Ski Holidays in the Portes du Soleil
Ski holidays in the Portes du Soleil offers hundreds of skiing miles, 12 interlinked ski resorts and two different countries to experience. The tourist offices in the resorts making up the Portes du Soleil will argue that their ski domain is the 'largest interlinked ski area in the world' and not the Three Valleys, Paradiski or Super Dolomiti ski domains.
The 'Gateway to the sun' is claimed to have 650km of ski pistes although an independent study measured the total interlinked distance at 426km. Regardless of what, or who, you believe ski holidays in the Portes du Soleil will offer you a massive and varied ski area.
There are 12 separate ski resorts in the Portes du Soleil area with 7 on the French side of the border and 5 on the Swiss side. No passport is needed to travel from one country to the next and all resorts are covered on the same lift pass. The cross-border nature of the skiing is one of the main attractions of a ski holiday in the Portes du Soleil. The French resorts are very different from the Swiss ones, and the many on-mountain eateries are just as varied.
The resorts are not high altitude by French and Swiss standards with skiing ranging from 2,500m at the highest to 900m at the lowest. However, the Lake Geneva/Mont Blanc micro climate ensures that the area gets more than its fair share of snow allowing a snow-sure winter season in the higher resorts from mid December through to April. Apart from 'the wall' which is located between Avoriaz and Les Crosets, the on-piste skiing is relatively easy, and with the huge distances possible is suited most to intermediate skiers and snowboarders. Experts will find some interesting off-piste terrain and beginners are well catered for especially in Les Gets and Avoriaz.
The French resorts:
The first chairlift (a single seater) was installed above the village of Les Gets in the late 1930's so skiing in the French resorts of the Portes du Soleil is not far off its 100th birthday. There are four principal resorts on the French side of the ski domain: Les Gets and neighbouring Morzine, Avoriaz perched on its cliff edge at 1800m, and Chatel. Each has a distinct character and history so although they share the same ski area a ski holiday in each resort will give a totally different experience.
Les Gets is the nearest ski resort to Geneva (less than one hour's drive from the airport) and sits in the col between Taninges to the west and Morzine to the east at an altitude of 1,170 metres. Les Gets is a pretty chalet style resort with a small collection of attractive hotels in its centre. The skiing from the village is separated into two areas which climb either side of the valley. The Mont Chery side has the more challenging skiing with blacks, reds and a couple of blue runs and is considered very much a locals' mountain. It also has a snow park with airbag jump, rails and kickers. The other side of the valley is called the Chavannes and this links with the skiing above Morzine. Here the skiing is much more suited to families with lots of gentle greens and blues that feed into the Chavannes bowl. There are also some challenging runs on the Chavannes side of the valley and on a powder day the north facing slopes offer some great skiing between the trees, lifts and pistes. Furthermore, the powder bowl that is reached after a 15 minute hike from the top of the Ranfoilly lift is considered by some to be one of the best powder bowls of the Alps, and the terrain accessed from the top of the Chamossiere chairlift (skiers' right or skiers' left) is also excellent for experts seeking off-piste thrills. However, Les Gets remains very much a family ski resort and several chalet companies with included childcare are based here. View prices and availability for all chalets in Les Gets.
The Morzine Valley has been inhabited since the middle ages but the slate mines of the eighteenth century established Morzine as a proper market town. Given its age Morzine has a real established sense of place and history. It feels like a proper working town rather than a ski resort simply because it is a proper working town. Situated at 1,000 metres it is a little lower lying than Les Gets but has twice the population. The skiing on the Pleney side of the resort is fairly gentle and best suited to beginners and early intermediates. With its closeness to Geneva Airport (one hour transfer), easy slopes, British ski schools and wide choice of cheaper chalets and hotels Morzine has established itself as a top destination for British family ski holidays. View prices and availability for all chalets in Morzine.
When it was designed and built during the 1960's Avoriaz was seen as a pinnacle of architectural achievement. With financial backing from Bremont, a leading French industrialist of the age, the vision of Jean Vuarnet (the local racer who won 'Downhill' gold in the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics) and a team of architects influenced by the modern architecture practices of the mid 20th century (Le Corbusier/Bauhaus etc) the ski resort of Avoriaz was created. Avoriaz is purpose built in a unique style with its high rise buildings clad in cedar shingles and is car free. At an altitude of 1800m the thoroughfares that meander through the resort are almost always snow-covered so that getting around the resort is either on skis or in horse-drawn sleighs.
There is just one hotel in Avoriaz and a collection of good quality catered chalets. The skiing around Avoriaz is the highest and most challenging in the whole of the Portes du Soleil with easy access to the famous 'Swiss Wall' which is a long, steep mogul field on the Champery side of the Pas de Chavanette. However, despite the tougher terrain there are plenty of pistes for family skiing, and with the ski in ski out nature of Avoriaz's accommodation plus the new Aquariaz water centre (with two Amazon themed swimming pools, a super pipe and spa facilities) the resort has regained its place as a premier ski destination. View prices and availability for all chalets in Avoriaz.
Chatel is a village style resort (about the same size as Les Gets) which like Morzine is as much a summer resort, especially highly regarded for its mountain biking, as it is a winter ski resort. The resort retains much of its traditional village charm and atmosphere and offers a quiet base from which to explore the ski area of the Portes du Soleil. There are links via the snow sure north facing slopes to the back of Avoriaz, and separate lift links to the main Portes du Soleil ski area through Morgins on the Swiss side of the border. View prices and availability for all chalets in Chatel.
