Only 65km from Geneva, the French resort of Les Carroz has become, along with its higher altitude neighbour, Flaine, a magnet for familes. Apart from its proximity to the Geneva's airport, les Carroz has the attractions of excellent skiing for intermediates, good child care and ski kindergarten, a sunny north west aspect and, oh yes, a linked ski area on the Grand Massif amounting to 265kms of varied pistes.
Unlike Flaine, which, purpose built in the 1960s, draws criticism for its ugly concrete architecture, les Carroz is a traditional old village, with many lovely rustic buildings and a delightful, very French atmosphere. Indeed, this is a resort much-patronised by the French themselves and so it is a good choice for those who feel that visiting other cultures is as much a part of the holiday as the skiing.
Established as a ski resort in 1936, les Carroz was previously a mountain farming community. However the village was also known for its clock-makers; today some of the workshops still survive where tourists can not only see the timepieces being made but also, of course, purchase them.
When skiing at Le Carroz you can choose to buy one of two passes, the Massif (comprising Les Carroz, Morillion, Samoens and Sixt - a total of 128 kms pistes) and the Grand Massif (the Massif resorts and Flaine - 265 km pistes). Access from Les Carroz to the other areas in by gondola or chairlift from the station at the top of the village. To get to the station there is a rather steep climb of some 300m; also, while the hotels are all pretty central, much of the self catering accommodation is a bit of a walk to the lifts. Check with the resort or you travel agent if this is likely to be a problem for you. There is a wealth of choice for the intermediate skier, with long sweeping runs networking all over the Grand Massif. Novices are well catered for with the ski schools teaching all levels and ages on the nursery slopes and there are kilometres of wide easy piste on which to hone technique. Two lifts in the village operate free of charge for beginners. Experts, too, will find themselves with plenty to test their skills. Throughout the Massif /Grand Massif there are several tough black runs including moguls fields and the powder skiing here can be as good as it gets. Please note that, because of the nature of the terrain, which is rocky and has hidden crevasses, you are strongly advised to hire a local guide when heading off piste. Les Carroz is relatively low altitude and west facing so snow here can be less than reliable early in the season and spring afternoons may turn the snow to porridge. However, the Grand Massif with its height and north facing slopes is almost always assured of good snow and plenty of it. It is well worth exploring the area to its fullest extent and visiting the other villages in the linked pass - Morillon, Samoens and Sixt, which have a delightful rustic charm. The runs down to Morillon are intermediate, Samoens is accessible by snow to better skiers (the runs are red and black) while the little community of Sixt and its small but excellent ski area is reached by the recently constructed piste down the Gers bowl - strictly for experts. Although a lift is planned to link Sixt with the Grand Massif, for the time being, a shuttle bus takes skiers back to Samoen or Morillon for uplift. When touring around always make sure you know how and when you get back to where you started as taking the wrong connection or missing the last lift can lead to a difficult journey home. Night skiing is offered twice a week throughout most of the season.
Les Carroz is a lovely resort for families, especially those with small children and babies. The low altitude and westerly aspect give it a more temperate climate for little ones who can sometimes be put off skiing by extreme cold. The wealth of intermediate runs give plenty scope for families of varying standards who want to ski together and even relative beginners will be able to get around the mountain within quite a short time. Child care facilities are good; children aged from 3 months to 5 years can go into the local nursery and the French ski school accepts children from 3 years old.
Even in a small village like Les Carroz, there are 25 restaurants, from the reasonably cheap to the breath-takingly expensive, all of them serving French cuisine with the local Savoyard-style specialities. For a special 'foodie' night out try Aux Petits Oignons.
Le Carroz has a nice easy-going atmosphere with its traditional bars and hotels jostling for attention with more modern cafes and restaurants around the village square. There are only six bars and a disco - more than enough for some - however, those looking for a really wild time are likely to be underwhelmed by the nightlife. There is more happening up in Flaine although that resort is famous for its lack of atmosphere. Taking a taxi or bus to Samoens, Morillon or Sixt is well worth the trip, where again the bars and restaurants are traditional French.
Snowboarders are well catered for, with wide easy runs for carving and a snow park with half pipe. The free riding is good with lots of gnarly terrain and, as has already been said - the powder and off piste skiing can be excellent - but don't forget to take a local guide. A few have made the mistake of cruising off piste on the Grand Massif and paid for it with their lives.