Date of visit: Winter 2012/2013 and 2014
Tour or pre planned: Various – Self Catered apartments and catered chalets Pre- planned
One of the great things about the winter in Europe is the chance to get out and enjoy the snow. There are so many great ski resorts, but the one that I keep going back to is Portes Du Soleil in the French Alps. In fact it is made up of 14 individual resorts that are extremely well connected with ski lifts, gondolas and only the occasional bus route when needed. It is really close to Lake Geneva and spreads out on both sides of the border between France and Switzerland.
Here's some of the stats:
296 slopes: 28 black, 106 red, 127 blue, 35 green
11 snowparks, 4 boardercross
90 slopeside restaurants
As the numbers show, this resort is huge and offers something for every kind of skier or snowboarder. I started off on my first two trips as a snowboarder, and have been for the last three trips as a skier. As a snowboarder the button lifts can be a bit tricky to master, there are some narrow runs that can be difficult to take and there are several flatter runs that the skiers can make it through with some pushing on their poles, but snowboarders are left to unclip and walk. But there are a lot of off-piste areas for powder and some great snowparks to check out for the more experienced boarders.
The three resorts that I have stayed in are Les Gets, Morzine and Avoriaz all in the French side of Portes Du Soleil. They all offer something different and it depends on your budget and if your tip is more focused on serious skiing adventure or more on Apres-ski action!
In Les Gets we stayed in a catered chalet that we booked though www.thechaletexperience.com who were fantastic. This resort is a bit more family focused, has great beginner slopes and accommodation can be a bit cheaper. Of course catered chalets cost more than the self catered option, but it was a very nice feeling to come off the slopes everyday and have a nice hearty meal cooked up for us. The food wasn’t exactly gourmet, but was just what was needed after a long day out in the snow.
Avoriaz on the other hand is a purpose-built ski resort which is much higher up in the mountains than Les Gets. This means that the skiing conditions right outside the front door are usually much better, and it is very quick in the mornings to jump on a chair lift and get up even higher before the crowds from the lower resorts catch up. It seems to be the most expensive of the resorts that we stayed in, but has a really nice atmosphere, as it’s car-free and uses a team of horse-drawn carts to get people and luggage about. We managed to find a good deal staying at the Antares Apartments which helped to bring the costs of the trip down, but the other apartments we have stayed in at Avoriaz have also been nice so it pays to search around for a good deal.
Morzine sits in a valley between Avoriaz and Les Gets, and in many other ways the resort kind of sits in between the two. This is actually an older town unlike the purpose-built Avoriaz, and so it has a lot of nice traditional restaurants as well as good nightlife. It is easy to head either towards Les Gets or Avoriaz for a good day out on the slopes. If you are looking for a bit more than just skiing for your holiday then I would recommend Morzine. They have a movie cinema, we watched an ice hockey match at the local stadium, and there is a good spa complex as well.
From all three of these resorts it is possible to do some nice day trips. We have had days on our trips where there has been not enough snow, but also times where there has been too much snow to get out on the slopes! On our last trip while staying in Morzine, we made a day trip down to Geneva where we walked around the city and on another day we went for a walk around one of the nearby lakes called Lake Montriond.
While out and about on the slopes there are so many great little spots to stop for a meal, hot chocolate or vin chaud! It’s great for keeping the energy levels up and with all the exercise you definitely feel like you have earned it. The food can be a bit pricey at times, so often we will take a packed lunch out with us. Luckily being in France the resorts have some great bakeries meaning you can get fresh baguettes every morning! One of my personal favourite spots to stop for lunch is in the deckchairs outside the Yeti restaurant at the top of Avoriaz. Their omelettes are awesome!
Getting there -The easiest way is to fly into Geneva Airport and then take a shuttle bus transfer to the resort that you are staying in. These can be booked in advance so that they are waiting for you when your flight arrives. If you are driving there, make sure that you take snow chains for the car as the conditions can change quickly and when it is icy the police won’t let you through unless you have chains on.
Skiing or snowboarding can be a very expensive trip as there are so many bits you need to pay for. Here’s how we normally do it to try and get the best deal:
Ski gear – We always book through www.skiset.com as they often work out as one of the cheapest (make sure to search online for coupon codes for them!), but we have always had good experiences with them whenever gear has had a problem they fix it right up, or replace it as needed. If you are thinking of buying gear then you can ask them to rent out brand new gear for a day to try out. If you end up buying it, then they take off the cost of the rental.
Lift pass – These are always expensive. The only way really to get them cheap is to make the early bird booking a couple of months in advance to save 10% (en.portesdusoleil.com). Also, some of the chalet companies can give a deal so it’s worth asking about if you are booking through one of these companies. There are two main options for the lift pass: the Portes Du Soleil area, or just the local area pass for where you are staying. If you are just a beginner or only planning a trip for a couple of days then the local area pass is probably enough, and can save you a lot of money.
Ski lessons – There are a couple of companies that run these, but by far the main one is ESF (www.esf.net/en). We have had friends that have done week long group lessons with them as complete beginners and have come out able to ski blue runs by the end of the week with confidence. Also I have had a couple of 1-on-1 lessons where the instructors take you out for even just an hour, and I found that I improved a lot in this way.
Insurance – Think about getting insurance for the trip. Often when hiring gear it is possible to get insurance to cover theft or damage, you can get lift pass insurance and basically any other kind you can think of. But make sure you look into getting insurance that would cover emergency evacuation off the mountain. This can be very expensive if you need to be towed down on a stretcher or worse need a helicopter to pick you up. You never know what might happen out there!
The French Alps makes a great getaway over the cold winter months in Europe. If you have never been before, then I would really encourage you to give it a go. As a late starter myself, I have now caught the skiing bug and hope to head back every year.
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Overall rating destination: 4.5 out of 5