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Skiing The French Alps: Vive Le Difference

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French Alps Skiing? Mai oui. Vive le difference.

Liste de seau is the French translation for the term "Bucket List". For most skiers, the French Alps is high on their list, and with good reason. The Alps are famed for their glamour, sophistication, and of course excellent skiing and even better après ski. Skiing in the French Alps can be either a terrific active family vacation, or an unparalleled adult party and physical challenge.

First, if you're an experienced North American skier and considering a trip to the French Alps, there are a few differences that you might want to be aware of before hitting the slopes.

1) No tree line. Keep your lingerie on; there's no typical "Bra Tree" to pass on the chair lift in the Alps. Most of us are used to heading up hill surrounded by trees (mostly evergreens); a path which has been carved through the forest at times. In the Alps, as you head upwards, it's somewhat startling to look around and see only white, broken up by some grey rocks and a few isolated trees. You can make out the groomed parts of the runs, barely, but there is plenty of off-piste skiing to be had, while glade skiing is usually not available.

2) T-bar type hooks. Those of us growing up skiing in the 70's and 80's remember with some discomfort the rope tows and T-bar lifts that always managed to pitch us off to the side at least once or twice. The French Alps have quite a few of these to manoeuvre.

3) Red runs. In North America, we have a ski run rating system of green (easy), blue (intermediate) and black (difficult). Black branches into single black diamond and double black diamond. In the French Alps, they have Red Runs, which are somewhere in between a blue and a black.

4) Helmets. Most North Americans have helmets, and use helmets. You can certainly rent helmets in the French Alps. But you will find a huge number of skiers who still wear either fashionable hats (not berets, sadly) or no hat at all. I asked a fellow skier if he wasn't cold, not wearing a hat and he said "No. Because I am a man. A French man." Don't try to lecture them.

5) Skiers vs Snowboarders. While snowboarding numbers are currently dropping in North America, as this generation of kids doesn't want to be like their snowboarding parents, in Europe it has always been a more ski dominated industry.

Valmorel, which is located in the Grand Domaine is a natural and beautiful ski area which is accessible to every level of skier. There are 165 kilometres of trails with 50 ski lifts taking skiers to more than a 1,250 feet of vertical drop. Club Med Valmorel is ski-on/ski-off, so well suited for families who want the ease of not having to transport kids and skis first thing in the morning. Ski rentals are available, as are storage lockers which lead right out to the slopes. All Club Meds are "all-inclusive" and at their ski resorts this includes ski lessons and lift tickets, in addition to the food, drink, and other on-site activities. Ski and snowboard lessons are available for children aged three and up. Valmorel recently won the "Best Family Resort" at the 2014 Snow Award, and the views of Mont Blanc are fantastic from this ski resort.

A shuttle bus ride away, the small village of Valmorel features cheese boutiques, wine stores, restaurants and the shopping that you would expect to find in a small French town. Well worth taking an afternoon off skiing to enjoy the local sites and take part in local customs; like drinking wine and eating cheese.

For those travelling with teenage children, or better yet, no children, you might want to consider Val Thorens, as it is as famed for its active nightlife as it is as a place to see and be seen, skiing. Val Thorens is about 200 kilometres from both Lyon and Geneva; the closest airports.

Club Med Val Thorens is positioned in the largest ski area in the world; 335 slopes covering more than 600 kilometres of terrain, with half of it easily accessible for most skiers, at the green and blue levels. It is the highest and oldest ski region in the world, but has all the advantages of modern high-speed lifts and gondolas. Many skiers are found sunning themselves on the many outdoor terraces and lounge which dot the bottom of the hill.

Make it so, your liste de seau.

For more information visit www.clubmed.ca, www.valmorel.com, or www.valthorens.com

Excerpted from an article which previously ran in GoodLife Magazine.

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