When it comes to mountains, France is one of the kings of Europe. As well as Mont Blanc the country has 24 peaks that sit over 4000 metres high. It also has some of the most famed ski areas in the world - the alps, of course, but also the Pyrenees, Massif, Vosges - even the Mediterranean island of Corsica has a ski area. That France knows about skiing is in no doubt - the question is which resorts have the potential to be future proof - which will appeal to the next generation of skiers after the baby boomers have faded away?
This article looks at figures for French ski resorts over the last few years to see how we can understand the trends in skiing holidays, and what insight that gives when it comes to investment. We’ll look at figures from the respected International Report on Snow and Mountain Tourism, as well as considering what makes future generations of skiers tick, and which resorts may hold most appeal to millennials, Gen Z and beyond.
Facts and figures for French ski resorts
Chamonix began its life as a ski resort in 1924, with others, such as Megeve and Val d’Isere following on in the 1930s. These first resorts were very much built around the villages and captured the charm that gives these resorts their character today. France is also home to the purpose built resorts that emerged in the 1960s and 70s - think of La Plagne, Val Thorens, Les Menuires - all created as part of the French government’s Plan Neige. Whilst the brutalist architecture divides opinion, the role of these resorts in French ski culture cannot be overstated.
Venture out to the Pyrenees and places like Fort Romeu or Saint Lary and you get a different flavour of the French ski industry, while places like Samoens or Sixt bring their own brand of Savoyard charm. It’s these resorts that seem to have the most potential for the new generations of skiers, at least on the surface. The key draw is authenticity, and there’s also strong argument that championing the retro-chic of the Plan Neige legacy could be a strong draw for the younger ski community.
Largest and most popular ski resorts in France
The largest and most popular ski resorts in France are mostly located in Savoie and Haute-Savoie, with three scattered between Isère and Alpes de Sud.
Resorts that regularly see over a million winter visitors include: Avoriaz, Chamonix / Les Houches, Courchevel-Méribel-Mottaret, Flaine-Morillon, Samoens, La Plagne, L'Alpe d'Huez, Les Arcs, Les Deux-Alpes, Les Ménuires, Serre-Chevalier, Tignes, Val d'Isère, Val Thorens and Orelle.
What type of property is available in French ski resorts?
Many of the purpose built resorts that grew from the 1960s boom are characterised by functional apartments. These are perfect for the classic, ski-apres-repeat style holiday, but can be less appealing to those looking for somewhere as a family retreat, or the new breed of digital nomad seeking to embrace mountain living on a more permanent basis.
Many resorts are responding to this with developments that are built to offer the comfort of an apartment with the convenience of a hotel - a more holistic experience. What existing apartments lack in prettiness and space, they make up for when it comes to convenience and retro appeal and as resorts continue to adapt these older style accommodations will change to meet the needs of a new generation of skiers - the key is to be sure this change will be possible within the confines of the existing structure.
Who visits France on a ski holiday?
In the 2018-19 ski season, France welcomed 55million skiers, second only to Austria. France is the leader for international arrivals, with around two million international visitors each season. A quarter of these visitors are British, with the remainder being made up of Belgians, Italians, Germans and Russians, who account for the largest numbers of overnight stays.
As we can see from the figures, the bulk of visitors to most French ski resorts are domestic tourists - and herein lies a potential challenge. These visitors are maturing, and figures are flattening out - which indicates that new ski fans aren’t coming in large enough numbers to sustain France’s place at the top of the tree. So what does this mean for investors? Is it time to abandon France?
As if we’d suggest such a thing! France has some of the most wonderful skiing in Europe, as well as charm, culture and terrific food. It’s a country that brings new verve to the concept of a dual season resort, and a country that demands its visitors fall in love with it - and many do. But what can you do to maximise the appeal of your investment for future skiers?
What to look for in your next ski property in France
Change is the only certainty and the last couple of years have shown that the ski industry is as vulnerable as any other to the changes wrought by external forces. Combine the impact of the pandemic with cultural shift emerging in future skiers and we can see several key features that will have maximum appeal for new skiers, as well as offering something for existing clients.
Embrace the WFH revolution
Digital nomads who work from home are discovering the joy of waking up, hitting the slopes, doing their work, then soaking away the stress of the day in a hot tub with mountain views.
France is fast gaining a reputation as one of the best bases for digital nomads that Western Europe has to offer. The abundance of communications companies means connectivity is pretty straightforward in most resorts, and the established infrastructure means mountain life is pretty stress free.
What might Millenials and Gen Z be looking for?
It’s easy to think that a resort for younger skiers needs nothing more than slopes and legendary apres ski, with maybe a smattering in snowboarding options. Not true.
Younger millennials and Gen Z are showing signs of wanting very different things to the boomers that dominate the current ski scene.Up and coming skiers are experience oriented, with a strong desire for authenticity and a stronger desire for environmentally responsible skiing. Resorts that have a style of their own and that champion sustainable skiing will have the strongest appeal for this new group of skiers.
Somewhere like La Tania oozes authenticity and has a range of experiences and events throughout the seasons that could have great appeal for Gen Z’s, while Vallorcine has the kind of family charm that will flutter the heart of older millennials.
Ski resorts that offer something unique will always hold their appeal and many resorts are embracing the things that will attract visitors all year round, and the things that only a French ski resort can offer.
More and more we see resorts that champion local farm produce, offer time to experience things like cheese making or wineries, or simply go all out to highlight local history. Resorts that host festivals like Rise or Snowboxx can also see a significant boost in appeal, with the creation of a culture that lasts beyond the days of the event itself.
Stay ahead of the market
France attracts a huge amount of visitors each year. Whilst the traditional pool of skiers is changing, and the needs of new skiers means a shift of personality for some resorts, France is not a country to be a slave to tradition.
New investment is at the heart of many resorts, and part of this new investment means embracing cultural changes and the need for even more sustainable skiing. Once you have a resort in mind for your next dream ski home or investment, our property alert service makes it easy to stay ahead of the market. You can tailor your search, and look forward to selected alerts when the perfect property is available.