Skiing and Snowboarding in Risoul, France

Risoul, France Ski Resort Reviews

Risoul main ski station and winter parkCredit: Wikipedia

Purpose-built ski resorts, particularly those dating back to the architecturally challenged 1970s, often tend to inspire a sense of foreboding - and still there's something about Risoul that remains undeniably appealing. It's not the biggest town in the southern Alps, and its small high street can be flooded with holiday crowds (and cars) during the peak season, but a well-developed lift system connected with the neighboring resort of Vars gives it one of the more extensive ski areas: the Domaine de la Foret Blanche. Runs are within the middle of the difficulty spectrum, but there's enough to satisfy advanced if not expert riders. Meanwhile, the reasonably high altitude allows for regularly generous snow cover, muting the occasionally abrasive local architecture and opening up a variety of off-piste opportunities.

There are only a few black runs in Risoul itself: of those, the craggy Voutours - from the main Pointe de Razis (2,570m) - offers the most staying power, while the Epervier piste from Peyrefolle (2,455m) is a shorter, sharper shock. At some point, advanced riders would want to head out to Vars to experience the winding Ecureuils black, at the top of the Peynier chair. Otherwise, it's an intermediate's heaven with good long lines leading all the way back to resort from each of the three primary peaks. The extended Pinatiaux run, from the Point de Razis, is among the steeper and more satisfying reds, while the Aigles and Choucas reds, from I'Homme de Pierre (2,361m), should not be missed, and neither should the leisurely Cretes blue from Peyrefolle. Newcomers can find their feet on some decent low-lying greens including Chardons and Vallon Vert.

Most riders tend to assemble for lunch at resort level, where a huge number of terraced eateries cluster around the point where the majority of Risoul's runs stop. Le Chalet is convenient, as is the trendier Snowboard Cafe, although anybody hoping to maintain altitude can drop in at either Le Vallon or Le Tetras, both attractive places to refuel.

Risoul's Surfland is a wonderful terrain park with a good range of ramps, shaped every day and marked green, blue, red and black. On top of that, the park has a boardercross course and a 150m-long super-pipe.

Speed demons can get their kicks tearing around on a snowmobile courtesy of Risoul Snowscoot, and there's parapenting organised by Tete en I 'Air over in Vars. Snowshoe walks taking in the winter wildlife are run by Montagne Liberte.

Out of the 16 or so restaurants in Risoul, most of them are informal affairs. L'Ecureuil is a local favourite, and La Dalle en Pente does a mean raclette, though the Snowboard Cafe is the place for sliders on a break to grab an upbeat snack. While cheap is easy to find, chic is more elusive, but I'Assiette Gourmande is usually regarded as pick of the bunch. In Vars, go for I'Arlequin  for a decent pizza, or pamper yourself in some high-end French cuisine at upmarket Chez Plumot.

Risoul's nightlife is a bit thin on the ground and bars there are tend to fill out as a result. The Yeti continues to be the resort's liveliest boozer, with as many young punters in front of the bar as there are exotic bottled beers behind it, while Le Cherine and Le Chalet pocket more than their fair share of skiers straight off the slopes. In the evening, the Apache Cafe tends to be rocking, while Le Morgan's remains the resort's official nightclub.

The majority of accommodation in Risoul is owned by Sara, the company that manages the lift system. This has multiple advantages: namely uniformity of quality, convenient locations and great deals on lift passes having advanced bookings. Les Melezes is well situated for access to the major slopes, while the twin Castor and Pollux apartment blocks are decent three-star establishments, an likewise the more modern Pegase and Betelgeuse blocks - though the spirit of Ikea tends to permeate even the pricier end of the spectrum. For something totally different, Sara also brings out a group of ten chalets, Les Pleiades, each sleeping five and close to the main slopes.

Another accommodation option is the Residence Les Melezes.  On the ground level of the residence there are 3 restaurants 3 ski and surf shops, tavern pub, a fast food establishment and a supermarket.