been known for people to go to the tanning salon in January and then claim to have spent the weekend away skiing at Courchevel when you ask where they got their golden glow. There are five mountain ranges in France where skiing is possible: the Alps, Jura, Vosges, Pyrenees and the Massif Central. It is even possible to ski in Corsica when the conditions are right.

France was the site of the first Winter Olympic Games which took place in Chamonix in 1924. All sorts of skiing are possible in France, be it downhill (ski de piste or ski alpin), cross country (ski de fond), mountaineering or snowboarding, and it is practised by everyone. Cross country skiing is particularly popular in the Jura mountains and the Massif Central, both of which have some great runs. It is still a pretty exhausting sport but slightly easier on the joints than downhill skiing. It also has the added benefit of allowing you to discover seemingly untouched by tourism villages up in the mountains away from the tourist traps lower down. Les Deux Alpes has a reputation for being a snowboarder's paradise and hosted the 2002 Snowboarding World Cup.

The skiing season runs from November to April, although the lower altitudes have a shorter season and only really lofty resorts such as Val Thorens in the Alps have good snow right into April. The peak season is certainly from January to March, when the snow is best. Beware of the school holidays in France which are staggered from the last couple of weeks in February to the first weeks of March. Paris schools usually have a break right in the middle of this period, and the slopes get very busy with school groups and families.

Skiing in France can be an expensive activity when you have to buy all the lift passes, hire ski equipment, book accommodation and partake in the après ski. There are good deals on package holidays where flights and accommodation are all organised for you, including transfers to and from the airport to your chosen accommodation at the hippest ski resort. Snow reports are available in newspapers and online during the skiing season, so you always know where to find the best snow conditions.