Morzine & the Portes du Soleil

6 Days Snowboarding in the French Alps

I’m writing this post-winter having completed the Scottish season we thought may never happen. Having had the most epic of winter seasons the year before I had not missed traveling to the big mountains of the Alps. I had not been abroad for snow for a while. But after chatting with friends the opportunity for visiting Morzine in France materialised. This was the location of my first ever snowboard holiday back in 1997. I was keen to return to see how the place had changed, or how much my memories may have faded. It’s also a massive area, connected through Avoriaz to a bunch of Swiss resorts.

So the winter was getting off to a slow start and I’d only had one day snowboarding in Scotland in January. I’d be flying out with friends on February the 3rd to snowboard for the week where we would stay in the town of Morzine in the beautifully modern Chalet Suzanne, conveniently situated at the quiet end of the bridge leading up to the Super Morzine gondola.

Morzine had received a nice dump of snow in the days leading up to our visit. Although there was none expected during our visit, things were looking good as we arrived after the short 1 hour transfer from Geneva.

Day 1, the Swiss Tour

While the two families on the trip sorted themselves out on the first day, Johnathan and myself had arranged to meet friends staying elsewhere in the town at the top of the Super Morzine lift. Richard and Steve introduced the rest of their group as they exited the gondola before we proceeded up to Avoriaz for a coffee. It was from Avoriaz where we would start the ‘Swiss tour’ putting quite a few kilometres under our snowboards as we would go from valley to valley in a circuit that sees you crossing over into Switzerland. It would take us the full day without much opportunity to stop.

We quickly made our way up Chavanette where we were introduced to the Swiss Wall. Being it was effectively our first good bit of downhill, we chose to take the chairlift of shame down. A black run full of moguls was not really how I wished to start the holiday. I immediately regretted it as I looked across from the chair. It didn’t seem that bad at all and not as scary as the Flypaper at home. Saying that, any opportunity to avoid moguls is fine by me.

Alpine view above the Swiss Wall
Contemplating the ‘Swiss Wall’

We continued on, now in Switzerland proper, towards Les Crosets, before returning back to the border for a moment at the Cookie Cafe. The larger group had packed lunches, so they would carry on round the corner to have lunch while Jonathan and myself ventured into the cafe for a drink and possibly something to eat. The queue put us off and we decided top go for the drink only option and survive on the protein bars we had in our pockets. It was already lunchtime and we were barely making progress. We decided to go meet the rest of the guys who had sent us a text explaining where they were. Rounding the mountain, there was no sign. We ended up back down at Les Crosets and realised we’ lost the rest of the group. We were going to have to do this ourselves. Neither of us were great piste map readers. In the past I have actively ignored them, believing them to be based in some alternate reality.

Chairlift from La Crosets
On our way to the Cookie Cafe.
Views from the chairlift
The Swiss Wall beyond.

We found ourselves back at the cookie cafe, procrastinating, unsure which path to follow. Eventually we got a tip off.

With decent, but sporadic phone service, we would occasionally get texts from the others saying which lift they were getting. This would give us enough info to try and catch them.  So it was back down the same slope again, but this time hang a left towards Morgins. It was heads down, no photo stops, nothing, just keep riding. Art one point this included a half hour flat forest run into the town of Morgins where we knew the guys had just been. Once we were in the small town, it wants clear if they had taken a bus to a lift or indeed which lift they even went to. Again we procrastinated, it was getting late, would we even make it back to Avoriaz to get the last lift down?

More alpine views
Where to now?

Jonathan then had his one flash of inspiration for the day and suggested we visit the tourist information office and ask the way back to Avoriaz. The woman inside suggested we didn’t need to take a bus, and that it was a short walk up to the chairlift. It seemed strangely quiet as we walked up through residential streets and parking areas. It didn’t look like we were on our way to one of the main lifts out of Morgins. Eventually we found the Corbeau chairlift. This would in turn lead us through a series of smaller drag lifts before finally returning to some sort of civilisation in the Super Chatel area. This spot was super busy, with lots of ski schools and a confusing array of pistes to choose from. The sun was taking on a warmer hue as it started to get lower in the sky. Both of us stared vacantly at the post map, not knowing what was the way home.I was increasingly confident we’d be taking an expensive taxi ride from Switzerland to France later. I decided I to ask in my very basic broken French to ask a sun-beaten ski instructor for directions. “Un moment!” He asked me to wait till he finished barking instructions at les enfants in his class. Returning his attention to me when I asked the route back to Avoriaz, he was surprised. He pointed out the Super Chatel run was not open and we had to take 2 lifts through Chatel. We had to get to Tele Cabine La Linga. So we continued the descent, not taking in the stunning view too much. The nerves were taking over. Especially the couple of chairs we took that were long and descended into the shadows now engulfing the valley. Even when we reached La Linga, we were still 2 valleys short of Avoriaz, and that’s not even where we were staying. Our home was in the valley beyond that!

