Sports Journalist and ski instructor Bruce Pope tries out Morzine-Avoriaz for the first time and finds far more than just a stash of snow anda short transfer time.
Trees are rushing by on either side as I dart down a snowy track. I’m loading my outside ski nice and early, determined not to miss the enticing entrance to a chute on my right that flashed by too quickly on my previous run.
The timing is good this time and with the speed I’m carrying I’m airborne for a split-second as the chute dips down, eliciting an involuntary “whoop” along with a small jolt of adrenaline.
I’ve come to Morzine for a few days and I’m loving every minute of it, using the French town in the Haute Savoie as my base to explore as much of the Portes du Soleil ski domain as my time allows. Re-joining the main track I offer a metaphorical high-five to the carved wooden yeti which stands vigil over The Stash, the freestyle area I’m currently exploring.
I’m by no means a natural jibber and jumper but The Stash is great fun, with all its features – rails, pipes, jumps – made from wood and other natural materials that blend perfectly with the surrounding forest.
It’s fun, creative and a real eye-opener – very much like Morzine itself.
I’d been meaning to come here for years, but on French trips have somehow always found myself dragged further south towards the likes of Val d’Isère, Tignes and the Three Valleys.
Those Tarentaise Valley resorts are superb, but they involve subjecting yourself to a three or four hour transfer from Geneva – which with its choice of flights from the UK usually makes it the default gateway to both France and Switzerland. So when our Skiidy Gonzales minibus deposited our group in Morzine in just over an hour, I had to double-check my watch. Within a couple of hours of landing we were on the slopes and having fun.
Morzine has a reputation of being less snow sure than those other resorts, which is a little unfair as the slopes leading back to town shouldn’t be viewed in isolation.
It’s just one of 13 resorts – spanning both France and Switzerland – that make up the 650km of runs the Portes du Soleil ski area has to offer. At 1000m high, Morzine’s local slopes are always going to suffer more from warmer weather outside of peak weeks, although the snow-making is excellent and when we were there in mid-January the pistes were in pretty good condition.
But with near-neighbour Avoriaz nestling at 1800m, there’s little need to fear running out of snow each winter.
The Super-Morzine bubble from town connects to a series of lifts that will take about thirty minutes to get to Avoriaz, while the newer Prodains Express, built in 2013 at the edge of town, is about a five minute ride to get from the valley to Avoriaz. Unless you’re staying near the Prodains you will have to factor in a ride on the regular free ski buses, although plans are afoot to link the Prodains to the main town to cut lift times even further.
The €50 million project has been proposed under the working title the Express Morzine-Avoriaz, with start-up planned for 2020 or 2021. It was from Avoriaz we dropped off into The Stash, over a small ridge to the east, where you can lap the area off the Prolays and Lindarets chair or continue the adventure. Les Brochaux and Les Lindarets below both have a heap of lift choices to whisk you off to other parts of the mountain, or you can continue down the valley to end your day at Ardent, sipping some deserved refreshment at the lively Happy Hours Bar while you wait for the ski bus back to Morzine. Or you can hop back on the Ardent bubble and do it all again.
If you opt to head up from Brochaux rather than down, take the Mossettes chair and on skiers’ left at the top there’s a meadow of off-piste that was so good we lapped it three times. Just be aware that about three-quarters of the way down you have to either cross a stream – there’s usually a small snow bridge – to pick up the blue Abricotine piste back to the lift base or traverse across for your exit.
There were also rich pickings north and west of Avoriaz as we headed towards the Col du Fornet, where overnight snow had left a shin-deep covering that was almost untouched just away from the groomed pistes. We spent most of a morning lapping the Fornet lift, picking fresh lines amid the steep sides and mild gullies.
Further across, the Express Lac Intrets chair – arriving below the 2466m peak of Les Hauts Forts – offers a testing variety of blacks and reds with plenty of off-piste to dip into between the marked runs.
Our first day, in contrast, had been a more relaxed affair, with our guides Nick and Rachael from Supreme Ski and Snowboard School showcasing the best of Morzine’s other neighbour, Les Gets.
The Pleney gondola and Crusaz chair next to it provide a swift departure from Morzine towards the Les Gets sector, opening up cruisy blues and reds surrounded by stunning scenery. Les Gets itself is a pretty hamlet that lends itself more towards families, while Morzine is the livelier choice. As an all-year-round market town there is a fantastic choice of bars and eateries, shops, banks, an aquatic centre, an indoor ice rink and even a cinema.
Morzine regularly features in the polls of the best value ski resorts, helped by the wide choice of accommodation and competitively priced ski passes. A six-day adult pass this winter is €216 for Morzine-Les Gets and €265 for the whole Portes du Soleil area, compared to €306 for a full Three Valleys pass.
While its proximity to Geneva makes Morzine ideal for short breaks, its reasonable pricing, facilities and access to a huge ski area means it holds its own as a destination for longer stays. The feeling was that we had only explored a fraction of what Morzine and the Portes du Soleil had to offer, but that we’d like to return to see what we’d missed.
Welcome smiles and bags of style
Morzine has so many alternatives when it comes to accommodation, but it’s hard to beat the choice offered by Elevation Alps: elevationalps.com
The chalets and apartments are top-notch, with most boasting hot tubs, and if all you want is a self-catering break and the run of the place then you’ll be more than comfy. But if you want a few groceries delivered as well, or a selection of wine, then no problem; one-off dinner, no problem; evening meals, no problem; full catering, of course they can do that; upgrade to fine dining, mais oui.
The bespoke options extend to transfers, ski packs, lift passes and childcare. All sorted for your arrival, meaning less time faffing and more time enjoying yourself.
This story was originally published in Snow Enthusiast magazine. Read the full issue free at http://magazine.snow-forecast.com/snow-enthusiast-sf-2018#!page1