Interest in cross-country skiing is on the up and up. France has a very strong biathlon team, headed by Martin Forcade, a 4 time Olympic champion and 11 time world champion. Even the UK has a current world cup competitor and Olympian, Andrew Musgrave.
As the cost of downhill skiing increases, as the pistes get busier and as people start to appreciate the benefits of daily exercise the interest in cross-country skiing will only improve.
It is often said that cross-country skiing is the best cardiovascular workout available. This will be because unlike running or cycling you will use both your upper and lower limbs to propel yourself forward. I should say that although this is true at the higher levels of skill, it is possible to cross-country ski at lower efforts too. If you see the number of retired folk on cross-country skis you will understand. I have likened it to swimming, it’s 50% skill and 50% fitness, though like swimming it still works if you lack one or the other. You just go faster with less effort if you take some time to learn the skill!
The cost of Cross Country skiing in the Haute Savoie.
There are many places listed below with free access. However if you are just starting out these free spots might not be a great option, because hiring kit might be an issue. For that you will need a nearby shop of a “Foyer”. These foyer are frequently the place where you start your day, and they can often hire kit. In this case it will cost between 10 and 15€ a day for boots/skis/poles. A day pass for the skiing will be around 8€ for the day. Few people will be out for more than a couple of hours, this means a half day pass won’t save you much. Usually about 1.5€!
For those who will be XC skiing more than a couple of times, buying equipment will make sense. At the most basic level everything can be bought from Decathlon for less than 300 €, beyond that the sky is the limit. A season pass for the whole of the Haute Savoie is available for €120, for the northern Alps at €150 and for all of France €210.
Below I have written a guide to places to go XC skiing around the Haute Savoie. I’ve listed these areas from the most extensive areas first, to the smallest at the bottom. This does not mean you should ignore the suggestions lower down, especially if you are new to the sport. For many a 5 km circuit is just fine!
Aravis (The altitude of each site is in brackets)
La Clusaz / Confins (1420m), 9€, 50 km+ of pistes probably the most extensive area in the Haute Savoie, snow-sure too. They stock snow (snow farming) from one season to the next to ensure an early start. laclusaz-nordic.com/
Manigod / La Croix Fry (1600m) 9€, 36 km, AKA Espace nordique du Plateau de Beauregard laclusaz.com/beauregard-plan-nordique
Grand-Bornand (1250m), 9€, 58 km with 2 biathlon areas (so with shooting ranges) at “Plans” in the vallée du Bouchet and at the stade Sylvie Becaert near the centre of Grand-Bornand village. Full details here legrandbornand.com/ski-nordique The Grand Bornand is big news in the world of biathlon at the moment, it has recently hosted a round of the World Cup twice and has plans for more. The next one being in December 2019. biathlon-annecy-legrandbornand.com/
Grand-Bornand / Chinaillon (1300m), free, 27km, accessed from the centre of Chinaillon.
Plateau des Glieres (1450m) 7.80€, 50 km+, an extensive and important site for the French. There is a huge memorial here to the WWII resistance fighters who took refuge on the plateau, supported by British air-drops but finally massacred by the Germans. Snow-sure and with an early start to the season thanks to snow-farming. Access is possible from Le Petit-Bornand but if you want to start from the foyer you will need to access it from the Annecy side and Thorens-Glières.
Praz des Lys / Sommand (1500m)
8€ a day, 60 km of tracks, all levels. Extensive, snow sure and well known. 15 min drive from Les Gets and 25 min from Morzine. Yprazdelys-sommand.com/hiver/le-domaine-nordique
Samoens (950m), 8.40€, 30 km of XC pistes, it goes by the name of Vallee-du-haut-giffre, with good snow it extends from Verchaix all the way to the end of the valley at Sixt-fer-a-cheval, however the foyer is at the end of the valley so you will probably start there.
