Skiing in the South of France

Skiing in the South of France

Snow seldom falls in Nice, yet the Niçois enjoy easy access to some of the finest downhill and cross-country ski facilities in the south of France. The mountain resorts attract locals and tourists alike, urging them to strap on skis or snowboards throughout the whole winter and spring. The locals, restless after a week at work are more likely to meet on the slopes than they are in the pub. The tourists, attracted by its proximity, convenience and comprehensive infrastructure return season after season trying to pack as much skiing or snowboarding into their holidays as possible.

 

Being no more than 100 km away from the city means that the old cliché about being able to ski in the morning and hit the beach in the afternoon is possible. Given that the Mediterranean Sea is a little too chilly until mid May for most of us, you are better off spending your afternoons on the slopes engaging in a little ‘apres ski’.

 

There are many more options for skiing than listed below, it’s just we have chosen three that are the most popular and serviced by local transport – Isola 2000, Auron and Valberg and one “underdog” that might nicely surprise you – Greolieres les Neiges.

 

ISOLA 2000 (1800 – 2610m above sea level)

 

The Isola 2000 ski resort was built in the 1970’s and although it might not be the prettiest, most picturesque or the typical winter fairy tail resort, its location is its key strength.  

 

Isola Resort 

 

Being the nearest ski resort to Nice and to its airport (only 90 km) and to the Franco Italian border, this resort sits on the edge of the breathtaking Mercantour National Park and has always been a great spot for anybody looking for a short and convenient ski break.

 

For its snow, Isola 2000 relies on the storms that move across the region into the Western Mediterranean area. The rather unique microclimate and its high altitude above 1800 meters means that it will more often have a “snow guarantee” than in most other resorts in Alpes. The south facing slopes are bathing in warm sunshine most of the season and you can expect plenty of bluebird days. On a sunny day the views are so clear that you can see the Mediterranean Sea from Cime de Sistron (2603m).

 

Normally, Isola gets its first snow early in the season and stays skiable late into the spring. The slopes remain in good condition throughout the season plus there are also 240 snow cannons making sure that you enjoy powdery terrain of the highest quality. It opens early in December and closes in mid April. However, there have been seasons when waiting for the right weather conditions to open carried on till mid January.

Check the official website of Isola 2000 for all the important updates at www.isola2000.com

 

Skiing and Snowboarding

 

Isola 2000 consists of 120 km of pistes / 42 slopes. Intermediates will have a whale of a time here, but it is also a great place for the beginners and the less confident skiers to find their feet first. Snowboarders get a hearty welcome here too, as it is a home to France’s first snowboard club – Back to Back Club, plus there are many facilities adapted to their needs.

 

There are three black pistes which are for the more advanced and experienced skiers and snowboarders with plenty of free ride runs. Off the pistes, there are countless possibilities and it is definitely worth hiring a guide if you really want to get the best of the terrain.

 

A mixture of 11 red and 21 blue (intermediate) slopes offer a great variety of pistes over an expansive area dropping down through the woodland and some steeper terrains. Seven gentle green runs are dedicated to beginners who can build up their confidence before graduating to more challenging pistes. A cut price ‘beginners only’ lift ticket is available giving access to only 4 lifts serving the nursery slopes. All the slopes are easily accessible by 20 lifts from the village.

Night skiing is also available.

 

Aprés ski

The aprés ski scene is where Isola 2000 doesn’t get too many good points. Being built in the 70’s, the concrete architecture is rather ratty and tired, however, there are several good terraced restaurants, bars, nightclubs and good value supermarkets to ensure that you have fun off the slopes as much as you do on them.

 

Ski Passes

 

Adult – Full Day – €34.50, Half Day – €27.20, 2 Days – €67.30, 3 Days – €94.30

Child under 12 years – Full Day – €29.20, Half Day €19.60, 2 Days – €56.60,

3 Days – €81.30

 

There are even further great pricing deals for four days plus, especially in the low season. High season is Christmas and New Year’s and around second week of February till second week of March (exact dates depend on school holidays).

The Isola 2000 Ski Pass can be upgraded to cover both Isola 2000 and Auron resort.

 

If you wish to take some skiing lessons, most of the instructors speak English, some speak other languages such as Spanish, Italian, German or Portuguese (enquire when booking).

Morning teen and adult skiing lessons (11.00 – 13.00) cost €31, snowboarding €31.50 p.p.

5 lessons (Monday – Friday) of skiing €148 and €150 for snowboarding per person.  

Private lessons 1 hour – €47.

There are plenty of options for children to learn how to ski depending on their age, time of the year and the length of the course. All the details can be found on ESF website – www.esf-isola2000.com

 

* Please note prices and times were correct at time of posting and will be updated throughout the year but please for the most accurate information visit Isola’s official website.

 

 

AURON (1600 – 2450 m above sea level)

 

Photo By Tom Coomer tomcoomer (https://unsplash.com/photos/de0P588zgls) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Auron was a pioneer of skiing in the Alpes Maritimes. Located on a sunny plateau above the Tinée Valley near the town Saint Étienne-de-Tinée, it opened its first lift in 1937.

