Les Portes du Soleil – Riding the Doors of the Sun
Deciding on your next place to shred some powder can be difficult. People tend to stick to the same haunts and end up riding the same runs their entire life. That old adage ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is very true. If you’re the kind of snowboarder that likes variety, and money’s no object then a trip to Les Portes du Soleil could be for you.
The Swiss resort (whose name in English means ‘the doors of the sun’) is nestled between France and Switzerland. It stretches all the way between Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva. It’s position on the mountain creates its own micro-climate often resulting in perfect snow conditions.
Off piste runs cover the landscape, ideal for beginners to experts
Les Portes du Soleil offers a large array of snowfields. Over 650 kms (404 mi.) worth of piste and off piste runs cover the landscape. It’s ideal for beginners to experts. The highest point in the area is 2466m (1.5 mi), the lowest, 1000m (0.62mi). There are more than 200 lifts linking the area, stretching over 14 valleys. The amount of options can be perplexing, so to make things simpler, an easy-to-navigate circuit has been mapped out. You can efficiently ride the area without leaving your board. The circuit can be taken in a clockwise (recommended for beginners) or counter clockwise (for intermediates and above) direction. It offers a whistle-stop tour of the entire region, it’s tight, but it’s doable.
While Les Portes du Soleil offers over a dozen resorts to choose from, the discerning snowboarder would probably gravitate towards Morzine, Avoriaz and Chatel. These resorts aren’t focused solely on skiing. The resorts are relatively larger than the others and have much more on offer. Not just in terms park or powder riding, but also in regards to restaurants and bars.
Nyon and Mt Chery have some excellent backcountry snowboarding
Morzine, the heart of Les Portes du Soleil, is a great place to start. Plenty of long tree lined runs on the Pleney provide an excellent proving ground for beginners and intermediates alike. Morzine is one of the few areas that doesn’t make it onto the main circuit. Partially because it’s central location interrupts the flow, but mainly because the region is huge. Morzine is comprised of around 150kms in both piste and off piste runs. For both the casual and hard core boarder, the Nyon and Mt Chery areas have some excellent backcountry snowboarding. The freestyle boarder has options in Morzine but would probably feel better checking out neighbouring Avoriaz. It contains an abundance of parks.
Morzine’s biggest draw card is it’s village, which probably has the best food scene in the region. With over 150 world class restaurants to choose from, one is spoiled for choice. Check out Etale near the Pleney lift for extra large pizzas and traditional French cuisine. Or you could treat yourself at Atelier D’alexandre, widely regarded as the most top shelf restaurant in the area.The resort also boasts a vibrant night life by French standards (which are pretty high). Ranging from cheap and cheerful (jazz and beer at the Cafe Chaud), to expensive and opulent (sommelier selected wine at The Wine Bar Chaudanne) there is something for every taste.
Located just above Morzine is the resort Avoriaz, accessed via the Super Morzine or the Prodains Express runs. Avoriaz is largely considered the snowboarding capital of Europe. During the late 80’s and early 90’s Snowboarders were considered somewhat of a pariah, particularly amongst the more elite resorts in Europe. Avoriaz was a haven for snowboarding, happily welcoming the sport to its slopes whilst others closed their doors. Avoriaz didn’t stop there, going one step further by becoming the first resort to offer a ‘snowboarding only’ section complete with its own pipe and lifts.
The rustic Chatel area remains unspoilt
They claim to have the oldest snow park in Europe, first used in 1993 on the Blue D’Arare slope. The formation of the park piqued the curiosity of the Parisian skating community, who descended on the area just to have a look and ended up staying for the season, and the season after that, and so on. Its role in the development of the sport is reflected in its selection of world class snow parks (six on the mountain with the addition of a half pipe in the centre of town).While Avoriaz is a little more family orientated, it doesn’t mean that they’ve sacrificed the night life for it; catch some live indie music at Le Place, check out La Yak if cheesy house is more your scene or just relax with a pint at the English styled pub Le Tavaillon.
If you want to avoid the crowds and hustle and bustle of the larger resorts, try Chatel. It is one of the few areas in the region that remains relatively unspoiled. Located on the North Eastern limits of Portes du Soleil, Chatel retains its quaint feel with a typically rustic French village and a stalwart approach to tourism. However, this doesn’t mean that Chatel is a backwater lacking in facilities; in recent years the addition of new lifts has connected the two separate slopes that comprise the resort and also the resort to the rest of the region.
Chatel’s accessible off piste seems infinate
For the freestyle rider there is the well maintained park in Super Chatel. If you want to explore the backcountry, the amount of accessible off piste runs seems almost infinite. Serenity is the name of the game in Chatel. Everything from the traditional authenticity of the lively French dominated village, to the modest chalet style accommodation. The resident farming community and the breathtaking views of Lake Geneva, Chatel is like riding through your own personal postcard. In keeping with the rustic aesthetic of the resort, Chatel doesn’t offer much in the way of nightlife. The Avalanche and Lion D’or are decent place for apres ski with happy hour every day.
There is a nightclub in town inauspiciously named Sloopy’s, that you could spend your evenings in, if for nothing more than a bit of a laugh. Chatel is the place to visit if you want to avoid the more touristy aspects of the region. The accommodation is almost exclusively chalets and family run hotels. It’s a nice change of pace from the more party inclined resorts.
A wide variety of accommodation for tourists exists in the Portes du Soleil region. From large ski-hotels to independently-owned catered ski chalets, the wide variety of resorts offers something for all. While it may be a little more costly destination than your childhood stomping grounds, Les Portes du Soleil guarantees a memorable experience, both on and off the slopes.