We received news that the other group had been split, some of them had got lost too and they announced they were heading down Ardent. They had visited in the years previously and new the area much better. They mentioned in text that they would grab a beer at the bottom of Ardent and get the bus back. This sounded like a plan. We still had to get there though. We were tiring. I remember asking a group of English sounding skiers if they were heading back to Avoriaz, ‘no’ the politely said with a shrug of the shoulders. ‘Well, if they’re not going our way, we must be going that way…’ was our logic. We eventually found ourselves traveling up the Rochassons chair which would bring us to the correct valley for Ardent and the bar at the bottom.

As we crested the ridge, it was none other than the lost group. Steve, waved to us and told us Jonny was just ahead. At last dose familiar faces, we were reunited, right at the end of the day. It was a hard push as some were in pain, but we made it down through the bumpy hardening snow into the Lindarets bowl. Then it was a mad dash down towards Ardent. This was probably the first chance I had time to stop and take in the enjoyment of actually snowboarding as I knew we had made it. Deep in the shadows at the end of our first day on the slopes, and with some amount of relief we quaffed some well earned pints, and swapped stories. We boarded the bus bound for Morzine, which took us pretty swiftly to within meters of our doorstep back in Morzine. Gareth, Lorne and their families were relaxing using the hot tub, enjoying the fresh cake as we staggered through the door.

at the bottom of Ardent
Well deserved drinks to end the day.

This was just the first day, I think we deserved to take things a bit easier for the rest of the trip.

That evening we made our way out to the shops to get some supplies (rum & beers) for the rest of the week.

Our hosts Michelle & Marcus had prepared dinner which we gladly demolished after a heavy day putting the miles under our boards.

Day 2, Sunny Pleney

On the second day Gareth joined Jonathan and myself to explore the other side of the Morzine valley. The weather was similar to the previous day. Firm pistes with warm sunshine and bluebird skies. The Pleney side is a touch tamer, the initial slopes are gentle and actually quite difficult to get around when you’re on a snowboard. The flat blues just don’t have enough gradient to get up speed, so a couple of times you would find yourself grinding to a halt. I did want to try the ridge line that runs down from Pointe de Nyon, unfortunately, the lift was shut. Not sure why, but as we passed it on a neighbouring lift there were a few little avalanches on the face. We made our way instead to Chamossière to get a nice steep red run done. It was nice to get some fluid turns done on a nice steep face.

Chairlift on the Pleney side of Morzine
Exploring the Plenty side of Morzine.

We then found ourselves searching for the return route to find the rest of our group who would be waiting for their lesson at the top of the Pleney lift. Making our way back along some more shallow blues and paths through the forest., we decided to grab some lunch while waiting on the others, grabbing some deck chairs and enjoying the sunshine for an extended break. Some naps may have been had as we lounged in the sunshine, I won’t lie.

The rest of the after noon was spent taking runs down the Pleney side, including the steeper reds that run just underneath the main lift. Some of these were pretty steep too. Eventually we wound down with some of the simpler runs until the end of the day. 

Morzine Mountain
The Pleney side of Morzine

Day 3, Avoriaz for old times sake

The whole team decided on the Super Morzine lift for our third day. It was still sunny and we made the most of the early sun on the Avoriaz slopes. It wasn’t long however before we all got split up. Jonathan and myself tried some of the higher runs above Avoriaz and lapped those for the rest of the morning.

Lac Intret towards Dents du Midi

At lunch time, we couldn’t help ourselves, and headed down the Ardent to the Happy Hour Bar at the bottom. We savoured a couple of cold ones before taking the bubble car to the Lindaret Bowl then back over to Avoriaz. I really enjoyed the cruising runs back down to the Super Morzine lift, they are nice and wide and pretty quiet too.

Happy Hour Bar
Happy Hour Bar

It was Wednesday, the day that our hosts had a day off, so we went in to town for a meal. It was nice to get out and see a bit of the town that I’d visited all this years ago. After dinner, I persuaded Jonathan and Gareth to join me in a quick visit to the Irish bar I frequented on that worst visit, just to see what it was like. I remember back in the 90’s I even considered taking a job in a bar so I could do a season. I might have done had I not already had a job at the time. The drinking hole was the Dixie Bar and I remember spending several nights there quizzing the bar staff about doing seasons and snowboarding in general. The downstairs portion I remember wasn’t open, but it was busy enough in the main bar. Gareth even witnessed a fracas going on when he visited the toilets. It seems a bunch of lads were trying to nick booze from next door!

