Isère Tourism

Top 10 winter snowsports

While ski resorts are best known for hurtling down slopes and continuous beats in an après-ski bar, visitors in search of more authentic winter adventures will be pleased to know that Isère has plenty of beautiful landscapes you can easily access. Be the first to leave your tracks in the snow and focus on the scenery with Isère's top 10 winter snowsports.  

1. Nordic skiing

Before you hire your first pair of cross-country - or Nordic - skis, decide which activity might suit you best, but remember, whichever you choose, your whole body will still get a workout.

Classic cross country skiing is the most popular, especially with beginners. You stride and glide in a forward motion in single tracks. Some resorts have double tracks, so you can easily head out in pairs. Skate skiing is more energetic and requires wider pistes rather than tracks. Skiers push off in a skating motion, rather than sliding and gliding. Biathletes skate ski between shooting rounds.

Where are the best Nordic ski areas in Isère?

While serious alpine skiers mostly head to the Oisans, the lesser-known massifs of Chartreuse and Vercors are blessed with stunning scenery, making it an ideal backdrop for Nordic activities. As with downhill pistes, cross country trails are well maintained and groomed, and maps show green, blue, red and black routes.

With more than 130 km of marked and groomed pistes in the high plateaus and plains of the Vercors, the Espace Nordique du Haut Vercors is one of the best Nordic ski areas in Isère and easily accessible from Villard-de-Lans. Trails uncover the hidden winter beauty of the area through forests and across clearings providing breathtaking views and panoramas.

The epic La Royale trail is the most well-known route in Isère for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing, and embraces some of the best winter scenery in the Vercors. Covering a loop of 26 km, it connects the pretty Vercors ski villages of Villard-de-Lans-Bois-Barbu, Corrençon-en-Vercors and Herbouilly via portes (or entry gates). Download the Espace Nordique du Haut Vercors piste map here.


2. Snowshoeing

With some of the best winter landscapes in Isère, snowshoe routes take you through woods and forests, encountering wildlife. Here, the quiet stillness of the mountains covered in pristine snow is about as close to nature as you’re likely to get in a ski resort.

Snowshoe trails tend to follow closely alongside cross country trails. Some maps pinpoint the trails with purple snowshoe markers. In some resorts, you may need to buy a pass to access the groomed routes.

High mountain guides help you explore off-the-beaten path tracks and identify paw prints as you trek across the silent, powdery landscape in snowshoes.

Where is the best snowshoeing in Isère?

Some of the best snowshoeing is in the Vercors. Near Corrençon-en-Vercors, the Auberge le Clariant mountain restaurant is a 5.9-km family walk through landscapes at the foot of the Grande Moucherolle (2,284 m), the highest peak of the Four Mountains. Download the snowshoe map for the Domaine de Haut-Vercors here (in French).

Note: The black grouse is an endangered bird in the Vercors that burrows in the powder during the winter months. To help protect it, avoid wandering off the tracks and keep an eye out for the warning noticeboards showing the quiet zones.

From Les 7 Laux-Prapoutel, combine a snowshoe hike in the Belledonne massif with a night in a converted sheepfold hut on the mountain. The Habert d’Aiguebelle refuge at 1,740 m with 26 beds is a 2-hour hike from the resort.

In Les 2 Alpes, mountain guides will take you on an easy snowshoe hike to see chamois in their natural mountain habitat. The Esprit Parc National is a 2.5-hr hike with an elevation of only 100 m. Book with the Bureau des Guides 2 Alpes.

3. Dog sledding

In the style of old Canadian fur trappers, sleds are pulled by teams of dogs for tours through the forests of Isère with stops for lunch or supper around a campfire. You’ll learn how to mush while the sled-dogs pull you along at speed and you admire the unspoilt nature of your surroundings.

With 50km of sled-dog tracks, the Vercors plateau is best known for the sport with operators in the resort of Autrans-Méaudre. Other resorts with dog sleds are Oz-en-Oisans, where you can head out with huskies for the evening every Tuesday. In Les 7 Laux, day trips include a campfire fondue. In Les Deux Alpes, Kuma & Co has a well-trained team of dogs who are also trained as healing dogs, while Second Souffle in Alpe d’Huez and Les Deux Alpes offers half day excursions.

