We have been on a mission. One that has proved to be challenging and exciting, sometimes it has felt like a task which has been both fun and at times frustrating… It had lots of ups and downs (please excuse the pun). UP – 200 lifts/pommels/t-bars/telecabins/walking. DOWN – 650km of piste. Twelve (or so) resorts in France and Switzerland all linked together as the Portes du Soleil. Morzine, Les Gets, Avoriaz, Chatel, Champoussin, Les Crosets, Champery, Morgins, La Chapelle-d’Abondance, Saint-Jean-d’Aulps, Torgon and Abondance. Across fourteen valleys it ranks in the top two largest ski areas in the world with Les Trois Vallees.
The mission was to complete every single piste in the Porte du Soleil. Green, blue, red and blacks. In the process we think we have probably covered at least 2500-3500km in the whole season, with over a hundred plus days on the board.
Below is a summary of our Portes du Soleil mission across each of the resorts along with little tips, highlights, favourite restaurants, in the order that we completed all the runs in each resort and a few photos of our adventures.
This is one of 3 areas of the Portes du Soliel that can’t be accessed from Morzine/Avoriaz (the other two being Abondance and St-Jean). Will and Trisha were staying with us and we thought a little adventure for everyone in Jumpy would be good and the pistes at the resort had plenty of greens and blues for Trisha who was learning to ski. It was a fun little trip and the resort was completely empty. We had a few beers at the end of the day at the bar in the middle of the resort and finally piste security came in and said we had to head down to the car park. We took the long green all the way down, with the piste security right behind shouting “Allez, allez!!” and Trisha shouting back “This is as fast as I can go” as she snow ploughed her way down the slope. Will was riding beside her saying “Come on Trish, this isn’t scary, you can walk faster than this…”
There had been some fresh snow a few days previously that was already pretty tracked out in Avoriaz but at La Chapelle it seems that not many people ride off piste (or on-piste for that matter).
Throughout this mission there have been several moments where I thought we may not complete every run. As we set off for Abondance in Jumpy on a nice sunny day, I did not think that Abondance would be a challenge that stood in the way of our mission, but I was wrong. We were greeted by a very cute small old school bubble for four in which people sat back to back and meant that everyone had a great view either up or down the hill, little did we know that this would be the last time we would sit down all day. For, with the exception of one chair which provides access to just two runs on the backside of Abondance, the rest of the resort is accessed by draglifts/pommels/teleski or as I (Jules) renamed them during our day – teleseige. I have never been much of a fan of draglifts but by this stage of the season while I wouldn’t have said I enjoyed them I could generally get to the top without disaster. That was until Abondance.
The first teleseige of the day I fell off before I had really got on, but with a sigh of relief managed it second time. Then came Teleski Corne 2, which we were required to catch 5 times in order to complete all the runs, generally once you are on the teleseige and being dragged up the hill you are OK. Not with Corne 2. I got on just fine and then just as the hill began to get steeper the teleseige decided to drag me off-piste and dumped me there. This happened not once, but twice and as I sat on the snow part way up second time around, I thought ‘if I don’t get to the top this time, that’s it, I give up and we will have failed the mission’. I had been worried that the Swiss Wall would be the hardest part of this mission, but no it’s a teleseige in Abondance. Since the title of this post is Porte du Soleil complete, you will have guessed that I did make it up on the third attempt and then five more times. Teleski Corne 2 did however have the last laugh, by dumping Rob off on his fifth time up.
Abondance teleseige 4 – Robboy and Jules 0. However, Abondance is complete and the mission still still on track (thankfully not being pulled by teleski Corne 2).
This is the furthest point from Morzine that we travelled on our snowboards. We had heard about the great off-piste and had been waiting for a powder day to travel all the way over there, however as the sun came and stayed we were worried that not only might there be no more powder there might be no more snow. The off-piste terrain certainly looked fantastic and would be good to keep in mind in the future after a the powder in the rest of the Porte du Soleil is tracked out. That being said, it is a long way from Morzine to Torgon and back again.