 

It is a much prettier alpine affaire than its neighbouring Isola 2000, with charming ski chalets, lively town square and with a few celebrities spotted on its slopes, it has gradually gained a reputation of being more posh and glamorous.

 

Despite its southerly location and generous sunshine, the conditions remain pretty good from early December well into the month of May, and just to be sure, there are 368 snow cannons covering almost 60 % of the terrain. Check the official website of Auron for all the important updates at www.winter.auron.com

 

Skiing and Snowboarding

 

Auron’s ski area consists of four territories with varied wide slopes filled with traditional barns in the middle of the forest – Las Donnas, Sauma Longue, Demandols and Lieuson. The 46 pistes stretch to an impressive 130 km served by the latest generation of a fast and reliable lift system. There are 22 lifts including the Pinatelle cable car that brings skiers up to the main ski area from Saint Étienne-de-Tinée village.

 

There are 3 green routes for debutants, an incredible 17 blue and 16 reds for intermediates, no matter what level. Whilst the experts can scurry down the 10 black runs.

 

While Auron is not really a snowboarding hub, they will not feel like outcasts here either. In 1999 the station opened a dedicated snowboard park with half pipe plus the steep descent from Col du Bouchiet and Las Donnas has plenty to offer in terms of challenge and excitement for the snowboarders. There are also areas for cross country skiing.

 

Aprés ski

 

As mentioned before, Auron is a proper mountain town rather than a purpose built resort. Most of the evening ‘action’ happens in the heart of the village, at the main square around its ice rink. It is a great place for a night out in one of the many bars, restaurants and a handful of nightclubs. If visiting as a family, there is plenty of children orientated entertainment around as well.  

 

Auron has managed to retain many interesting old features, most notably its 13th century stone chapel dedicated to Saint-Érige (Aurigius in Latin – where the name Auron comes from).

 

Ski Passes

 

Adult – Full Day – €34.50, Half Day – €27.20, 2 Days – €67.30, 3 Days – €94.30

Child under 12 years – Full Day – €29.20, Half Day €19.60, 2 Days – €56.60,

3 Days – €81.30

 

There are even further great pricing deals for four days plus, especially in the low season. High season is Christmas and New Year’s and around second week of February till second week of March (exact dates depend on school holidays).

Auron Ski Pass can be upgraded to cover both Auron and Isola 2000 resort.

 

If you wish to take some skiing lessons, most of the instructors speak English, some speak other languages such as Spanish, Italian, German or Portuguese (enquire when booking).

Morning teen and adults skiing lessons (9.15 – 13.00) cost €60 whilst snowboarding (10.00 – 12.00) costs €31.00 per person.

5 lessons (Monday – Friday) of skiing €228 and €153 for snowboarding per person.  

Private lessons 1 hour – €47.

 

There are plenty of options for children to learn how to ski depending on their age, time of the year and the length of the course. All the details can be found on ESF website – www.esfauron.com  

 

VALBERG (1700m – 2100m above sea level)

 

The name Valberg comes from French ‘Vallon de Bergians’ meaning valley of shepherds, hinting to the roots of this mountainous village. Originally a high altitude pasture, it opened its first slopes in in 1936, which makes it the oldest ski resort in Southern Alps.

 

 

Valberg is around 90 km away from Nice, just about an hour and half drive. It boasts an impressive amount of sunny days per season, with the sunniest month being December, with an average of 21 sunny days, it is in the top three in France. March on the other hand has the best snow coverage with an average snow depth being 35 inches at the summit and 25 inches at the base. There are 400 snow cannons covering 85% of the area so you’ll find skiable terrain throughout the season. Check the official website of Valberg for all the important updates at www.valberg.com

 

Skiing and Snowboarding

 

90 km of pistes / 56 slopes that run from 1700 – 2100 meters above the sea with a respectable 416m (1365 feet) vertical descent the highest peak is called Dreccia.

 

Intermediates will have loads of mountain to explore with 39 out of 56 trails being ranked either blue or red. The remaining 11 are dedicated to the beginners and 6 to the experienced skiers.

 

The advanced skiers will appreciate The Valberg Park located just beside the Dreccia chair lift. It features 5 different types of rails, 5 types of boxes and 2 jump lines. There is 25 km of cross country trails as well.

 

Especially suited to family ski holidays, Valberg is the only resort in the Alpes-Maritimes to have obtained the ‘P’tits Montagnards’ label of quality, which guarantees the best possible care for children. This is a fantastic place to take little ones to learn how to ski.

Don’t miss on Big Air Bag (“Le Big Air Bag”) just beside Croix du Sapet chair lift, a giant inflatable mattress to try and freestyle jump in full. It is free and great fun..

 

Aprés ski

 

Valberg is a very pleasant small resort, mostly family orientated and VERY French. You will barely see drunk tourists wandering around its 20 bars, pubs and restaurants, it is quiet and friendly here with a healthy mix of of village houses, traditional farms and modern accommodation.

