Bigger Is Better: Europe’s Ultimate Ski Area
When it comes to the mountains, there is no point looking any further than the Portes Du Soleil. Whether you’re a snowboarder, skier, langlaufer, mountain biker, hiker, climber or just a sucker for picturesque vistas; there is no better place to experience everything you could possibly want to experience.
Size Does Matter
The first thing to mention when talking about the Portes Du Soleil – or Gateway to the Sun as it is also known – is its size. As an area, it is massive. It’s ginormous. Located on the Swiss-French border, this place is often mentioned alongside some of the biggest names in mountain resorts, places like the Trois Vallees and, further south, the Milky Way. Of course, size is quite a hard thing to measure when it comes to ski resorts, so to put it into Layman’s terms, Portes Du Soleil consists of over 650 kilometres of pistes and has over 200 chair lifts. Like we said, it is massive.
But with size comes choice, and this area has that in abundance. So let’s start with the Swiss side and get that out of the way. On this side of the border, there are three main towns-slash-villages. There is Morgins, Les Crosets and, lastly, Champery; all of which are entirely different from one another. While Champery has a long history with those wishing to visit the mountain, way back in the day when people walked and hiked and didn’t dare to dream of strapping a couple of planks to their feet and surfing the snow. However, due to its low altitude, most of the snow it gets has disappeared halfway through the season. Morgins and Les Crosets however, are quite safe bets on that front, and wonderfully quaint too.
The French side of the border is where it is at, though; this is the more vibrant, busy, skiable and apres-skiable part of the Portes Du Soleil. The three main towns are Les Gets, Morzine and Avoriaz; Morzine being the biggest and lowest of the three. Ten years ago, this place was empty, so empty you could have picked up a property bargain of the century; but not any more. In recent years, this has become one of the most popular resorts anywhere in Europe, which is in part thanks to it being so close to Geneva. But despite its soaring popularity, it is still possible to get a bargain through one of the smaller companies like Ski Harrington, a fantastic family run business. The other side of the is its luxury. Just look at the luxury catered chalets in Morzine from Freedom Ski; they are staggering. Morzine is blessed in that sense; it has something for everyone, and it has the slopes right on its doorstep. It has Le Pleney bubble for those who want to ski Morzine and Les Gets, and the Super Morzine for those who want to head up high to Avoriaz and Switzerland.
Avoriaz town is perched on the edge of a 500ft cliff overlooking the valley Morzine is sat in and, as an aesthetic town, it is quite something to behold. In the 1960s, the Olympic gold medal winning skier, Jean Vuarnet, decided to host a competition, whereby a group of award-winning architects would try to make a town that blended in with the cliff face. As a result, Avoriaz is this all-purpose resorts filled with very angular buildings, not dissimilar to Val Thorens, except Avoriaz has pistes instead of streets and chair lifts that help pedestrians get about as easily as skiers. Regarding ski-in and ski-out skiing, though, it is hard to beat this futuristic-looking town.
As mentioned above, Portes Du Soleil has over 650km of pistes ranging from green all the way up to blacks, including The Wall; one of Europe’s most terrifying runs that starts off with a near-sheer drop followed by a plague of moguls. But it isn’t all about the piste and off-piste. The Portes Du Soleil is also littered with gnarly parks. In total, there are seven, and a super halfpipe that can be found in Avoriaz. So if you are looking for somewhere to go for no other reason than pure adrenaline and the chance to go big, then you’ve found it. What’s more, if you’re looking for a place to kickstart your freestyle career but aren’t exactly in the mood to ruin your week by breaking a leg, there are also four free-to-tackle air bags. If you haven’t seen or heard of these before, they are quite simply huge inflatable landing mats placed behind massive kickers (also known as jumps). All this and we haven’t even mentioned The Stash. This is in what the locals call The Lindarets Bowl, and is a freestyle park nestled among the trees where most of the jumps and rails are carved into the surrounding nature. Think tree stumps, savagely cut timber, felled trees and gorillas, lots of gorillas. It’s a pretty special place.
As for the off-piste, there is an extensive backcountry on offer throughout the Portes Du Soleil, making it the ideal destination for even the most advanced skiers and snowboards. What’s more, some of the best backcountry is close to the pistes, meaning you don’t have to get up before dawn, pay someone with a skidoo for their time and spend 6 hours hiking. All it will take is a 5-10 minute hike at the top of a chair lift and you’ll find an untouched wilderness where first tracks can be enjoyed over and over again. Such are the benefits of having all that space.
Ideal For Families
Given mountain breaks are no longer exclusive to the mega-wealthy or those lucky enough to be born at high-altitude, many families are now starting to enjoy it as one of their holidays. This is where Portes Du Soleil shines most. It is the ideal visit for those with kids, because it isn’t all about the skiing. There are weekly ice-hockey matches you can watch, and incredible indoor water-oasis’ such as L’Aquariaz in Avoriaz, which is based on Amazon rainforest with slides and rivers and a rubber-ring halfpipe for the insane.
In short, everything you could possibly want from a winter break can be found in this incredible area. Everything. But don’t take our word for it, go and explore for yourself.