About 45 minutes down the road from the freeride mecca of La Grave, France, Serre Chevalier isn’t so much an undiscovered resort as one that’s just unknown to most Americans. Sure, there are four base villages, 155 miles of groomed slopes, and 65 chairlifts, but don’t let Serre Chevalier’s mega-resort trimmings fool you. The villages are quaint, the lifts can be slow, and the freeride offerings are massive. In fact, Serre Chevalier is where the acclaimed skier Pelle Lang, who owns the Skier’s Lodge in La Grave, brings his guests when the conditions are off in La Grave. Serre Chevalier’s marquee off-piste lines include Couloir de la Balme, a 35-degree chute accessed from the Vallons lift, and Tête du Pre, which requires a boot pack from the top of the Cucumelle lift, and drops skiers into the village of Villeneuve. On piste, you’ll find some of the resort’s steepest skiing off the l’Yret chair on Le Monêtier. The larch trees under Chantemerle’s Aiguillette lift provide some of the best tree skiing in the Alps (and a decent visibility when it’s stormy). Serre Chevalier is also close to Le Parc National des Ecrins, France’s largest national park, which makes for great multi-day ski tours.
Unlike most French mega resorts, Serre Chevalier’s villages date back hundreds of years. On the far southeastern side of the resort sits Briançon, a UNESCO World Heritage site with a 17th-century fortified “old town” filled with patisseries, traditional shops, and family-run hotels and restaurants. On the other end of the resort is the village of Le Monêtier-les-Bains, which has been popular since Roman times for its thermal hot springs. Soak weary ski legs in the healing waters at Les Grands Bains. All the villages are linked by bus (or chairlift) and feature a variety of reasonably-priced accommodations. Try the Hotel Europe a refurbished 19th-century mountain inn in Le Monêtier, which offers rooms with half board for $107 a night for one person. Fly or take a train to Grenoble; from there hop on a two- to three-hour bus ride to Serre Chevalier.