The Swiss resorts:
Although the journey from Geneva to the Swiss ski resorts of the Portes du Soleil area is quicker via road (130km = 1.75 hours journey time) the more popular option is to take a train on the uber-efficient Swiss Rail network. The journey will be longer but for many it is less stressful than driving and a lot cheaper than taking a private taxi. Travelling around the north shore of Lake Geneva gives you a spectacular south facing view of the Alps (make sure you are sitting on the right hand side of the train) so that your journey is both smooth and scenic one. The travel time from Geneva Airport to Aigle, in the Valais Canton of Switzerland, takes about one and a half hours. At Aigle you need to change trains (usually just a matter of crossing platforms), or hop on a post bus, for the one hour journey to your resort. The total journey time via the train from Geneva Airport to Champery, for example, will be approximately two and a half hours.
This is the principal Swiss resort of the Portes du Soleil. Although dating back many centuries as a farming community Champery grew as a tourist destination from the middle of the Nineteenth Century when the Grand Hotel Dents du Midi opened (1857). Until the 1960's Champery was a summer destination for people wanting the fresh clean air of the Alps. However, with the construction of the Champéry – Planachaux cable car (125 passengers) in 1969 the resort became part of the Portes du Soleil - the largest interlinked ski area in the world at the time. Today the village of Champery has a year round population of approximately 1,300 inhabitants, 20% of which are resident foreign nationals. It is a charming and pretty ski resort, retaining its Swiss historical heritage. The ski area suits intermediates and experts but beginners are not advised to stay here as there are few gentle slopes to learn on. You cannot ski back to resort which means skiers need to download in the cable car at the end of the day.
On the south east facing sunny plateau high above Champery lies the little hamlet resort of Les Crosets. If you are a beginner and wish to stay in one of the Swiss resorts of the Portes du Soleil this would make the perfect choice. Most of the accommodation here is ski-in and ski-out and there are plenty of gentle runs in and around the resort on which to learn. Being at high altitude (1,680m) the snow cover is reliable and the snow quality very good. Les Crosets really is a very small resort, more a small collection of hotels and apartments than a village, and the nightlife is fairly tame. However, there are some pretty lively apres ski bars so there is fun to be had. We recommend the British owned Mountain Lodge chalet hotel - offering good value accommodation and a welcoming atmosphere.
Reaching the Portes du Soleil from the UK
If you are staying on the French side of the Portes du Soleil ski domain flying to Geneva and travelling by road is the obvious option. The journey time from Geneva to Les Gets or Morzine is an hour, and it only takes a bit longer to reach the higher resort of Avoriaz. There are plenty of taxi firms offering the route from Geneva Airport which means that the costs are competitive. The price for a private taxi transfer (an 8 passenger minibus) is approximately £375 (January 2018) working out at less than £50 per person.
Travelling to the Swiss side of the ski area there are a couple of options. Again Geneva Airport is the most popular gateway and from here you can either drive (1.75 hours) or take the train (2.5 hours). You can also fly to Sion which is a bit closer to the Swiss resorts. However, there are far fewer flights operating between here and the UK.
Given the region's location in the northern Alps of France and western Alps of Switzerland it is very possible to self-drive to the Portes du Soleil from the UK. The journey time from Calais to Morzine is under 8.5 hours which means the drive is very manageable in just one day.
Activities for non skiers
With a year round population of nearly 3,000 people the resort of Morzine is the largest in the region. As a fully functioning year round town Morzine offers the best and widest range of non-skier activities. There are over 70km of cross country trails (mostly in the beautiful Nyon Valley) and in town there is a cinema, ice skating rink (ice hockey matches are exciting to watch) and plenty of shops and bars. In the surrounding area there are some great marked walking trails and you can also try snow-shoeing as well as take a scenic helicopter ride or go snowmobiling. Les Gets (France) and Champery (Switzerland) have walking trails and a small selection of shops and restaurants but for non-skiers Morzine is really the best option in the Portes du Soleil area and by some margin.
Ski schools in the Portes du Soleil
There are several ski schools in the Portes du Soleil ski area. However, the biggest and best independent ski school in the region is the British Alpine Ski School (BASS). Established in 1993 they were one of the first British owned and managed ski schools in France, and today have offices in 11 resorts including the Three Valleys, Espace Killy, Chamonix Valley and Portes du Soleil areas. They consistently receive very good reports and customer reviews from our clients and we are always happy to recommend them.
When to go to the Portes du Soleil ski region
The ski resorts of the Portes du Soleil area are low altitude by French and Swiss ski resort standards. They do have many fine qualities offering short airport transfers, great mountain restaurants, a huge ski area, and villages with real charm and character. However, snow reliability, especially at the end of the season in late March and April, is not one of the region's plus points. If we want to put a really positive spin on the question of snow reliability/quality you can argue that as most of the Portes du Soleil ski area is grassland pasture in the summer months that it only takes 20-30cm of snow to get the resorts properly up and running - there are no large rocks to cover up in Morzine, Les Gets and Champery! Although this argument holds true in December the reality is that when the weather warms up in March and April the snow cover quickly melts. We would never recommend a ski holiday to the Portes du Soleil in April unless of course you were going for reasons other than to ski.
At the beginning of the season when the air temperatures are mostly below freezing the Portes du Soleil ski resorts can often open sooner than the higher resorts of France and Switzerland. This is because much less snow cover is needed to prepare the pistes and just one decent snowfall is enough to transform the landscape into a snowy paradise. The Portes du Soleil region as a whole comes into its own during January, February and the beginning of March when the region is still in the grips of mid winter the snow cover and snow quality are both reliable.