Ultimate Ski Explores Avoriaz and Morzine

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    I arrived in Morzine with high hopes and anticipation on the 7th February, having flown into Geneva and met with fellow Ultimate-Ski journalist, Archie Middleton.  Sabrina, our liaison for the trip from the tourism office in Morzine, greeted us with our trip packs that included our all mountain ski passes, maps of the town and ski area and tons of info on every activity, restaurant and bar to visit during our stay. Morzine looked a great place so with only a few days to get acquainted, that was really helpful.

    So Archie and I went across the road to Le Samoyède, where Mrs Baud-Pachon, the hotel owner and manageress welcomed us. Le Samoyède is a top 3-star hotel located in the heart of Morzine with top food and really comfortable rooms.

    That evening, having unpacked and briefly explored the buzzing town of Morzine to gather our bearings for what was to come, we headed down to the hotel’s restaurant, L’Atelier d’Alexandre.  As Archie and I waited to be seated, with mouth-watering thoughts of devouring four gourmet courses, we admired this elegant dining room. For me this really made Le Samoyède a truly special place to stay, as it radiated a sense of stylish modern luxury whilst keeping a traditional, slightly rustic alpine feel. The dimmed lighting and use of candles across the spacious room created an immensely relaxing  ambiance in which to enjoy our dinner. Archie and I ordered a bottle of Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, as we had ordered fish to start. A bit of a treat but absolutely divine. The attentive Samoyède staff then served sautéed fillet of beef with ratatouille and green beans. After these two delicious courses our waiter wheeled over an impressive cheese board. We finished with a chocolate lava cake and a melted Caribbean sauce.  Following what was a superb dinner here in the French Alps, Archie and I had a quick nightcap at the bar before heading off to bed: it’s always tiring travelling and we had a couple of big days coming up.

    The next morning saw clear blue skies and refreshing crisp temperatures - perfect weather for a morning’s skiing. I set off to the ESF (École du Ski Francais). The highly respected off-piste skier and ice-rock climber Guillaume greeted me at 9am sharp, ready to catch an early bus in the high street to Les Prodains Cable Car, so we could ski on the Avoriaz side, which had the better snow at the moment. I had my own ski equipment - Lange SX120 boots and Völkl UVO Code all mountain skis - just right for what Guillaume had in mind for us.  After a few minutes sizing each other up on our skiing abilities on the bus ride over, we were ready to tackle what Avoriaz had to offer.  Guillaume told me that Avoriaz has one of the most snow-sure records in the Portes du Soleil and given the relatively (for the time of year) poor snow conditions at the time, he had decided to stay on this side. We skied down through some trees to the Grandes Combes chair and then from the top, Guillaume decided not to mess around and took me straight down a long and thin black to get us warmed up. Back on the Grandes Combes lift I probed Guillaume on the quality of off-piste skiing around Morzine and Avoriaz. He smiled and skated towards the edge of the mountain’s shoulder and stopped abruptly. He then radioed ESF and to my surprise had the currently closed Crete D’Arare area of the mountain opened (It was at the time only open for guided skiing) and got some transceivers and avalanche kit organised.

    This area offers some of the tougher but more rewarding skiing in the resort both with black on piste-runs, as well as a nail-biting freeride section.  After collecting our kit we went to the top of the Arare lift and, to the left of this as you look at the piste map, Guillaume flew off down the freeride side of the Crete with his usual enthusiasm and I found myself jumping between moguls and rocks behind him. After doing a few different routes on this side of Avoriaz and off the Grandes Combes lift, we stopped for lunch up the mountain and had a typical ski bum lunch: burger and a pint!  

    Following what had been a leg burning morning of off-piste skiing at fast pace, we then headed over to the Le Fornet lift to ski La Vallée de la Manche in the afternoon. In order to reach this beautiful and lonely part of the mountains you have to hike and skate up about 300 metres of gradient from the top of Le Fornet lift to the right of a ridge and then drop into the bowl on the other side. From here there was magical champagne powder all the way down a plateau to start with and then steeper down through rocks and crevasses and finally over stream through some woods to the ski bus stop in the village of L’Erigne. From there we took the bus back to Morzine. And that marked the end of the first day.

