But when Brit ex-pat Roland met us, it all became clear. It's road travel all the way to Morzine, a ridiculously pretty town of streets lined with Heidi-style chalet shops and restaurants, followed by the high-speed Prodane gondola up the sheer rock face to Avoriaz, at 1,800m. In fact, the tower blocks of apartments blend just enough with the color of the cliffs to look at first glance like an extension of them.
Designed and built in the mid-1960s for the sole purpose of being a ski resort, you could be forgiven for thinking it wouldn't have a lot of charm. And while it isn't pretty the way Morzine or Megéve are, the place starts to grow on you fairly quickly.
One of its charms is being car-free, so transportation is limited to skis or boards, walking or horse-drawn – and in one case we saw, husky-drawn – sleds. Even delivery trucks are on runners, which gives the place a peaceful, quiet, relaxed feel. Also, it is, of course, very convenient. Steps from the front door of our apartment building ('Snow') was a supermarket with on-site bakery (essential for those morning croissants) and a café/bar that served great food at mealtimes, then mutated into a live-music venue during the late afternoon. In fact, just about everything was a few steps from Snow, including the lift-pass cashiers, ski hire, tourist office, souvenir shops, skating rink and children's snowpark.
It's also the ultimate ski-in/ski-out town because, as it's on a slope, with chairlifts taking off at the bottom of town and stopping at the top, you literally put your skis on on the doorstep and off you go.
We were lucky in that it had snowed a lot in the previous week, but not at all during our four days, so we got all the blue skies and sunshine. In fact, as we'd come the first week of March, on our third day, it was seriously hot, with the snow heavy slush on the lower slopes.
Buy an Avoriaz pass (€40 per day) to ski just in this domain. It won't disappoint, as there's plenty of skiing here, cleverly divided into two distinct areas so you can always escape the crowds, wind, sun or shade, depending on the conditions; or go the whole hog and get a Portes du Soleil pass (€48), which opens up whole other valleys and – even – countries, as Avoriaz sits practically on the Swiss border. We only did this on one day because there really is plenty of skiing just in Avoriaz.
However, our day over on the slopes above Chatel was sublime. This is a place I went to about six years ago now, when I did my first peak-week ski holiday repping, and the whole experience made a big impact on me for lots of reasons (this would take at least another whole other blog to explain!), so suffice to say the place holds a special place in my heart and it meant a lot to me to go back. Also, we cleverly skied through lunchtime (12-2pm) and had the pistes to ourselves for two hours. Awesomely amazing.
A word about the Swiss border: when we arrived, there was one of those sweet-looking dogs trained to sniff out weed waiting to greet folks as they got off the lift. One of his tricks was jumping up to check out backpacks belonging to young men of the boarding persuasion, which made me think they could call them 'boarder' patrol (ha ha ha...).
On our last day, our mission was to visit the igloo we'd seen on our very first run of the first day. Inside it was another world: of snow carvings, disco balls, colored lights, banging music and a bar. But, being our last day, we wanted to enjoy that most Alpine experience of sitting outside, soaking in the mountains in the sunshine and enjoying the kind of carb-fest you can only allow yourself when you're spending hours a day hitting the slopes.
Would I recommend it? Let's just say that, on our last night, we were looking in the real-estate agents' windows...
|Avoriaz from above|