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Alternative winter sports in France | Insight Guides Blog

Alternative winter sports in France

Cyclist riding on a mountain bike in the snow in the winter forest. Photo: Shutterstock
Cyclist riding on a mountain bike in the snow in the winter forest. Photo: Shutterstock

Downhill skiing is set for a comeback in France’s 350 resorts this year, but the trend for alternative winter sports is so big that many resorts are opening their slopes at night to accommodate them. The possibilities seem infinite, with parks dedicated to tobogganing and freestyle ski, tracks for walking and snowshoeing, and slopes opened up for organised snowball fights and full moon parties. Here’s our pick of the best alternative ways to hit the slopes.

Go sledging

Each year more and more French resorts offer dedicated slopes for sledging, and some have even created entire parks. It’s no wonder, with all the new ways to glide down the mountain: there’s the snowscoot, which is a cross between a bike and a snowboard; the giant rubber ring or snowtube; the airboard, which is an inflatable bodyboard; and the snakeglisse, a train of nine small connected sleds led by an instructor. Sound too tame? Try bobsledding on the Olympic track in La Plagne, where you can hit a 90-degree bend at up to 120kmph, while pulling 3Gs. 

Get behind the scenes

Several French resorts allow you to join their workers as they open and close slopes, start up the lifts and smooth out the slopes. Keen off-piste skiers and boarders can even train in avalanche rescue so they know how to properly use their avalanche victim detector machines. La Rosiere goes one better with their "Backstage" week in December, when visitors can help set up the resort ahead of the winter season, doing everything from setting up the slopes to taking part in rescue exercises and learning how to wax skis. 

Ski behind a horse

Dog-sledding is so popular in France that a special school – Ecole Francaise de Mushing – has been set up to train instructors. But for a wacky alternative, try skijoering, where the skier is pulled along by a horse or dogs on a track or slalom course. Try it in Les Arcs or Alpe d’Huez.

Dive under ice

To go ice-diving, you don’t even have to be PADI certified! You just have to be at least 150cm in height so you can fit into the special 7mm-thick dry suit that you’ll wear when you’re lowered into a hole in the frozen lake. This adventure takes you on an underwater tour where you can see magical blue, green and yellow lights shining through bubbles in the different sculptural forms of the ice above you, which can be up to 3m-thick.

Get on your bike

With ultra-grippy, specially notched tyres and serious hydraulic disk brakes, all-terrain bikes – or VTT, velo tout-terrain – can now tackle the mountains even when they’re under snow. Several resorts including Les Menuires have dedicated mountain-biking tracks, where you can slide at up to 60km/h. Mountainbiking is just one of several sports that have been adapted to the snow, including motorcycling, trail-running and even golf, played with brightly-coloured balls.

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Read more: Top ski resorts in the U.S.