 

Besides skiing, there is 12 km of snow shoe and pedestrian trails with a beautiful scenic view over the Mount Mounier and Mercantour range. If you are into the golf try out the snow golf! The local golf course especially adapted for winter is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, from 13.00 – 16.00.

 

Ski Passes

 

Adult – Full Day – €32.30, 2 Days – €63, 3 Days – €89.80

Child under 12 years – Full Day – €25.60, 2 Days – €49.90, 3 Days – €71

If you prefer to avoid the hustle and bustle on the slopes, visit Valberg outside the peak weeks of Christmas and February half term.

 

If you wish to take some skiing lessons, most of the instructors speak English, some speak other languages such as Spanish, Italian, German or Portuguese (enquire when booking).

Afternoon teen and adults skiing lessons (14.00 – 16.00) cost €27, snowboarding (Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays only – 15.00 – 17.00) €27.00 per person.

5 afternoon lessons (Monday – Friday) of skiing €150 and also €150 for snowboarding per person  

Private lessons 1 hour – €43.

There are plenty of options for children to learn how to ski depending on their age, time of the year and the length of the course. All the details can be found on ESF website www.esf-valberg.com

 

GREOLIERES LES NEIGES (1400 – 1800m above sea level)

 

Greolieres les Neiges is located in the backcountry around Grasse, just 44 km from Cannes and 61 km from Nice. This resort will not blow your mind, it is small and traditional but ideal for a relaxed retreat on the slopes with family and friends.

 

The microclimate is very favorable to very low night temperatures that preserve fresh snow despite the high amount of sunny and warm winter days. It is the least crowded ski resort in South of France and the laid back and unhurried atmosphere will be greatly appreciated especially by skiers who are just getting used to snow under their skis.

 

The medieval village is perched at 1400 m altitude overlooked by the majestic Cheiron massif and overlooking Vallée de Loup (Wolf’s Valley).

 

From the Cheiron summit (1778 m above the sea level), you can admire 360 degrees panorama of surrounding nature, Côte d’Azur and on a clear day you can even see Corsica from here. A true heaven for the nature lovers who want to relax in peace away from the crowds. Check the official website of Greolieres les Neiges for all the important updates on www.stations-greolieres-audibergue.com

 

Skiing and Snowboarding

 

30 km of runs / 1000 hectares of south facing slopes (20 in total) from which 3 green ones are suitable of novices, 4 blue and 11 red for intermediate and 2 black ones for expert skiers and snowboarders.

 

The slopes wind through ridges, valleys, meadows and pine tree lined routes.

30 km of fine well maintained cross country trails (between 1400 – 1540 m above sea level) will satisfy any enthusiast of this sport, plus the views from these runs are magnificent.

 

Aprés ski

 

Greolieres les Neiges is more of a day trip resort, so the choice is not wast – 1 hotel, 3 restaurants, 2 coffee shops and one grocery store. However, it has everything you might need.

Typical Provencal village set in a safe and peaceful area.

 

Ski Passes

 

Adult – Full Day – €20 (during the week outside of school holidays), €24 (weekends and holidays), Half Day – €16 and €19 respectively.

Child under 12 years – Full Day – €17 (during the week outside the school holidays), €15 (weekends and holidays), Half Day €14 and €13 respectively.

 

If you wish to take some skiing lessons, most of the instructors speak English, some speak other languages such as Spanish, Italian, German or Portuguese (enquire when booking).

Teen and adults skiing lessons cost €45 / hour per person, these are private lessons and it gets cheaper with more participants.

 

There are plenty of options for children to learn how to ski depending on their age, time of the year and the length of the course. All the details can be found on ESF www.esf-greoliereslesneiges.com

 

How to get there:

Isola 2000, Auron, Valberg, Greolieres les Neiges

 

Car – Going by car is the most convenient way to get to any of the four ski resorts, giving you all the flexibility you need. The roads are regularly cleared in the winter and during snowfall. However, if there is snow on the roads, you will need to use snow chains. All  rental companies have snow chains for rent. Drive with caution.

 

For carshare you can try www.skivoiturage.com or www.blablacar.fr , both very common in France and you might get to meet some similar minded friendly locals.

 

Bus – 100% Neige – line number 750 is servicing the route between Nice and Isola 2000, line 740 between Nice and Auron and line 770 between Nice and Valberg.

The bus 750 and 740 leaves Nice from Vauban bus station, train station or Airport Terminal 1 and 2. Bus 770 leaves only from the train station and Airport Terminal 1.

All trips take about two and half hours, booking during the skiing season is obligatory and you need to print your electronic ticket. One set of ski/snowboard gear and a piece of luggage is included in your fare.

 

Please book and check www.lignesdazur.com for more details and check out there 100% Snow bus details here https://www.lignesdazur.com/fr/bus-100-neige/1023

 

Note that there is no direct bus from Nice to Greolieres les Neiges.



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