In the 1960s, led by the local champion Jean Vuarnet, the resorts of Champery, Morzine and Avoriaz and several neighbours decided to create a unique, cross-border ski area which has since grown into one of the largest ski areas in the world linking 14 villages in France and Switzerland, all covered on one lift pass. Most are connected by lift and piste, the rest by bus (and sometimes a quick walk across town). The official total piste length of 650kms is probably an exaggeration, but by any standards this is a huge ski area and more than large enough to satisfy all skiers and boarders who come here for a week’s holiday.
Apart from the sheer extent of the ski area they share, these 14 very different resorts share three other characteristics. They are all good value ski destinations; they are all relatively easy to get to from the UK, Northern Europe and Geneva Airport and so make great weekend destinations; and none of them is surrounded by very high mountains because technically they are in the Pre-Alps, not the Alps.
Their relatively low height does not stop them from being picturesque; Champery in particular is famous for its classic “Swiss Mountain Village” good looks, and almost all the Portes du Soleil villages except Avoriaz are more attractive and charming than the average ski resort. And being low-lying is not always a disadvantage when it comes to skiing: in a blizzard in the middle of winter, it’s much nicer to ski at 1500m on tree-lined slopes than in a bleak open bowl at 3000m. But the Portes du Soleil ski resorts tend to be less snowsure than high-altitude resorts. (Avoriaz is a possible exception to this generalisation: the resort itself is high and naturally snowy, but its surrounding mountains are not much higher or snowier than the resort.) Given modern artificial snow-making, it’s very unlikely that there will be no skiing at all if you come to the Portes du Soleil for a winter sports holiday, but at the start and end of the season in poor snow conditions this famously large ski area can shrink to just a few crowded ribbons of white snaking down green and brown hills, so be careful booking at these times long in advance, or be prepared to spend a lot of your ski holiday doing other activities.
Portes du Soleil Villages and Accommodation
The main resorts are Avoriaz, Morzine, Les Gets, Chatel and Champery, and these all have their own Ultimate-Ski guides. The Champery guide also covers Les Crosets, and the Chatel guide covers the Super Chatel ski area which is shared with the small Swiss ski resort of Torgon.
La Chapelle-d’Abondance is a rural village just 5km from Chatel, which has its own small uncrowded ski area composed of gentle tree-lined red and blue pistes. There is also a gondola just outside of the village which links it to the Super Chatel-Torgon area and the rest of the Portes du Soleil. About 6km away from La Chapelle there is another even more isolated outpost of the Portes du Soleil at Abondance called L’Essert. And a little bit further on from this is St Jean d’Aulps which has the slightly larger but just as isolated Grande Terche ski area. Go to any of these on a quiet weekday and you might have the slopes to yourself. If you value this sort of ‘get away from it all’ rural tranquility, there are some good accommodation options in la Chapelle, ranging from smart boutique hotels to simple apartments.
Champoussin and Morgins are in Switzerland and key parts of the Portes du Soleil circuit. Morgins at 1350m is the more beautiful, but is more spread out, so you can be a long way away from the main lifts and pistes. Champoussin at 1580m is more compact, convenient and family-friendly. It has a lot of short blue blue runs. Skiers doing the anticlockwise circuit can skip these out by taking the lovely long blue run from the Col des Portes du Soleil all the way to Morgins.
Catered Chalet Holidays in the Portes du Soleil resorts
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Hotels and self-catered apartments and chalets in the Portes du Soleil resorts.
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Ski Schools and Guiding in the Portes du Soleil
All the resorts have at least one ski school and there are also plenty of private instructors and guides. The easiest way to search for relevant lessons, instructors and guides (for an individual or a group) and compare prices is via CheckYeti. Search and book ski instructors and lessons in the Portes du Soleil >>>
Getting to the Portes du Soleil/ Airport transfers/ Car hire
All the Portes du Soleil resorts are within 2 hours drive of Geneva airport, and some are just an hour away by car. Most are also a short drive from the train stations at Cluses and Thonon-les-Bains which have TGV services. See the Getting to Avoriaz, Getting to Morzine, Getting to Champery and Getting to Les Gets sections for more details.
MorzExpress provides both inexpensive, pay-per seat, shared transfers and ultra-convenient private transfers from Geneva airport to Morzine, Avoriaz and Les Gets in vehicles equipped for wintry conditions on mountain roads and with English-speaking drivers. Ski-Lifts can arrange private transfers from Geneva and other airports and train stations to all the Portes du Soleil resorts.
Hiring a car is useful if you’re staying a long way from a lift or want to visit other ski areas such as the Grand Massif at Samoens (lift-linked to Flaine and only about an hour’s drive from Les Gets and Morzine). RentalCars.com lets you see the best deals from multiple car-hire firms in all the gateway airports including big brands like Hertz, Avis, Budget, Alamo, Europcar, Dollar and Thrifty, with free cancellations on most bookings and a price match guarantee.