Joux Plane (1700m), 8.40€, 12 km of tracks, snow sure and picturesque. Quite a drive up from Samoens. More information about both sites here. valleeduhautgiffre.fr/domaine-nordique/
Flaine (1844m), free 2.5 km, an early season venue thanks to its altitude. Also known as the Col de Pierre Carrée flaine.com/fr/hiver/ski-nordique
Agy (1260m), 8.40€ , 35 km, a big centre tucked away behind Saint-Sigismond, good foyer with lots of hire kit available and a welcoming bar/restaurant. centrenordiqueagy.com/
Alpes du Leman
Foyer des Moises (1100m), Only 4.30 €, an extensive 46.5 km of ski de fond pistes, situated between the Col des Moises and the Col de Cou, on the site of the summer gliding centre. More information here: foyerdesmoises.com/,
Espace nordique des Mouilles (1083m), 8.40€ 20 km pisted + 20km itinerie between the col du Terramont and the col de Jambaz. hirmentaz-bellevaux.com/espace-nordique/
Plaine Joux, Les Brasses (1200m), about 30km, situated in the Vallée Verte half way between Geneva and the Portes du Soleil (35min from the centre of Geneva). lesbrasses.com/fr/hiver/glisse/ski-nordique/
Portes du Soleil
Chatel (1000m), 8.8€ it’s not really in Chatel it is just 5 km down the valley in La Chapelle-d’Abondance, when the snow conditions are good there are 40 km of tracks. Also above Abondance there is small, free, snow-sure and flat spot at Lac de Plagnes. All the information can be found here: abondance.org/ski-de-fond
Morzine – Valle de La Manche (1100m), free, bus or car access from Morzine, often trashed by walkers! Most often in condition is from L’Erigné and up towards Chardonnière. Once you get to the valley around Chardonniere it’s very snow sure and quite flat, however getting there involves an ascent of almost 200m!
Top of the Pleney / Chavannes (1500m), so this could be termed Morzine or Les Gets. Free, take the lift as a pedestrian (you’ll need to pay for this), walk across the piste to a blue run, this is a 5 km circuit that runs over to Chavannes and back. You can also access this by driving to Chavannes above Les Gets which saves on the lift pass!
Les Gets – Mont Chery (1300m), free, a couple of 5 km circuits from the Belvedere to Mt Caly and back, lift access required again.
Avoriaz (1700m), free, accessed from the Supermorzine télécabine or by car to the parking at Séraussaix or the Col de la Joux Verte . 30km or snow-sure skiing at 1700m. www.avoriaz.com/Plan-des-pistes-de-ski-de-fond
Chamonix (1050m) 10€, 20 km of fairly flat pistes to start with, supplemented with snow making equipment. As you get closer to the Argentière end of the valley they start to get a bit hillier. https://www.chamonix.com/ski-nordique
Argentière (1300m) 10€, 15km, can be linked with the tracks at Chamonix.
Vallorcine, (1300m) 10€, 11km, compact and not accessible from the other areas.
Les Contamines (1170m), 4.30€ 25 km, and excellent area, heavily shaded and somewhat of a snow trap. Can be kept quite flat. Soon to be the venue of the only summer roller skiing track in the Haute Savoie. lescontamines.com/nordic-ski-domain/
Megeve (1400m), 8€ 38 km. An extensive and well looked after area. It’s up at the Altiport, varied rolling terrain. megeve.com/fr/glisse-ski/ski-de-fond/
I have mostly stuck to areas that are linked to ski resorts. The are a few other Foyer ski de fond I have not covered. Orange (near La Roche-sur-Foron). Semnoz (near Annecy). Saleve (near Geneva) and Chapelle Rambaud (in the middle of nowhere).
The various French websites that cover this subject are:
https://www.nordicpass74.com/ (for the Haute Savoie)
http://www.savoie-haute-savoie-nordic.com (for the 2 Savoies)
There is a great map that covers the area here. https://skidefond74.com/