4. Ice climbing

Ice climbing is not for the faint-hearted. Climbers don their crampons and with axes in hand climb sheer ice formations, mostly frozen waterfalls. Accompanied by an experienced mountain guide, you can experience this unique challenge in the Casserousse gullies near Chamrousse. Beginners might like to try the 70 m "Symphonie d'Automne" waterfall in the Grandes Rousses massif with guides from Alpe d’Huez, Vaujany or Oz-en-Oisans. If you're staying in the Vercors, you can also try ice climbing at Lans-en-Vercors with night climbing also available.

5. Fat bikes & e-bikes

Cycling on snow needs fat tyres. You can hire fat bikes and electric mountain bikes in many resorts. In Les 2 Alpes, Aventure Electrobike run guided tours and night biking with dinner at the summit. Vercors Adventures runs fun biathlons with fat bikes and laser shooting in Villard-de-Lans.


6. Ski touring

Alpine ski touring (ski de randonnée) allows you to ski off-the-beaten path in the backcountry. Skins are attached to the bottom of your skis to allow for traction as you trek uphill, while your heel is released from the binding so you can stride easily. Once you’ve hiked up, you can ski down (having removed the skins). Routes are marked but not groomed.   

Where is the best ski touring in Isère?                                                                 

Alpe d’Huez has five ski-touring routes: L’initiatique, La Panoramique, Le Canyon, La Verticale 2100 and Col Blanc. Routes are marked with signs and purple milestones. The start is marked with a scarlet banner and a sign. The descent follows nearby downhill slopes.                     

In Oz en Oisans, the marked ski-touring loop in Alpette takes you to the Plateau des Lacs at 2,000 m. The route is accessible for beginners with a gentle 250m elevation across its 2.5 km length.

Chamrousse has two popular ski touring routes: a 4-km route from Bachat Bouloud with 510 m elevation and a 1.1-km route with 400 m elevation from Casserousse car park (free of charge) to the Belledonne-Chamrousse lakes of Lac des Pourettes and Lacs Roberts.   

Book outings with a high mountain ski guide either through the ESF or one of the private guides in resorts.


7. Paragliding

If you want to go higher, take to the skies on a tandem paragliding (or parapente) flight. From a gentle ski slope, you fly down attached to your instructor. As the kite catches the wind, it lifts you up above the slopes from where you float down with the wind before landing softly in the valley below. There are plenty of take-off points throughout Isère in all the 7 top international ski resorts.  

8. Skijoring

If you fancy trying something a little more offbeat, then skijoring might be what you’re looking for. Horses pull skiers along on their skis while they hang on to a rope or bridle. You don’t need to be an experienced skier, but holding on and staying standing on your skis might be too much for beginner skiers. Second Souffle riding school offers an introduction to skijoring in both Alpe d’Huez and Les Deux Alpes.

9. Skishoeing

Skishoeing, as the name suggests, is halfway between snowshoeing and skiing. It's a snowshoe that glides, and a ski that lets you enjoy powder and allows you to switch easily between climbing and descending. A perfect way to explore, get out into nature and enjoy the winter scenery. Hire ski-shoes from Olympic Sports in Autrans in the Vercors if you want to try out this new sport. For more info,

10. Ice diving

Chamrousse in the Belledonne is the only site in Isère to offer ice diving. Perfect for groups of friends, this frozen environment at an altitude above 2,000 m, attracts divers of all levels who enjoy the mystical icy adventure with magical bubbles, lights, reflections, colours and contrasts. Led by qualified instructors, the activity includes an adapted diving suit and all equipment.

11. Heli-skiing

While not an official sport in Isère (France banned heli-skiing in 1985 for its environmental impact), so not officially in our top 10, helicopters are allowed for transport reasons. So a few operators have found loopholes to the ban, such as flying you across the border to Italy or Switzerland, or picking you up from hard-to-reach ski areas. Bureau des Guides in Alpe d’Huez will take you on guided half- or full-day excursions in the Grandes Rousses massif, so you can find untouched powder and be picked up by helicopter.