Throughout our mission Rob has continually been looking for chamois (mountain goats). The closest we came to seeing one was in Torgon. In the morning we took the teleseige Djeu des Tetes up, in the afternoon when we were being dragged up it again there were chamois tracks all the way up the draglift path.
Torgon is one of the Swiss resorts and we always noticed when we crossed the boarder from France into Switzerland the signposting was vastly improved. However, Torgon was the only place where we saw piste markers down the centre of the piste rather than on either side.
Morzine was our second favourite area to snowboard. It also was the place we went to when anyone staying with us was getting lessons. It had our favourite restaurant – Chez Nannon (see previous post). We had some amazing off piste days off the top of Pointe de Nyon and Jules’s run of the season came from an on piste red from the top of Chamossiere Express. We were out riding with Will and there had been a large dump of snow overnight, but Will didn’t have much experience with off piste powder skiing so we were sticking mainly on piste. We arrived at the back of Morzine about 10am and found that they hadn’t opened the Chamossiere chair yet as they were still bombing to check for avalanches. Just as we arrived it opened and we were about the 6th chair up. When we got to the top we found that the red run had 20cm of fresh powder on top of a beautifully groomed run. We took off down the hill straight lining with plenty of whooping and hollering. About halfway down we noticed that we had passed all the people on the chair in front of us and had fresh lines down the remainder of the piste. It was fantastic. We repeated several times before it became tracked out, then dropped off piste for a few and finally we had to go and meet up with Trisha after her lesson.
We also had several good powder tree runs with Addy B and AK from the same chair with a little cornice drop to add to the excitement. It remains the home of one last powder off piste adventure that we never got to complete which was hiking from Chamossiere chair out to Pointe d’Angolon and riding back down into the Valley de la Manche (we need to save some more adventures for next time).
Morzine also had the home run from hell that wrapped from Nyon back to the Pleney bubble. We only did it once. A narrow flat cat track that was filled with beginners trying their best not to crash into you. You needed to keep as much speed as possible or end up walking (one of the issues of snowboarding vs skiing). And it was generally icy. Very icy. That kind of flat icy piste that all snowboarders, especially beginning snowboarders hate. That fear in the back of your mind of catching an edge. Front edge to face wack or back edge to head slap. At the end of the run Rob turned to Julie and said “I don’t think that I have every held my sphincter so tight for so long…”
The slopes of Morzine were our view that we will never grow tired of as well.
Champoussin was the resort that we didn’t ever go to for riding. We spent some time ticking off the runs, but it was generally on our way to or from Morgins. It was very quiet though, and we had a lovely day riding with Jeany. It was a hot, sunny day and the pistes were becoming very slushy but were still freshly groomed from the night before. What we experienced was similar to powder riding on pisted slush. It was fantastic going flat out, leaning right back on the tail and cutting slushy carves. It was also the backdrop to one of our favourite views in the Portes du Soliel. The Dents du Midi (translated as the Teeth of the South).
Morgins, Switzerland. We had a saying that it was always sunnier in Switzerland. Probably not true, but it seemed that if it was a sunny day we would go further afield and end up over in Switzerland somewhere. Morgins was a good morning of riding away, a few sunny beers, a lovely view of the Dents du Midi whilst eating our baguette and then an afternoon cruise back. It had a very long blue run that the first time we did it with plenty of snow and not many people and had a hoot. The second time we did it with Addy B. It turned out to be very icy and full of people (not as bad as the Morzine home run, but getting close). Addy B wasn’t impressed with our piste choice (or more correctly Rob’s choice). It is home to possibly the dodgiest lift on the Portes du Soleil. It was a tiny 3 seater that looked like it came from someone’s garden in the 70s. It was made with blue plastic straps, and every time we rode it up we held on quite tightly, not that it would help if the thing broke off the wire ropes…
It also was one of the first resorts to suffer due to the long spells of sun that we had, and proved to be one of the first runs that we couldn’t complete on our snowboards and had to be completed on foot. The blue run from Super Chatel into Morgins was grass from about halfway down. We had followed the snow for as far as we could, which ended up at a restaurant. We asked the restaurant how we could get down along the piste, and they said that it would take us over an hour. They offered that if we ate at their restaurant they would take us back up to the chair on their skidoo and we could catch the chair down. We felt that this would be cheating (and we also had our baguettes) so kindly thanked them and walked off down the hill. It only took us half an hour as well, and felt satisfaction that the run was ticked off. We were now starting to get concerned about how many other low lying sunny slopes were going to have to be walked rather than snowboarded.
