La Clusaz is a picture-postcard pretty Haute-Savoyard village in the heart of the wonderfully scenic Massif des Aravis, just 30km from the beautiful lakeside town of Annecy and less than an hour's drive from Geneva.
This charming community has managed to retain much of its traditional character and ambiance, whilst it has quietly developed into one of the most popular local ski resorts in this wealthy region of the Northern French Alps. The proximity of Annecy and Geneva does mean however that the resort gets very busy at weekends and during school and national holiday periods.
The village sits in a lightly-wooded broad valley at the foot of the jagged chain of peaks of the Aravis range, and is centred on a steepled church and a pleasant market square surrounded by a compact core of shopping streets, filled with a nice mix of boutiques, sports shops, patisseries, local produce shops, restaurants and laid-back café-bars. The surrounding hillsides are dotted with traditionally-built chalets and small chalet-style hotels, giving the place a very Swiss feel.
The ski slopes sweep down to the edge of the village, where the base terminals for the twin gondolas that provide the key uplift into the ski area sit side by side, just a short stroll from the village square. Overall altitudes are low, so the season is short, but an ever-expanding network of snowmaking protects most of the principal lower slopes and key links.
The Aravis range runs south-west to north-east and La Clusaz's ski area mostly runs with it, spread over five inter-connecting massifs: Beauregard; Manigod; Etale; Aiguille; and Balme. The variety of terrain covered is wide, principally suiting intermediates but with some lovely excursions for novices and plenty of scope for advanced visitors too.
The Beauregard sector is easily accessible by gondola directly from the resort's main base area, this gondola provides uplift to a sunny plateau housing the prime nursery slopes and is also the starting point for an anticlockwise circuit of the full linked domain, beginning with an easy blue piste that links into the neighbouring La Croix Fry and Merdassier sectors of Manigod. A lovely long blue and a testing black also slice down through the scenic forested slopes from the summit of Beauregard for the home-runs to La Clusaz.
The slightly more testing slopes of the adjacent Etale area tend to be a bit quieter, so are a good place to head to at weekends to escape the crowds; a long valley-hugging green run links back to La Clusaz, alternatively the Transval cable car continues the circuit by linking with the lower slopes of the Aiguille sector.
Aiguille offers a good mix of mid-range reds and wide blues, plus a challenging mogul run, again with green valley-level links towards La Clusaz.
The north-easternmost and highest Balme sector usually has the best snow conditions and can be reached from Aiguille via long tree-lined green and red runs, or by a tough black descent; the link in the opposite direction is provided by the Fernuy gondola. The Balme massif has numerous bands of cliffs and boulder drop-offs and is a magnet for local freeriders; the pisted slopes are mostly comprised of good reds, together with a couple of steep black runs. From the uppermost point at the Col de Balme (2477 m) there's a magnificent view of Mont Blanc and access to some terrific off-piste terrain in the Combe de Bellachat.
The full Aravis area lift pass also covers the ski area at the nearby resort of Le Grand Bornand, linked by free ski bus service.
Nordic skiing enthusiasts are also well served at La Clusaz, with dedicated areas on the Plateau de Beauregard and Plateau des Confins, the latter a Cross-Country World Cup venue.
Off the slopes and apres ski
La Clusaz is a popular year-round mountain retreat for the populace of the surrounding regions; a high proportion of regular visitors are local families and more mature guests who come to enjoy the scenery and the relaxing ambiance of the village.
The local delicatessens, patisseries, and restaurants are the prime attractions away from the slopes, but there are other more active pursuits on offer too: there's an ice skating rink and an excellent aqua-leisure centre with indoor and outdoor heated pools, Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, and fitness suite; alternative activities include dog-sledding, horse-drawn carriage driving, quad-biking, snowmobiling, snowshoe trekking, paragliding, and occasionally hot-air balloon flights.
The lovely lakeside town of Annecy is only a short bus journey away and is well worth a day-trip for a stroll around its atmospheric medieval quarters.
Apres ski in La Clusaz is low-key, and nightlife here is focused more on dining and chilling rather than partying, there are however a few livelier bars: the Pressoir, Salto and Club 18 are usually the most animated, plus there's the popular small disco-style L'Ecluse nightclub that features a glass dance floor spanning the river.