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The Best Family Skiing in the French Alps

Head to Les Gets for a family-friendly mountain that converted “never skiers” into “every winter” fans.

By Rachel Ifans

 

If you’re after a European family ski break in an authentic alpine ski resort, you need look no further than Les Gets. Un petit mot in your ear about pronunciation, though, before we go any further: it’s Les Gets – pronounced more of a lazy ‘lay jay’ than a businesslike ‘lez getts’. Ca va? Alors, on y va!

We’d consciously avoided skiing for decades, as if it were some kind of irresistible siren atop a rock in Greece, beckoning us into untold pretension and poshness. We didn’t ski – we weren’t interested – it just wasn’t us. It was a political and social statement wrapped in a bow of inverted snobbery. We were ski-refusniks with a misplaced dedication to our beliefs only rivaled by King Canute and the whole “tide” thing.

Anyway, back to Les Gets… One year, I was invited on a long weekend skiing with girlfriends. I went and… well, let’s just say the rest is history: My screeching U-turn from “Skiing’s not for me” was only equaled in decibels by my husband’s similar about-turn a year later. We’d both gone from hating the idea of skiing to loving it completely – “It’s literally the best family holiday!” 

So, excusing my evangelistic view of family ski holidays if you can, I bring you our favorite destination: Les Gets, the place where our anti-ski beliefs fell on their arses and where we’ve taken the kids for the past eight years. The alpine feel, the “Frenchiness” (combined with plenty of people who speak English), the proximity to Geneva Airport (the main airport for the French alps with plenty of flights coming in and out all season) and the family-friendlier offerings vs. the more well-known neighbors, like Chamonix and Courchevel, all make Les Gets our pick for the perfect French Alps ski spot.

 

The ROAM Report – Alpine Skiing – Les Gets, Haute Savoie, France

  • Travelers: Rachel & Adam, plus kids (14 and 12) 
  • Date: One week every winter for the past 8 years
  • Itinerary: Fly to Geneva, travel to Les Gets, and settle in for the week
  • Budget: Depends on type of accommodation and number of ski days but skiing Les Gets will be less expensive than neighboring Alpine resorts for family ski trips.

Good to Know

Ou est Les Gets? (Get the Rhyme?)

Les Gets sits in the Haute Savoie region, which is part of what is unofficially known as the northern French Alps – and boasts many of the bigger and well-known ski resorts in the country (Val Thorens, Chamonix, Val d’Isere, Courchevel and Meribel and more). There are a few airports serving this alpine area but Geneva (actually in Switzerland) is the largest and boasts the most flights from European and international destinations. Les Gets is part of the Portes du Soleil ski area which encompasses 13 resorts between Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva.

The Southern French Alps are served by Grenoble airport but, because the ski area is – as it sounds by the name – further south, and hence nearer Provence, you can also fly into coastal Mediterranean airports like Nice and still be skiing in an hour or so. The big ski resorts don’t show up in the south as much as in the north but there’s still great skiing to be had there – and more sunshine to boot!

Just over one hour from Geneva airport by road, Les Gets feels very reachable. It’s worth knowing that you are in Switzerland when you land and when you leave the airport, but you swiftly cross the border into France. It doesn’t really make much difference to your trip, I only mention it because Switzerland isn’t part of the EU so mobile data deals can differ while you’re in the country, and you’ll be paying for anything – like petrol or snacks – in Swiss Francs, rather than Euros. There are lots of transfer companies to Les Gets from the airport and you can choose between shared and private cars (see below) or get a hire car which can be good value out of the school holidays. 

Pistes and Passes

In terms of passes, you can buy a ski pass for the whole Portes du Soleil area or opt for one that covers just Les Gets and neighboring Morzine. Les Gets resort is at an altitude of 1170m and the highest lift sits at 2000m. It’s a picturesque and pleasing place to ski with meadow and wooded pistes rather than the ones in higher resorts where runs are totally exposed and the fact you’re sliding down the side of a mountain is very in-your-face.

There are lots of pistes for beginner and intermediate skiers, the vast majority of slopes categorized as Blue or Red. There are a few nursery slopes in the Le Grand Cry area of the resort and a few advanced Black runs too (but really not many!)

