It has been a spectacular start to the season in the French Alps–  said to be on of the best starts to the season in 25 years. Ahead of lifts opening there was a widespread dumping in the European Alps.  In the high altitude French domains of Tignes and Val d’Isère over 70cm snow had fallen forming a solid base from which to launch the season. Novembers snowfall was so good, it proved too good to miss; prompting Courchevel and La Tania to open lifts pre-season for one day only.

Espace Killy: Val d’Isère & Tignes

When Val d’Isère officially opened it’s lifts at the end of November conditions could not have been more ideal, serving up generously coated pistes and plenty of off-piste powder opportunities under a blanket of blue and sunshine. Val d’Isère’s much talked about and long awaited Solaise Gondola did not fail to impress. Rising above the heart of the resort, the state-of-the-art lift system transformed mountain access for Val d’Isère skiers with 91 cabins fitted with all the essential bells and whistles, including Wi-Fi and heated seats.

Solaise Gondola, Val d'IsèreAt the top station of the new Solaise Gondola – which reaches new heights to that of it’s predecessor – is a swanky new North American style Day Lodge. To create this, bulldozers shifted 70,000 cubic metres of snow and over a million tons of earth to re-shape the summit. With floor-to-ceiling windows that frame the mountains, relax and enjoy lunch whilst taking in some spectacular views. Picnickers are also welcome to enjoy the area with a very comfortable and well equipped self service station, which offers a microwave and vending machines for snacks and drinks. Older children will be entertained by the table football, whilst younger ones can rest up in the Kids Corner on the first floor with cushions and a TV showing cartoons. Outside, catch some rays on one of the two sun terraces overlooking the Bellevarde in one direction and the Solaise pistes in the other.

As part of the Solaise redevelopment a new and secure beginner area has been constructed at the top of the Gondola. Featuring 3 magic carpets, this area is an ideal haven for learners to master the basics. Novice skiers and boarders will be encouraged to venture beyond to the gentle rolling terrain easily accessed from the adjacent Madeleine chair-lift.

To celebrate the €16m Solaise redevelopment, Val d’Isère is offering a special lift pass. This reduced rate pass will cover both the new beginner area as well as a considerable amount of terrain appealing to the more experienced skier. For a reasonable €35 per day the pass will cover the two village lifts of Legettaz and Rogoney, the Solaise Gondola and the new beginner area, as well as the Madeleine, Datcha, and Glacier chairs lifts.

A full breakdown of Val d’Isère lifts is available here.

3 Vallèes: Courchevel, Méribel & Val Thoren.

As of last weekend life crept down the mountain from Val Thorens to reawaken Mèribel and Courchevel from hibernation.  With the world’s largest ski area now in full operation, the resorts of the 3 Vallèes are once again bustling with skiers and boarders keen to get up the mountain and carve the first tracks of the season.

Val Thoren 2016/17

Rediscover the long contouring runs of Val Thoren using the new 6-seater detachable chair lift that replaces the boismint 4-seater chair lift. The chair lift rises from 2,081m to a height of 2, 671m, moving 3000 skiers per hour up the mountain.

Take time out to revive your limbs and enjoy the view from the new “Piknic ‘n’ Relax” room under the Pas du Lac Gondola base station in Méribel. With a fully equipped kitchen, sofas, free WiFi and re-charging points, this pit stop is one worth marking on the map.

Elsewhere in Méribel there have been numerous improvements to family and beginner areas, including the Dragon run, The Inuit Village and the Yeti Park – which now has a zip wire. During peak season and over school holidays, additional family entertainment will be provided to include magician shows and archery (with statues of animals as targets).

Cruise new gentler pistes created in the Altiport ski area; and after proving popular last season, experience the return of  “Himalaya by Night” offering night skiing and sledging on the floodlit pistes in Mottaret.

As Winter 2016/17 gets under way the iconic and glamorous ski resort ­Courchevel celebrates it’s 70th Birthday with a full calendar of events that will run throughout the season. The highlight of this will be a Ski and Fire show on the 21st February 2017. With a variety of activities suited to all ages, it is worth having a look at what’s on and planning travel accordingly. View Courchevel full winter 2016/17 event agenda here.

Portes du Soleil: Les Gets & Morzine-Avoriaz

Whilst Avoriaz opened lifts on the 9th of December other resorts in the Portes du Soleil – namely Les Gets and Morzine, do not open until the week before Christmas. However, pictures from Avoriaz show a good early coverage and with cooler temperatures on the way, more snow is likely.

Fresh this season, the ancient but legendary base station of the Telecabine du Pleney has experienced a revamp after being demolished at the end of last winter. Featuring 54 ten-seater bubbles, this much needed addition will have the capacity to ferry 3000 skiers and snowboarders up the mountain within the hour.

With a quick commute from Geneva, Morzine is establishing itself as a firm family favourite resort. Accommodating this growing market is the introduction of Babysnow devices which are available to hire from the ESF office. Babysnow is a super fun way for little ones to ride the nursery slopes. A cross between a snow scooter and a sledge, it will make the perfect introduction to the slopes for first timers. Suitable for toddlers aged between one and three years, parents control the speed and direction of the device from behind whilst children stand on the board, straddle the saddle and hold on to the front handle for a ride.

Add an extra element of fun to skiing and boarding with Les Gets orienteering digital treasure map. Use your smartphone to navigate the course, solve riddles and take part in the challenge. Find our more here.

Making a mark on the Alpine culinary scene Restaurant La Chamade under went an extensive refurbishment over the summer. Popular for its quality seasonally sourced produce and artistic dishes, the restaurant now offers a Chef’s Table in the large open kitchen. Invited to sit around a U shaped table enclosing the stove, diners can enjoy up close culinary performance as chef’s showcase their talents.

Whilst not a newbie, the Portes du Soleil’s renowned Rock The Mountain music festival is a must experience aprés-ski extravaganza, with major artists performing gigs on and about the ski slopes of the Portes du Soleil region. Pencil the 19-25th March 2017 in the diary and get ready to dance in your ski boots. View a full line up of performing artists here.

With so much already getting under the way in the Alps and  good base of snow promising some quality skiing and boarding, an early season ski holiday is great opportunity to beat the crowds. Check out our full collection of luxury ski chalets and apartments and make the most of our exclusive luxury ski deals.

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