Ski Expert Josh heads to Morzine
For years, the Portes du Soleil was the only big ski area of the French Alps that had managed to allude me – a final frontier. I had skied every nook and cranny that the Tarentaise had to offer, and I had ventured far down south To Les Deux Alpes and Alpe d’Huez. But for whatever reason, I had never set foot (or plank) on the widely heralded area within spitting distance of Geneva airport. So, when I finally booked something going to Morzine this season, I got a sense of excitement that I hadn’t had in a while. Morzine is the beating heart of the Portes du Soleil and has been pulling in enthusiastic skiers from all corners of Europe for nearly 100 years – and I can see why. A short 1h transfer, a lively but attractive town, and over 650km of pistes all culminate together to create one of the best short-break experiences on offer for British tourists.
Chalet Basse Chapelle
I stayed in the Chalet Basse Chapelle during my time in Morzine, which I chose because of its ideal location within the town. Ski-in/ski-out accommodation in Morzine is scarce, so being only a 5-minute walk from the Super Morzine gondola felt as good as. The chalet is found down what looks like a residential road, which only amplified the homely feel we got when we walked through the front door. The décor of the chalet was warm and comforting, and the open log fire makes sure that you leave any frost and chill at the doorstep. The chalet sleeps 10 people but the ample sofa space and seating around the living room ensures you never feel cramped or crowded. You know that ache you get deep in your quads after your first day back on skis? The one that feels like it runs all the way through to the bone? Yeah, you know the one. Trust me when I say, there is nothing better than jumping into the hot tub on the balcony and letting the jets massage away that pain. With a beer in hand and the mountains all around, life doesn’t really get much better. And if the jacuzzi isn’t your thing, there’s even a sauna downstairs near the boot room so your relaxation options are plentiful.
3.5 days skiing on a 3 day trip - it really isn't a marketing ploy
For me, the biggest benefit of being so close to the airport is if you time the flights right you can be on the slopes for midday, which is just a luxury that the majority of resorts can’t offer. It would have been rude not to capitalise on that, so after a quick cuppa and some directions from the chalet host, we set off to grab our gear from Hubert Sports. Truth be told, you’d actually do well not to find where you are going as you just walk down to the main road and everything you could need is dotted along it. The hire shop and the Super Morzine gondola are right next to each other which is great. There aren’t many things I don’t like about skiing. In fact, there are only two things – lugging your skis down the road in big plastic boots, and ski schools snaking across the whole piste. The hire shop being right next to the main lift at least alleviates one of these problems. As for the ski school snakes, I find the best approach is to just wave your arms and hurtle down the piste as if you’ve completely lost control and they should clear a path for you.
One of the things I often hear when Morzine comes up in conversation is “doesn’t it struggle with snow because it’s so low?”. While there is some weight to this question, I would say it’s mostly founded on misconceptions, and I didn’t experience anything of the sort when I was there. Given that I was there in early December, I was blown away by the amount of fresh, dry snow there was on the slopes. Is there always snow at resort level? No, but to be honest I would call that a win. The resort itself sits at 1000m which is fairly low as far as ski resorts go, but the ski area itself is mostly above 2000m, with peaks of nearly 3000m. A low resort town but high-altitude skiing means you can get stuck into some knee-deep powder on the mountain and avoid having to traipse through snow when it’s time to go for a beer and some food. If it wasn’t reliable for snow, it wouldn’t garner anywhere near the attention that it does.
Great for beginners
Morzine has a reputation for being a great resort for beginners which it has rightly earned in my opinion. Of the 107km of pistes belonging to Morzine/Les Gets, nearly half are geared towards beginners and fall under a blue or green grading. Complete first timers would do well to stay towards the forgiving green runs found immediately at the top of the Super Morzine as this is a great area to start finding your legs. If you have a mixed ability group this is also a great direction to head, as the more experienced skiers in the group can move onwards and upwards to Avoriaz and the Swiss side of the Portes du Soleil. That side of the mountain will appeal to the more seasoned skiers, with the pistes increasing in gradient and difficulty. This is also the direction you can find the fabled “Swiss Wall” which is universally accepted as one of the most difficult pistes in Europe. To my knowledge, it is the only piste which has been named after a vertical object. Until I discover pistes named the French ladder, or the Italian tower, this will remain the most ominously named run I have come across. It always feels a little cliché to say a resort has something for everyone, so I’ll avoid that phrase altogether and let the numbers speak for themselves. 32 black runs, 100 red, 122 blue, and 31 green. That means your old aunt Dotty can pootle down the easy runs and leave the powder untouched on the fun stuff for you!
Surprisingly good Après scene
Given the fact Morzine has achieved “Famille Plus” status, due to its abundance of childcare facilities and family events, I didn’t expect a great deal from the après scene there. In fact, I was wrong, and there are a few really good spots in Morzine/Avoriaz to get your dancing ski boots on and let your hair down. Firstly, there’s the classic staple of a French skiing holiday – La Folie Douce. Avoriaz is one of the most recent resorts to become home to the premier apres bar of the Alps, and this instalment is just as sensational as the rest of them. If you’re looking for over the top outfits, dancers, musicians, and a general ambience of chaos, look no further. In the town of Morzine itself, there is a great spot called La Tremplin, which is one of the best spots for off-the-mountain après. The bar/hotel is at the bottom of the Pleney side of the town and has both an outdoor terrace and indoor seating. But, saving the best for last, my favourite has to be Happy Hours in Lindarets. When you’re competing with the Folie Douce for the top spot, it’s usually not easy to make a name for yourself in the après scene, but Happy Hours is somewhere I’ll remember for years to come. If you’re looking for it, it’s at the bottom of the Ardent cable car, but it’s the sort of place you’ll hear long before you see, and you can ski right to the doorstep. There is an outside DJ, two bars, and tables for dancing. It’s a small place with big character.
On chalet night off we ventured out into the town for some food and decided to go for something a little bit lighter. The chalet host had made sure we had our fill of hearty dinners and afternoon cakes and thought some smaller bites might be friendlier to our waistlines. On a friend’s recommendations, we walked up to Hideout Hostel, which is about a 15-minute walk from the chalet. First things first, they serve ale there which is a rarity in any ski resort. Their menu is all Mexican street food and I would highly recommend the Papas Fritos, loaded with chilli, of course.
All in all, Morzine was quite possibly the best four days of consecutive skiing I’ve had in years. If you’re looking for a characteristic Savoyard town that’s easy to get to, has a massive ski area, and has plenty of bars and restaurants to boot, then the Chapelle chalets are the way to go this season.