So, here’s a rundown of the main ski areas. The Chavannes is the ski area you first come to as the télécabine crests the mountain top on its rise from town. It’s a wide-open expanse of pure-white beauty and never fails to rinse early-morning head-fug away in an instant. It’s a big meadow of pistes with kid-friendly slopes and it’s good for beginners too.

Just to one side is another big piste area – called The Bowl, and linked to The Chavannes by some do-able Blues and Reds. As the name suggests, it’s bowl-shaped with numerous runs and lifts converging on the centre – with a few good cafés too, it’s one of my favorite spots to ski. You can split up and do your own runs down to the lifts at the bottom, so a party can stick together while maintaining a bit of individual freedom.

The other side of the Chavannes takes you in the Morzine direction and gives you access to a wider network of pistes and a run down into the town of Morzine. There’s a mountain there – dubbed ‘Death Mountain’ by our family – that splits a Black and a Red and was super challenging in the early days.

Finally, instead of taking the télécabine in Les Gets town, you can jump on a free road train (le petit train) and that will take you and your skis over to the other side of town to another area called Mont Chéry. It’s a small network of pistes but is often quieter and for that reason is sometimes dubbed the locals’ ski area but it’s open to everyone, of course.

Stay a While

Les Gets is not a big town and you can walk to the lift stations from most places. There’s a steady flow of traffic along the main road which carries on to Morzine and Avoriaz, but one street behind  – the high street – is all-but pedestrianized.

Our advice is to stay in town as close to Front de Neige as you can – that’s the road where the lift station is – and as the name suggests it fronts the snowy mountain. If you stay in town, you’ll need to take the télécabine or chair lift to the slopes but you can ski right back to town at the end of the day. If you decide to stay up on the hill nearer to the slopes you’ll be able to ski in and out of your accommodation. Fab for the daytime, but evening activities are less reachable as a result – you’d have to drive down the hill in the evening for meals out, après-ski and supermarket trips.

Les Gets boasts all sorts of accommodation from privately owned one-offs on Airbnb to bigger ski companies. All are built in alpine chalet style though and there are no high rises in sight. We’ve always stayed at Les Fermes Emiguy which is part of a chain called La Grange. It has differently-sized self-catering apartments and you also get the benefit of a pool, sauna and gym, boulangerie services and parking.

I can’t tell you much about the posher hotels in town (Les Fermes Emiguy is posh enough for me!) but I do really love the bar in La Marmotte Hotel at the end of a hard day’s skiing. It offers total warmth and luxurious comfort and the best place for a vin chaud. Good luck moving again once you’ve sunk into those sofas, though! 

Get Kitted Out

We’ve dallied in various ski-gear-hire shops over the years (mostly trying to save some Euros here and there!) but unless your money-saving-by-going-further-afield is very convincing, it’s easiest to hire from one of the shops right by the lift station. There are a few in a row to choose from and all of them have heated overnight storage for your skis, poles and boots (not helmets – take them with you each night). En plus, they’re run by friendly and chilled-out people, and you can get a bit of money off by searching for codes and ordering online. Go with these shops and you can ski to the door and be in La Marmotte supping your wine in no time.

 If you get your ski kit from a shop further away from the lifts, hire a locker under the télécabine station for the week and dump your shoes there during the day and your ski equipment there at night. 

On the Town

Les Gets is formed in a kind of grid. There is one main high street with lots of shops (including knick-knacks, eye-wateringly cool and spendy ski fashion, and food), bars and restaurants. The high street runs parallel with the Front de Neige which also boasts its fair share of bars and hotels. Smaller roads cross the two main streets at right angles and it’s a piece of cake to find your way around. We find the restaurants in town to be a bit pricey and tend to eat lunch on the slopes and then eat at home in the evening.

That said, there are loads of après-ski choices in town and the vibe is friendly and welcoming, rather than rowdy and boom-boom. It’s mostly focused on eating and drinking although you’ll also find a nightclub, a cinema, and a bowling alley, they are all postage-stamp-size and in keeping with the alpine charm.