    After this pretty knackering first day on the slopes, I met with Archie at Le Tremplin for some après. Le Tremplin is located at the top of the high street at a point where it meets the bottom of Le Pleney piste on the Morzine side. Archie and I sank back into the fur-throw covered sofas on Le Templin terrace with a 4-pint pitcher to share between us. After chatting about our first day in the mountains and admiring the natural beauty of the sun setting against Les Dents Du Midi, Archie and I headed back to Le Samoyède for a much needed blitz in the hotel’s spa. The modern spa centre, equipped with mood lighting and surround sound speakers, also features a Finnish sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi as well as a relax area. After a relaxing circuit of the spa facilities, I headed back to the room for a quick change and then onto dinner, which again exceeded expectations with some exquisite dishes. After dinner, Archie and I headed to the hotel’s bar ‘La Taverne’, for a quick G&T, and then on into town. We decided to head over to Le Paradis, one of Morzine’s more popular clubs. The part underground club was bouncing with a mix of lively visitors and locals: people dancing on tables, retro themed fancy-dress goers, a human birdcage swinging from the ceiling and stunning ‘shot girls’ serving Jaeger Bombs! After dancing away a couple of hours, we decided to sample the popular L’Aubergade Bar for a nightcap before heading home.

    Day 2 started bright and early and we jumped on Les Prodains Cable Car again up to Avoriaz and then up Le Fornet lift to ski off this. The Fornet area is a large bowl basically with skiing everywhere including blue pistes and off-piste descents between huge crags. From one of the ridges at the top of  Le Fornet you can try the famous La Chavanette run - also known as the ‘Swiss Wall’ or ‘the Wall’, one of the steepest pistes in Europe - it is not part of the Avoriaz-system as such but actually is part of neighbouring Swiss resort of Les Crosets.  I am told the Wall is the steepest on-piste run in Switzerland. It is very wide and long and steep, and covered in moguls that challenge even expert skiers. It isn’t just the difficultly of the gradient of the slope nor the size of the moguls but the sheer length of the run that is the biggest challenge in my view. I stopped for a brake halfway down, my legs burning and sweat pouring off me despite the fact I had all vents open on both my salopettes and jacket. Guillaume looked across at me with his usual energetic smile and to my chagrin barely showed the slightest signs of tiredness. After catching my breath and picking out my path between the moguls I set off behind Guillaume to the end of the Wall.

    We took the lift back up to the top and gazed at the panning mountain range still above us. This stretches all the way from Les Dents du Midi across Les Dents Blanches to Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps.  There are several couloirs up there as well for very serious skiers to take on but not for us on this day.  We came back down and then via Les Lindanets and Plaine Dranse, Guillaume led me over to Chatel in Switzerland, where we spent what was left of the morning exploring.  You can ski over there following red runs  down to chairs and so on but not to my suprise Guillaume didn’t hold back and led me down several off-piste routes, some through the trees, to the sides of these valleys, that became increasingly narrower and harder to ski. We stopped for lunch at Chez Crepy, one of the more popular restaurants in the resort.  We packed in the calories we had just burnt. Following a delicious lunch in this rustic mountain hut, Guillaume led me to the top of La Combe Leiche at Tete de Linga via the Echo Alpin lift. We skied down the first quarter of La Cancoinette, before traversing across the steep shoulder of the mountain to the right. Guillaume started the descent by jumping into the bowl off an unnervingly small mountain ledge and onto these steep slopes.  Fortunately after the first 100 metres the bowl becomes shallower.  However this did little to alter the difficulty, as I still found myself having to jump turn over bushes and moguls and even a small stream to get all the way to the bottom!

    Finally, after a very tiring two days of all mountain skiing and exploring the expert runs of Avoriaz and Morzine, the Ultimate-Ski team met once again with Guillaume and Archie’s instructor Alexis at our favoured Le Tramplin après bar for a couple of pints, before saying our last goodbyes.   What a great experience it had been and many thanks to Guillaume and the ESF for sharing their great expertise and knowledge of this beautiful and most skiworthy place with us.  For the kind of skiing I have described here I really recommend you take a guide: you will get much more out of your experience and it is a lot safer.