Tale of Two Valleys
Choosing a good family skiing resort can be a challenge, a bit like finding a good book to read. Do you go for a more intimate, short story or a mega, blockbuster novel? How about combining both for your next family skiing adventure – perhaps, as Ben Moore suggests, go for a tale of two valleys.
Ollie, aged 13, says: "I loved the natural feel of Sainte Foy because it was really easy to ski off the pistes and into the trees to have some fun going through the forest bits.
"And it is really easy to find your way around. I think all the runs come back down to the same place so if you get separated from your mum and dad, you won’t get lost as everyone ends up down near the shops and nursery slopes. Perhaps in the future the resort could build a snow park – having that would be an improvement for me and my brother.
"Our apartment was very comfortable and it was good being able to ski a run back down to it. I’m glad too there was a free minibus to take you to the centre of the resort as the walk is uphill. Everything about Les Menuires was massive and for young skiers the runs are great because they are long and wide so you can get some fast turns in.
"There was also so much snow for our visit so being able to practice skiing in powder was cool. It was so easy just to go off the side of runs and have a play in some off-piste bits. Where we stayed was top quality. My brother and I shared a bunk room and we had our own bathroom with a good shower. It was also good to have fast Wi-Fi in the apartment."
Close geographically, Les Menuires is a world away from the quiet and compact feel in Sainte Foy. Big is best here and the scale of the peaks, the number of the pistes and the enormous block-style 1960s resort buildings reinforce this.
The original resort centre – La Croisette – is a complex of shops, restaurants and apartments that fan out at the foot of the main slopes. Around the edges of this are the Reberty and Le Bruyeres areas which have been constructed in a more modern chalet-style feel. Everything is pretty much ski-in, ski-out in Les Menuires though.
The local slopes are excellent for all standards of skiers but if you want to venture further afield and explore the Three Valleys, you’ll find fast lifts taking you towards Val Thorens and Meribel.
Despite its size, Les Menuires does have a friendly feel – perhaps exactly why the tourist board has modified the resort logo to Friendly Menuires.
And there are fun activities to try away from the skiing. For example the Roc'n Bob is a 4km toboggan run with a series of excitingly named bends including "the Roc rapids" and the "Never-ending Canyon".
Our accommodation in resort was Le Coeur des Loges - the first property we saw as we drove along the main road into resort. It straddles the road and is ski-in, ski-out with easy access to the Bettex chairlift.
The property opened last season but it is new on the books with Inghams Ski this season. Seven nights on a self-catering basis is from £539 per person including return flights from Gatwick to Chambery and resort transfers. Conveniently there is a small supermarket directly opposite the apartment too.
We were in a very comfortable and spacious two-bedroom apartment over the connecting bridge from main reception. It certainly looked and smelled brand new, almost untouched. The apartment spec was very high, there was a heated indoor pool and free Wi-Fi.
We stayed pretty local for our three days of skiing and found the blues and reds that criss-cross the mountains above the resort an ideal playground for family skiers. The runs above Reberty were among our favourites and there were plenty of powdery bits to dip into between the pistes. While the slopes on La Masse were great in the sun.
But wherever we went it really was a case of Friendly Menuires. Yes you are right in the heart of one of the biggest ski areas in the world, but Les Menuires has an easy going nature and friendly charm all of its own.
This story begins in the more intimate surroundings of standalone Sainte Foy in the Tarentaise valley, before moving on to the blockbuster resort of Les Menuires in the Belleville valley (part of the mega Three Valleys ski area).
Located off the road from Bourg St Maurice to Val d’Isere, the resort of Sainte Foy is a friendly and charming skiing destination that is sometimes dwarfed by the bigger names in the Tarentaise valley, such as Les Arcs and Tignes.
But overlook it at your peril. This is a resort that offers skiers - from children and beginners to expert off-piste enthusiasts – bags of fun and challenge for a family ski week.
A cluster of chalet and apartment buildings are found at 1,550m and fan out around the nursery slopes and main Grand Plan chairlift. It is a really cosy base station with everything family skiers need - ski hire, ESF, restaurants, bars, supermarkets - all in one convenient and compact location. Small but perfectly formed is a good way to describe the resort centre.
We were staying with Erna Low Ski Holidays in a two-bedroom apartment in the CGH Residence Le Ruitor in La Batailletaz. Self-catering prices start from £234 per person for seven nights including Eurotunnel crossings.
It offers very high standard accommodation, with extremely comfortable rooms, an inviting indoor pool area and a free shuttle bus to and from the nursery slopes in the resort centre. Plus it has its own short red run that allows you to ski close to the door at the end of the day.
The piste map is a little misleading – but in a good way! Glance at it online and you might think Sainte Foy is a ski area with only a small number of lifts and runs. But the resort's promotional line is Natural Ski and it is easy to see why.
You are skiing within a protected forest and are able - in fact encouraged - to explore not just the pisted slopes but everything in between.
There are designated off piste zones and it is easy to nip into the trees too. And all with a range of gradients to help both beginners and experts get that all mountain experience whatever your level of skiing competency.
The Camp Filluel red is a new piste for this season. It starts as a flat track along a ridge at 2,425m and then swings down back towards the tree line before merging on to a blue that returns you to the resort centre. It’s a fun top to bottom run.
With an adult day lift pass of €31 or six days for €170 (child rate is €131), we found Sainte Foy to be an authentic, appealing, attractive and affordable alternative to the higher profile Tarentaise resorts. And it is also very quiet – we skied there during Christmas week and never suffered from long lift queues or busy pistes.
After three days in Sainte Foy we repacked the car for the short drive – an hour and 10 minutes via Moutiers – to Les Menuires, a purpose-built resort in the Belleville valley that is part of the mega Three Valleys ski area.
Our skiing road trip was undertaken in a Fiat 500L Cross, a stylish and practical family car that will serve you well around town and halfway up an Alp.
We covered 1,400 miles of motorway cruising, mountain hairpins and - because the Alps had witnessed the heaviest early season snowfall for decades – a considerable amount of driving on snow-covered roads. The combination of the mud and snow tyres (standard with the Cross model) and the traction+ drive mode setting meant our snow chains were redundant. Read our full family road test here.