Saturday, May 10, 2008

Skiing in Avoriaz and Les Portes

After experiencing a frustrating holiday in Flaine, around the time of the heavy snowfalls leading to extensive avalanches around the Alps, we decided to take advantage of a late booking, in hope of some of the snow remaining.

By a strange quirk of travel agency, we ended up on the same flight as we had to Flaine, so we faced another early start (3:30am) to get to the airport in time. We grabbed a pretty good breakfast at the airport and, suprisingly for the Easter holidays our flight left on time (7:55 am). On arrival at Geneva we achieved a quick getaway this time, with none of the waiting for other flights which had blighted our trip to Flaine, and the transfer to Avoriaz, via Morzine, took less than 90 minutes on quiet roads. Promisingly, it was raining on arrival in Geneva, which quickly turned to snow as we made our way up the mountain.

On arrival in Avoriaz, we checked straight into the Pierre & Vaccances run Porte Du Soleil apartments. With no ski room the appartments smelt of damp and the room was small and poorly equipped. In Avoriaz, luggage has to be loaded into sled, towed by rac-trac, while you walk or sled to the accomodation as coaches and cars are banned from the village centre.

The resort of Avoriaz is well laid out, with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants easily reached on foot. There are 2 supermarkets (Codec and Sherpa), which are fairly well stocked but they still ran out of fresh milk one day.

Many restaurants do takeaway food. We ate at Les Intrets (good pizzas and desserts) and Les Fontaines Blanches (excellent steak in black pepper sauce plus ice cream desserts to follow. If you go, have vegetables instead of frites).

Lifts and pistes run through the village allowing skiing to and from virtually any accomodation. The area at the top (Plateau) allows links to Morzine and Les Lindaret and on to Switzerland.

Lifts at the bottom of village allow access to Hautes Forts area, with long blues and genuinely challenging Blacks (especially Machon's mogul fields). The Coupe du Monde run is mainly of red level, however. A couple of good restaurants can be found here near the end of the runs (which converge), the one reached from the blue track (above the black piste) seemed more reasonably priced and was run by a woman who seemed to be alone as chief cook, barmaid and bottle-washer!

Access to Chavanette is also possible from the area of the Haute Forts. There's a good, unpisted, red under the Choucas chairlift and you can reach the steep mogulled Swiss Wall from here. This, near legendary run, is a fairly long and very steep (at the top) mogul filed, best avoided by beginners and lower intermediates!

Taking the Chaux Fleurie lift from Les Lindarets allows access to Chatel and on. Les Lindarets valley has many places to eat, all doing reasonably priced food. The Swiss areas and Chatel are more open, with some good runs, but slushy snow in Easter sun from pretty early.

A good, albeit short, black runs under a lift at Champoussin and leads back to a restaurant (by the lift) with excellent views of the Dents Du Midi. You can ski from Avoriaz, through Les Lindarets, Chatel, Morgins, Champousin, over Champerey and back to Avoriaz comfortably in a day, with time to do the Wall near the end if you want (we did).

Runs from Avoriaz (over Les Prodains and Super Morzine) are very flat and dull, perhaps making it better to take the bus from Les Prodaines (reached from blacks on Hauts Fortes and easier runs or cable car from Avoriaz).

Skiing in the Morzine area is generally lower than Avoriaz or Switzerland, making lower run slushy even on our cold, overcast first day. However, there are many reds in this area, making it more interesting to intermediates and worth a day's visit for anyone. Earlier in a good season, it probably provides great skiing for a week. Les Gets has a couple of blacks but we never reached them.

Off piste was great when we visited (27 March - 3 April) with abundant spring snow for both expert and advanced intermediate alike. Some powder could still be found with the help of ski school or guides.

Overall, a great place to visit. Our apartment was not wonderful, and conditions were unusually good for the time of year. However, the true ski-in, ski-out nature of the resort, well linked lift systems extending over hundreds of miles and varied pistes and off piste options mark it out as one of the very best resorts we've visited.

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