There is plenty for kids to do off-piste and lots of effort is made to keep the younger ones happy. There’s a carousel, an ice rink, and weekly activities in the main square, games, and a terrifying wood sculpture carving area with the kids left in charge of saws! (France has always had a laisser-faire attitude to health and safety, charming and disarming in equal measure). There’s also a good selection of Christmas fun laid on for younger visitors, with fireworks and periodic torch-runs by the town’s ski instructors.

Our Les Gets Loves

La Marmotte hotel bar. Great for drinks and nibbles as soon as you take off your ski boots. It overlooks the slopes so it is also good for watching people negotiate the often-busy and chopped-up Blue run back to town at the end of the day. 

The Yeti. This café is a great meeting place on the slopes. It’s right at the top of the télécabine from town and offers basic but tasty food. A recent upstairs conversion gives extra seating space inside and a large terrace is manned by legendary waiters.

360 ski school. This is the ski school we go for. It’s very friendly, the manager is English speaking and I think it beats the other ones on price. We often opt for a small group lesson for the kids. It’s much more personal than the large ski school treatment and means they learn a lot in a shorter time.

Black Bear pub. It’s the closest to a British pub you’ll find in Les Gets. Maybe that’s why we like it – or maybe it’s because of the good wi-fi and lively vibe. Watch out for the giant moose head.

Traiteur Rossin. Daily trips here make self-catering an elevated experience. Once you’ve seen the week’s menu of pre-prepared meals and poulet-roti offerings, thoughts of pasta and pesto will become a foggy memory.

Le Boomerang. Run by an ebullient antipodean, this family-friendly, world-cuisine restaurant is a laugh. Noodles? Burgers? Thai Green Curry? Tapas? They have it all and while it may not be what you’d call authentic, it’s always busy and fun and recommended for families. 

La Paika. Gourmet grub on the slopes. The food is supreme but after a couple of bottles of vino and a three-course lunch, the afternoon skiing could be a write-off. It’s not open in the evenings, so we’ll leave that decision up to you.

The Altitude Lodge. If Santa’s been super kind, maybe shell out to stay at this on-the-hill accommodation, but if you haven’t been that good this year, opt for lunch instead. It replaces traditional alpine food with dishes like moules frites.

Three good lunch spots that we rate. L’Hotty’s for warming soups, stews and great location at the top of Chavannes; La Rossettaz – in the Bowl – for great wood-fired pizzas; and Chez Nannon, serving local food on the Morzine side.

Our tried-and-tested transfer companies are Powdercab, Alpinbus, AlpyBus and Skiidy Gonzales. All on Google and bookable online.

8 Insider Tips

  1. The Les Gets and Morzine pass is enough for a week if you’re new to the resort and you have kids.
  2. There are oodles of caffs up top so lunchtime options are diverse.
  3. Don’t stay in La Turch, an area on the edge of town. It’s okay in high season but becomes disconnected from the main ski area when snow isn’t perfect.
  4. The Red runs from the top of the Ranfoilly are gorgeous. Wide, great snow and good views.
  5. Hire a raclette from a shop if you want some alpine food authenticity but haven’t got the energy to go out for dinner.
  6. If the snow is chopping up through the day, save the Bowl until mid/late afternoon – some of the runs there hold it together brilliantly when all else is turning to mush in early/late season.
  7. Ski over to the higher altitudes of Avoriaz (particularly recommended if there’s powder) and get the bus back if you fancy a big day out.
  8. Treat yourself one day with a lunch at La Grande Ourse on Mont Chery. Absolutely delicious and absolutely essential to book in advance.

 

 

 Rachel Ifans – November 2019

ROAM Contributor

Rachel Ifans is a British journalist and editor, covering a wide range of lifestyle and travel subjects. Having sold their RV this summer, Rachel and family are enjoying spreading their wings and travelling outside Europe, but she’ll always return to her first love, France. Born unfortunately to non-French parents (!), Rachel has spent her life trying to make up for it by spending as much time as she can in France or writing about it, studying the language, tirelessly dragging her children round all six sides of l’Hexagone, and endlessly chuntering to her husband about moving there.

© ROAM Family Travel 2019 – All rights reserved

 

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