With the winter ski season starting in Europe next week, Mary Novakovich looks at the best ski resorts within 90 minutes from Geneva, a direct flight from the UAE
Ski central: 11 best ski resorts close to Geneva
Once you’ve sat through a long flight to Geneva, the last thing you want is a lengthy transfer to your ski resort. If you want to get on the slopes quickly – or if you have only a few days to ski – there are plenty of resorts within a 90-minute drive from Geneva airport. Here are just a few, ranging from intimate little villages to some of the most renowned ski areas in the French Alps.
Le Grand Bornand: 61 minutes
Affectionately known as Grand Bo, this pretty ski resort in the Aravis mountain range is often what comes to mind when you think of a traditional Savoyard village. Its charming village centre – complete with a 19th-century church, covered market and ice-skating rink – is surrounded by 86 kilometres of slopes including the wooded Pointe Percée, the highest peak in the Aravis. While it’s at relatively low altitude (1,300-2,100 metres), the micro-climate of the Aravis brings in more snow than you would expect.
Saint-Gervais: 64 minutes
The stately 19th-century spa town of Saint-Gervais is in an attractive spot in a narrow river gorge at the foot of Mont Blanc. Although it shares its 225km ski area with Megève, it’s a cheaper place to base yourself. Not that it’s lacking in sophistication: you’ll find classy bars and restaurants, along with thermal baths and an Olympic ice rink. Don’t miss the chance to ride the Tramway du Mont Blanc, one of France’s three remaining narrow-gauge railways. Wherever you ski – through the woods or on freeride terrain – you’ll have sublime views of Mont Blanc.
La Clusaz: 67 minutes
Le Grand Bornand’s larger Aravis neighbour is just as delightful if you’re looking for cosy Savoyard ambience. Its 125km of pistes will keep intermediates happy for days, while experts head for the challenging black runs and off-piste areas around Le Balme. The same lift pass will also include Le Grand Bornand as well as the smaller resorts of Manigod and St-Jean-de-Sixt, which are connected by shuttle buses.
Samoëns: 67 minutes
The only French ski resort to be classified as a national monument, Samoëns has all the authentic French charm that its modernist Grand Massif neighbour, Flaine, lacks. Its 125km of pistes include long runs for intermediates and some formidable expert runs on the Tête des Saix. For a grand day out, ski the scenic 14km Cascades run to Sixt, from where you can take the bus back to Samoëns. Along the way, stop for lunch at the Gîte du Lac de Gers, which has a phone on the piste so you can arrange for the restaurant’s snowmobile to take you up the slope. This season, a new luxury, all-inclusive Club Med is opening on the Plateau des Saix overlooking Samoëns.
Chamonix: 70 minutes
Chamonix is unlike any other resort in the Alps. For a start, it’s a proper town rather than just a resort: busy, bustling and full of people eager to test themselves in what is undoubtedly the extreme-skiing capital of the world. Take the cable car to the top of Aiguille du Midi at 3,840 metres, where the Vallée Blanche, a breathtaking and thigh-burning 24km off-piste run, takes you past magnificent glacier scenery. Non-skiers can still enjoy sweeping views of Mont Blanc from the Aiguille du Midi Skywalk, a “Step into the Void” glass-floor viewing platform above a drop of 1,000 metres. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Megève: 71 minutes
Chic Megève is one of the most fashionable resorts in the Alps – and there’s more than enough substance to match the style. Its 325km of pistes have lovely views of Mont Blanc and are spread across three mountains: Rochebrune, Mont d’Arbois and Le Jaillet. Many of the slopes are blissfully quiet as many visitors prefer to shop and eat in the elegant restaurants. If you want a break from skiing, pamper yourself at Le Palais, a large sporting complex that includes indoor and outdoor spa baths.
Les Gets: 73 minutes
This very French corner of the vast Portes du Soleil ski domain is an old favourite for families, although you don’t have to have kids in tow to appreciate the village’s appealing food shops and outdoor skating rink. Les Gets shares its 120km of pistes with neighbouring Morzine and includes a huge range of slopes. Mont Chéry in particular, as well as offering fantastic views of the area, has a snowpark, especially tough blacks and some fun reds. Check out the snowcross and mini-snowcross on Chavannes.
Les Contamines: 77 minutes
Set in a nature reserve at the foot of Mont Blanc, Les Contamines straddles the borders of the Savoie and Haute Savoie regions. This peaceful farming village of traditional chalets and baroque churches sprawls along for about 5km, but there are shuttle buses – and horse-drawn carriages – to take you back and forth. Covering the sides of two valleys, Val Montjoie and Beaufortain, the resort’s 120km of sunny pistes include lots of blues and reds as well as off-piste terrain. If you want to go farther afield, expand your ski pass to cover the whole Evasion Mont-Blanc ski area, which includes Megève, St-Gervais, La Giettaz and Combloux.
Flaine: 79 minutes
When Flaine was built in the 1960s, the architects wholeheartedly embraced the brutalist style of the times. That hasn’t weathered well, and not everyone will like the concrete architecture that sits at the bottom of Flaine’s snowy bowl. If you’re not a fan, then opt for the more traditional chalet-style buildings in the two satellite villages of Hameau de Flaine and Montsoleil (the latter run by Intrawest). Wherever you stay, you’ll have 140km of slopes that make up Flaine’s share of the varied Grand Massif ski area, which includes several cute little villages to ski into.
Morzine: 84 minutes
Much loved by British skiers, Morzine is one of the liveliest parts of the Portes du Soleil ski area. It shares much of its 120km slopes with Les Gets, but it’s also in a handy position to access the extensive skiing at high-altitude Avoriaz. As Morzine is quite low altitude, this can come in useful when the snow cover is thin. If you want to challenge yourself, the off-piste and pisted runs at Chamossière should do the trick. Morzine’s restaurants and shops have been quietly going more upmarket, so there’s no shortage of places to eat and shop.
Courmayeur: 90 minutes
Just over the Italian border in the Aosta Valley, Courmayeur offers a different view of Mont Blanc (or, rather, Monte Bianco) than its French counterparts. It also has one thing that’s not allowed in France: heli-skiing (downhill skiing accessed by a helicopter). While its 41km of slopes are hardly extensive, intermediates will enjoy the red runs from Col Checrouit and Cresta Youla. The cobbled village itself is a stylish place full of smart bars, restaurants and shops. And as the cable car that goes from the village up to Plan Checrouit is open in the evening, you can enjoy the relatively rare treat of a night-time après-ski scene that’s on the mountain.