With slopes that reach above 3,000m, almost all are above the tree-line and the skiing can be bleak in bad weather. But the excellent snow and comfortable four-star hotels ensure draw a loyal band of visitors back every year. The pistes are mainly gentle, making the resort a good choice for leisurely intermediates and beginners.
The slopes above Arc 1600 and Arc 2000 may get afternoon sun, but the bowl above Arc 1950 and Arc 2000 (which, believe it or not, enjoys an altitude of more than 2,100m) faces due north. From the high point of the Aiguille Rouge (3,225m) there are fabulous long, steep descents, both on and off piste.
With village altitudes mostly in the 1,500m-1,900m range and a peak of 2,740m, Courchevel is not that high by French standards. However, hardly any of its slopes are subject to the afternoon sun that does so much damage over in next-door Méribel, and it boasts an impressive snowmaking operation, too. Avoid using pretty but low-lying Le Praz in late season.
Val d’Isère/Tignes, France
These two resorts share the vast, snow-sure Espace Killy ski area, which includes two glaciers where year-round skiing is possible. The terrain is excellent for confident intermediates and experts - with lots of easily accessible off-piste as well as on-piste challenges. While Val’s centre is flanked by attractive chalet-style buildings, parts of Tignes still suffer from the purpose-built eyesores of the 1960s and ’70s.
Val Thorens, France
Europe’s highest resort is better late in the season than early, especially if you plan to head off piste, where the terrain is rocky and needs good depths. The appeal of Val Thorens is epitomised by the high point of Cime de Caron (3,230m), a superb north-facing, steep run.
The slopes are among the highest in Europe (reaching almost 3,500m) and, despite getting a lot of afternoon sun, can be relied on to have good snow from early to late season - helped by superb snow-making equipment. The pistes are gentle and well-groomed - ideal terrain for leisurely intermediate cruising.
No, it’s not high (1,565m). And no, it doesn’t reliably get abundant snowfall. But Selva and its Sella Ronda region offer the best snow-making in Europe – coverage of the region is claimed to be 90 per cent. There is little off-piste skiing here, so that’s not an issue.
Saas Fee, Switzerland
For consistently high-altitude skiing, Saas Fee is the pick of the Alpine resorts - at 1,800m the village is not exceptionally high, but most of its slopes are between 2,500m and 3,500m. What’s more, they are almost entirely north-facing, and a good proportion are on glaciers. Don’t forget the thermals
The mountains here are rocky and have quite a dry climate. But high altitude and snow-making more than make up for any shortfall in snow. The resort boasts the highest piste in Europe (3,820m), most of the runs are above 2,500m and there’s lots of snow-making equipment all the way down to resort level. Intermediates and experts will enjoy the terrain most. And the mountain restaurants are simply the best in the world.