The resorts of the Portes du Soleil are ever increasing in popularity. With seasonnaire numbers growing with every year, Rosa Wildy investigates what the hype is all about.
I first realized the gigantic size of the Portes du Soleil ski area when I can’t open the piste map on a chair lift. Spidery blue, red and black lines creep out from every fold. They start on the left in Champéry and keep on going. Over mountains, into valleys, sneaking past lakes and crawling through towns until the tentacles run out of steam at the far right of the page in Les Gets.
Spanning over two countries (Switzerland and France), the area encompasses everything right about Alpine skiing: namely snow, sunshine and lots of cheese. Food (and drink) featured highly on the visit. Must-visit establishments include ‘The Irish Pub’ in Les Gets which is much more exciting than it sounds. The bar has its own microbrewery and a bustling local atmosphere. If I had space to recommend all the worthy après ski and restaurants this piece would go on and on. And as we all know at Powderroom, the boarding takes precedent (check out the fact box at the bottom of the piece for more suggestions).
Once we’d tackled the piste map, we decided to spread our time between, Champéry, Morgins, Châtel, Avoriaz, Morzine, Les Gets as well as some other smaller satellites. In some instances the areas blend into each other, in others crossing from one to the other is more difficult. For boarders and skiers alike the crossover between Les Gets and Morzine involves a five-minute walk across town. Aside from this we decided that the Portes du Soleil should consider erecting ‘go faster’ signs, in warning for nasty flat bits. These occasionally snuck up on us and were a real pain.
However, these horizontal menaces aren’t representative of the boarding as a whole. For €205, the 6-day lift pass will open up the whole 650km area. To make it cheaper you can have a more area-specific pass although skiing all over is strongly recommended.
Aside from the great selection of parks and the notable powder at Les Prodains, the most appealing thing about the Portes du Soleil is the four no-limits snowcross areas. These are wide-open, un-pisted slopes, described as ‘Off piste but in bounds’. Free to roam around and play in the various mini gullies, natural kickers, drops and bumps of powder, these areas provide riders with maximum satisfaction. They are made even more fun as you’re safe in the knowledge that the areas are blasted to prevent avalanches.
Although it hadn’t snowed for five days the north facing aspect of many runs meant that the snow (though tracked) felt soft and fresh. Once you’ve had a nice warm up in the snowcross areas no self-respecting (advanced) boarder can go home with out doing ‘Le Mur Swiss’ aka ‘The Wall’. Apparently we tackled this Avoriaz run on a good day, though I’d hate to see it on a ‘bad’ day. Battling vertigo I plucked up the courage to drop off the top. This terrifying-looking stretch is tipped at the longest, bumpiest and steepest run in Europe. And guarantees a sense of satisfaction, if you make it to the bottom unscathed that it. Many dodgy traverses, ugly turns and a couple of sit-downs later I found myself promising not to do it again and secretly pretty proud.
Down in Champéry the extreme activities just kept on coming. Après-ski took a different turn. No beer, no sauna but um…swinging. Between trees of course. Strapped into harnesses and taught how to use carabineers we were given the chance to act like Tarzan and Jane. Launching ourselves from tree to tree, sometimes 60meters in the air is a pretty terrifying thing – especially when you’ve been solely responsible for attaching yourself. This all went on in almost complete darkness, the moonlight shining creepily through the tree canopy. Whether this made it more or less scary I couldn’t tell but one thing is for sure, it was immense fun. Fred, the instructor, assured us that they had never had any injuries but that people occasionally need to be winched down. If you want to risk becoming one of these humiliated group visit: www.champery-aventure.ch
Portes du Soleil lived up to its sunny name for four long days. Although they can’t guarantee the weather, the boarding and snow are more of a certainty. The diverse terrain, views and variety of après-ski activities ensure that even if the weather doesn’t hold up, Portes du Soleil will leave you feeling sunny all over.
The best way to get to Portes du Soleil is to fly to Geneva. From there the transfer is just over an hour. Skiidy Gonzales make transfers to Morzine, Avoriaz and Les Gets from €40 www.skiidygonzales.com
Cheaper: Two-star Hotel Bellevue has clean and comfortable rooms. It must be the finest location in the whole of Les Gets, only 100m walk from the lift station. www.hotel-bellevue74.com
Mid: Ok so the Hotel Macci is a damn site better than mid-range. It has four stars, a luxury spa and fab breakfast. It’s situated in the quaint French town of Châtel. www.hotelmacchi.com
Luxury: Nothing can prepare you for ‘The Lodge Champéry’. These American scale apartments can sleep up to six people. You can opt from a choice of different packages, ranging from totally self-catered to catered www.miggins.ch If you do decide to go out to dinner, check out their restaurant which dishes up Heston Blumental dishes such as XXX
Quirky: White pod Camp. These space age looking domes sit on the side of the mountain in the village of Les Cerniers. Prized for both comfort and eco-friendliness these will enable you to make the most of the mountain views. The only downside is that a trip to the loo involves going outside. www.whitepod.com
Les Gets – A cheese restaurant to end all cheese restaurants La Fruitière des Perrières offers mushroom, fizzy wine variations on the classic fondue. Simply stringy heaven: www.fruitiere-lesgets.com
Les Crosets – Tucked away in the new looking area of Les Crosets this is a lovely place to stop for lunch. L’Etable is furnished in bizarre, modern fittings (pink velvet and plastic pvc) but has delicious unpretentious dishes. www.hotel-etable.ch
Châtel – La Table d’Antoine
Morzine – Bored of cheese? Ok I thought not, but if you want to diversify on your dairy intake. Check out the Chocolate fondue at La Grange. www.lagrange-morzine.com
Headline Photo: Portes du Soleil/Matthieu Bozon