Les Gets was good fun. It consists of the main part that connects next to Morzine, so like Morzine was a place we went when we had people that were getting lessons. It was home of the “fairy trail“. It also consists of Mont Chery which is on the opposite side of Les Gets, and because of this hardly anyone went there, so was always a good option if the other resorts were busy. Mont Chery is famous for it’s “4 star” view of Mont Blanc from the top. We didn’t realise that there was a star rating for views of Mont Blanc, but it is definitely very good. Its black mogul run that is actually steeper than the famous Swiss Wall (see below in Les Crosets). It wasn’t fun. But Julie was relieved to find this out after completing it because she was not sure if she could do the Swiss Wall if it was steeper. There was another favourite lunch baguette eating stop at the top of the Ranfoilly chair that had to be close to 4 star views of Mont Blanc as well. Another favourite spot to enjoy the views is at the top of the Chamiaz chair there is a lovely little bar that is fantastic on a sunny day (you just need to check which way the wind is blowing, as it has a chemical toilet that can get a little wiffy if you aren’t sitting in the right spot).
Whilst ticking off runs, we came across a lovely blue that didn’t have a single person on it (well actually there was one random walker sitting at a picnic table half way down. It comes off halfway down the Chavannes chair on skiers left (apparently a description for saying that as the person is coming down the slope it is on the left, just ask Addy B). The piste is difficult to find, but a sign at the start of the run says “Piste Tranquille” gives you an idea of what you are in for when you do. No one but you, the trees and the birds (and a random walker).
Mont Chery was the resort that involved our second walk due to lack of snow and closed runs. Not quite as bad as the Morgins piste, as it had some snow on the edge that meant we could ride about half of it. Jules unfortunately found out that boards don’t ride so well on mud as she tried to navigate down a particularly thin bit of snow and caught a front edge on dirt and ended up very muddy. Unfortunately no photos exist of this, due to the fact that Julie would have wrapped a snowboard around Rob’s head if he tried to document this…
We spent a lot of time boarding the Linga/Plaine Dranse side of Chatel, enjoying some early season off-piste adventures,it has many of our favourite runs, a restaurant with one of the best views in Porte du Soleil and was also where we finished our end of season off-piste adventure.
Chatel was the resort in which we first started focusing on completing all the runs, although due to it be being spread across a number of different areas it was one of the last we completed.
Throughout most of January it was our go-to place after a powder dump with many adventures in Happy Valley including an amazing morning boarding on our anniversary celebration followed by one of the best lunches we had all season at Le Blattin (next to TS Cornebois). It was one of the best days of my life, a morning spent carving up the powder and doing little drop offs followed by a delicious lunch of Croute and Tartiflette with lots of local white wine and little red. On the way home we stopped at a bar in Plaine Dranse to have a little genepi to power us home. Rob went and asked one of the lifties what time the last lift went back over in to Les Lindarets because if you miss the last lift it is a €100 taxi ride back to Morzine. The lifty said ‘Seize et trente’, which Rob then repeated back and the lifty confirmed with a ‘oui’. He came to me in the bar and said the last lift was at 6.30pm, we were both surprised because most of the other lifts shut between 4pm and 4.30pm. Just to be sure we asked the lady in the bar (in english this time) and she confirmed that the last lift was at 4.30pm or in French 16.30. Six and sixteen sound very similar and thankfully the miss understanding did not result in us missing the last lift home. The sunset bouncing along the cliffs below Avoriaz on the way down the home run back finished off a magical day.
