News from the snow
Risoul has grown in popularity over the past two decades and is now one of the few resorts which attracts most of the major international tour operators. Although the resort has few distinguishing features it is invariably described as, "very pleasant for a purpose-built centre" whilst the large Foret Blanche ski area of which it is a part is the largest doorstep skiing area in the Southern Alps. The idea to build a ski resort here dates back to the mid 1940s when the team responsible for envisaging the Espace Killy and the Trois Vallées looked at the area. However, work on Risoul did not start until 1970. The skiing, which is linked to the larger and older and 'very French' resort of Vars, takes place in sunny bowls, with most of the runs ultimately returning to the resort base, so it's hard to get lost. Pistes are usually quiet with lift queues a rarity, unlike the sun, which shines 320 days a year. Risoul is located 300km (187 miles) north of the Mediterranean city of Nice and within the Queyras Regional Park, an area of great scenic beauty. The resort has been sympathetically designed using local larch wood and the pink stone of Guillestre region.
Very pleasant for a purpose-built centre, Risoul has the largest doorstep skiing area in the Southern Alps, being linked to Vars. Pistes are usually quiet with lift queues a rarity, unlike the sun, which shines 320 days a year.
Beginners are likely to start by using special learner tows right by the resort on the wide sunny slopes, great for staggering to one of the cafés after classes end. The compact nature of the resort means most guests will find they can get from apartment, to rentals, to ski school, to lessons to bar without too much stress. Once the basics have been mastered on the piste there's easy progression up the mountain with several long easy greens beginning higher up the bowl and served by the Clos du Vallon chair.
Intermediates will enjoy the huge Foret Blanche the most with long blues and reds both above and below the treeline, the latter providing shelter on cold days. The trip over to Vars gives you a feeling of ski touring, but make sure you start heading back before 3pm in order to reach all the last lifts of the day. Popular runs include the Pinitaux Superior which includes moguls and short steeps, whilst the long blue down to Vars Sainte-Marie is an 8km (5mile) long treat.
Experts have more limited choices although there are 10 blacks, the majority (eight) above Vars, which has the steepest skiing on the circuit. There can be good off-piste powder above Risoul to tackle with a guide after snowfalls, and the moderate gradients make it suitable for first-timers.
Risoul has a special quad bike circuit for children to enjoy, but this is only available during the summer months.
The Apart-hotel Village Club Leo Lagrange is one of the best family choices with a free crèche for children aged 10 months to three years, a mini club for children 3 to 6 and a further club for 6 to 12 year olds during the French school holidays. There's also a games room and buffet-style breakfast and dinner so kids can choose what they want to eat.
Whatever you do when you're in Risoul make sure you try one of the rosy apples - the main local produce.
The scene gets busier every year and has been boosted by the boom in snowboarder visits. Current favourites include The Yetti with a variety of Dutch beers and live music at peak times. La Licorne and La Cherine are also popular.
Apart from wining and dining Risoul has a cinema, skating rink and evening snow shoe walks are organised. The two discothèques are Le Morgan's Club and Le Cham Rock.
Of the slopes there's a wealth of fun terrain in the trees and powder and Risoul believes that almost half of its visitors are 'boarders.