Winter Skiing in France
Alpine skiing in France is hugely popular, and the country’s skiers compete and often succeed against the very best in the world. The reasons of the nation’s success are quite clear, as the country possesses some of the most challenging ski slopes in the world. Many families grow up in areas of the country where, in the winter, it is as easier to travel around by ski than it is by foot.
The country has hosted the Winter Olympic Games on three occasions, including the first ever event at Chamonix in 1924, followed by Grenoble in 1968 and Albertville in 1992. Skiing has become a part of the national identity. Each winter season sees huge number of tourists visiting both the Alps and the Pyrenees and many of these are domestic visitors from other areas of France.
There have been a number of French skiers who have hit the international spotlight and have made a real positive effect on the image of the sport. Each year world cup skiing events are televised around the world and many of these are hosted in resorts such as Meribel and Val d’Isere. This just encourages the next generation of skiers in the country to take up the sport.
French success goes as far back as the 1930s when Emille Allais won four World Championship Gold medals. Born in Megeve, he also won the bronze at the 1936 Olympics in Garmisch in the combined slalom and downhill which was the only alpine skiing event at the games.
Following the Second World War, Henri Oreiller was the most successful skier at the 1948 Olympics in St Moritz. He won the gold medal in both the downhill and combined events, and bronze in the slalom. His dominance in the downhill was so great that he won it by a clear 4 seconds from his nearest rival.
Oreiller was a real character and missed one of the medal ceremonies as he was playing his accordion at a local bar. In 1952 he retired from the sport to take up motor racing, and, 10 years later, a high-speed tire blow-out resulted in him losing his life. His achievements are recorded at his shrine in Val D’Isere, where he rests next to his wife.
The most successful French Olympian is Jean-Claude Killy who in the late 1960s was the best Alpine skier in the world. At the 1968 Winter Olympic Games he won the grand slam by winning three gold medals in the downhill, slalom and giant slalom. He also won the world cup in both 1967 and 1968, and at the end of that season he retired at the age of 25.
During the 1960s the most successful female skier in France was Marielle Goitschel. She won two Olympic gold medals and a silver in the 1964 and 1968 games. She also won seven other gold medals in world championship events between 1962 and 1968.
The 1964 slalom gold medal at Innsbruck was made even more special as her sister, Marielle, joined her on the podium to receive her silver medal in the giant slalom. Two days previously, the medal positions had been reversed in the slalom. Her other Olympic gold medal was won in the slalom at the 1968 Games in Grenoble.
More recent French success in World Cup events has been led by Alexis Pinturault. In December 2017 the slalom specialist recorded his 21st victory which is a record for any French skier. He has also won 2 bronze medals in the Giant Slalom in the 2014 Games in Sochi and the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang.
Despite regularly producing world class skiers, the French are in need of new superstars that the nation can follow. The interest in skiing in the country is massive and they are envious of the success that the Austrians have been experiencing in recent years.