This mission resulted us in discovering a number of runs that we would probably never have gone down otherwise and many are now some of our favourites. The first one we discovered was a lovely blue run from the top of Les Combes chair. Piste 31 – L’Itineaire is a picturesque winding blue which takes you through a valley in which you cannot see any chairs or other runs. First completed on an icy January morning, but one which we did many many times throughout the season on our list of favourite runs in the Porte du Soleil. The mission also gave us focus on days where otherwise the conditions were not as much fun as usual, such as ice and slush. Another run which we also completed on the same January morning was Le Linga – a steep icy long red. This run was not enjoyable on this morning and about half way down I lost my toe edge and started sliding very quickly down the sheet icy on my stomach. Eventually I managed to get enough of an edge in to stop, but every time I tried to get more of an edge in to stand up, I started sliding down the slope again. I was then frozen with fear, never have I felt such fear that I cannot move, but this is what happened on the steep sheet ice of Le Linga. I did eventually managed to make my way down, although I still do not know how. I was required to go down Le Linga many more times over the season and it was not as steep or as scary as I had remembered, however I never did enjoy the run as the memory of the fear just would not leave me.
To calm my nerves after Le Linga incident we headed straight to Snack Bar Les Combe. We were recommended this restaurant when we were in Morzine on holidays last year and it must have been the place we stopped most often over the season. It has some of the best views across Chatel, Les Lindaret and to Avoriaz and has a big wooden deck that you can sit out in the sun and enjoy the uninterrupted views, if the weather is cold and snowy then the inside is small but very cosy with doily covered lampshades. Snack Bar Les Combes also has Mutzig, weissbier, very good vin chaude and very good looking Croque Monsieur (which we never managed to eat due to the fact that every day we planned to go and eat it, the bar was closed).
There are a lot of very fun runs over in the Plaine Dranse, Pre La Joux and Sector Cornebois areas. One which we loved to hit first thing in the morning is Piste 36 – Les Rennes, it is a long red which is steep at the start and then opens out and you can just let the board go straight and very, very fast. A couple of times we were lucky enough to hit it after a some fresh snow had fallen on top of a perfectly pisted piste, with no one else around. I am pretty sure for both Rob and I this was the piste that we went the fastest. So much fun!
St Jean was the second time that we felt that we might not complete this mission (Abondance above being the first with all of it’s pommel lifts). Jules posted previously what a fantastic day we ended up having but it felt awful as we stood at the top of the far side of St Jean and found out that they had closed the backside of the mountain. We had only St Jean and a few runs left in Avoriaz and Les Crozets left. 2 short days of riding was all that remained, but we stood on top of this closed run thinking that we had wasted all our time as we couldn’t get down into this part of the resort and then back up again as the lift and pommel were shut. 4 runs that might not get completed. Whilst we were there a piste basher came up the hill carrying all the poles and signs from down in the valley. We stood looking down in silence and felt cheated. We learnt whilst standing there that it had actually only shut 2 days ago. We would have completed it if Jumpy hadn’t broken down as we were on the way to St Jean when it died two weeks earlier.