Dixie Bar Morzine
Dixie Bar, Morzine.

There wasn’t much of an atmosphere, at least not an enjoyable one. There was premier league football on the big screen, and a bunch of drunk supporters bumping in to everyone didn’t help things, so we decided to leave after a couple of rums.It seems times have changed for us all.

Dixie Bar Morzine
Inside the Dixie Bar.

Day 4: A break in the weather

Things were looking a little greyer today as we made our way to Avoriaz. The sun was with us at first and we made the most of that with a few warm up runs above the Super Morzine lift. Jonathan and myself once again continued over to Lindarets and down Ardent where we just had to go for another lunchtime drink. This run down through the forest from Avoriaz was becoming a favourite, especially since the weather was taking a turn for the worse.

Looking from Avoriaz side across to the Pleney side.

Visibility was getting bad up top and Jonathan was suffering after a fall dismounting one of the chairs. The shelter of the trees was welcome and the run had high banks at the side that were fun to ride. Once on to the Ardent run, it opened up to become a fast ride down to a nice bubble car ride back up.

Cloud floating above mountains ofAvoriaz
A sign of a change in the weather.

We called it early today and made our way back to the Chalet. I’d arranged to meet Johnny and Steve for a drink before dinner anyway so this gave me a bit more time to get organised.

Day 5: A tale of Two Valleys

Friday started off bright as we rode the Pleney lift in the morning. The Super Morzine lift wasn’t running so we stayed on the other side for the Majority of that morning. Every so often stopping to scope out movement on the lift across the valley for signs of movement. 

A bright start to the day.

I’d arranged to meet Johnny and Steve as it was there last day but they were now up on the Morzine side. With word of this we saw the lift was now running, so we swapped sides and ascended the Super Morzine. The cloud was high and hazy, so still bright. The three of us decided on the Lindarets bowl. Gareth would have to leave later to take the kids for lessons.

Lindarets bowl

We took the chairlift up to the head wall of the valley, this went high and took us to the Cookie Cafe where we had lost the party on the first day. Taking the path right along the ridge eventually dropped us down a piste into the bowl once again. I took the skiers right onto as much untouched snow as I could find. It was old and heavy snow, but a welcome change to the hard piste snow. Rejoining this path took us down on to flatter runs where we really did have to keep the speed up. On a few occasions we did have to unbuckle and scoot until we could find a gradient. It was fun though and after another visit to Ardent, we stopped for a massive lunch near the top of this run. Our eyes were bigger than our bellies for sure. As we sat down to eat, I could Johnny and Steve waving at us. I texted them that we’d finish lunch then join them. After food Gareth left for the Pleney side and we joined the guys for another run up to the head wall for another run  through old powder fields and more and more action around the Lindaret bowl then Ardent. After a final run down to the car park we had a last pint with Jonny and Steve before getting the bus back round to Morzine were we said our goodbyes. They were heading home tomorrow, but we still had a full day to go.

Sunset in Morzine
Evening light in Morzine’s valley.

Day 6, our last day

As it was out last day, the whole gang would be out. The families had not been down the Lindarets tree runs or the Ardent, and as the weather had closed in with mist and a bit of snow I thought it would be a good option for them to spend their last day there. 

The whole gang.

We enjoyed lunch together in the same restaurant we filled our boots in the day before. But since the weather wasn’t so good, we ate inside.

We lapped the Lindarets bubble lift and folk gradually conceded, leaving at several points through the day. Jonathan took the bus home as he was struggling with his injury and its ended up with just my self and Gareth. So since he hadn’t had much of a chance to explore, I took him for a rather windy and misty trip to the slopes above Avoriaz. It was almost like being back at home as we took the poma lift to the highest point. The chairlift wasn’t running due to high winds, just to make us feel even more at home. Even these last runs were worth while as we found little stashes of windblown powder in the areas between runs. 

A murky finish to the week.

We gradually worked our way once again down the trees for the final run and a last pint while we waited on the bus.

That was the week that was

The following day was thankfully uneventful, with the transfer and flights back to Glasgow. The week had been a fantastic mix of weather, some snow flurries mixed with perfect sunshine. Many miles were covered and fun was had around the table each evening with a great bunch of friends.

I didn’t practice as much freestyle as I should have, I’ll put that down to fitness, I didn’t use the jacuzzi, I left that to the kids but I had an amazing holiday. A huge thank you to Gareth once again for pulling out all the stops. Cant thank you enough!

Without knowing how bad the season ahead was going to be, I glad I got a snowboard trip in. My legs never really reached full fitness during the winter months, but they would have been a lot weaker had I not had this week in the Alps.

Didn’t film much on the February snowboard trip to Morzine, France, but here’s what I did capture, mostly on the new GoPro.