Meanwhile an older French gentleman came skinning up out of the valley. Rob eventually decided to go over and have a chat to him as he prepared to ski back down. In broken French/English we discovered it had taken him 2 hours to skin up (in his words very slowly). We pointed at the map to show him that we wanted to ride down, then hike up some pistes to get back on a final run back into the main St Jean resort. He said that it shouldn’t take us more than 2 hours to walk, so inspired us to have a go. It was 12 midday, and we had at least until 5pm to try and catch the bus back into Morzine. Plenty of time and another lovely sunny day. Fancy a walk? Why not. So we strapped in and kissed the Piste Ferme sign with a little slash of snow as we zipped past down the closed run. It was a really nice ride, 5km in length, then we came across the blue joining it, unstrapped and started our walk back up the piste which led to a red to get back. So technically, we didn’t go down these pistes, but we felt that the effort of walking up them counts. And we then found the most amazing lunch spot as per Jules’s previous post, and another amazing 5km run back into St Jean, which did run out of snow about halfway down, but we were so buzzing about completing this (and after finding an unopened chilled bottle of white wine at the top) that it didn’t matter. We now knew we were now going to complete the mission, as the final runs in Avoriaz and Les Crosets were all high and had plenty of snow on them or we could happily walk (after this adventure). With plenty of snow this Roc d’Enfer circuit in St Jean would definitely be a highlight of the Portes du Soleil. We just opted to make it a little more exciting.
Avoriaz was our home resort. Even though we looked out at Morzine from our bedroom every morning, we would walk down the hill to get the bus up to the Prodain Express which took us into Avoriaz village. From there we had access to the highest, steepest terrain of the Portes du Soleil. And also the busiest, especially in February when we were invaded by the Parisians, French (very different to the Parisians), English, Scots, Belgies as they all took their school holidays in a procession of different weeks. Luckily it was also home to some of our favourite off-piste that took us away from all the families (which thankfully always tended to stick to the piste) and February was also the month we had the best snow.
From Avoriaz we could access Chatel and Switzerland on our snowboards. It was also home to some of our favourite runs. Star Wars (a name that we thought was just given to it by seasonaires but were proved wrong when a little French girl asked her parents if they could go skiing down Star Wars). It is a long blue that leads down through dense forest and gets it’s name from the fact that you can fly down it and it gives you the impression of riding speeder bikes through the forest. It has lots of lovely little hits on the side that you can jump off and back onto piste. Another run, known as Jib run, off the Prolays chair is set up by seasonaires with kickers off the side of the run from top to bottom. Probably about 15 or so jumps that are a lot of fun and we finally got our 180 spins down on this piste. It can get a little frustrating after midday when the seasonaires finally make their way up and has been known to have up 10 or more people queueing up to use one of the kickers.
Our home run is another favourite, a lot of fun back down to the bus. We quite regularly would race each other back down to the bottom. It also has a little bar on the side that has crazy owners that hold jump competitions off the side of the piste into powder, which is always a laugh.
Champery is one of the smaller resorts of the the Porte du Soleil, it is however one of the resorts with the run on which we spent the most amount of time. This is not because it had a favourite run of ours, or that the run was very long – although it did have two lovely long red runs (one which we enjoyed on a number of occassions). It was because we had to walk from the bottom of the Ripaille 1&2 T-bar and telesiege all the way down to Champery along what should have been the Grande Planachaux piste. This was our second to last piste which we completed, this was not for trying, every single time we went to try and do the run it was closed/ferme. In fact as we were enjoying the two hour walk down the valley to Champery we agreed that it was unlikely that le Grande Planachaux piste had been open at any point in the season. This is a pity because it is a fantastic long, steep, red run all the way down from Les Crosets to Le Grande Paradis chair. We did manage to snowboard (small) parts of it and when we were not we were able to enjoy the beautiful scenery and reflect upon our season, our mission, our accomplishments and the challenges that still awaited us across the vast Porte du Soleil piste and off-piste.
While we never got to ride le Grande Planchaux piste we did enjoy its neighbour on the other side of the valley – La piste Ripaille – Grand-Paradis. Accessed from the top of the Ripaille 1&2, it is another long red run that goes all the way along the valley down to the Le Grande Paradis chair. We rode this run many times and enjoyed the tranquillity, scenery and the fact that you couldn’t see another piste or chair along the whole way. There are two restaurants not far into the valley after you dismount from the telesiege. Unfortunately we only had the chance to enjoy one of these and only once. It is however one of our best lunches all season. Les Clavets (Tel. 024 479 30 65) restaurant is the second one down with a big outdoor wooden deck and the most amazing views of the Dent Blanches and Valley de Crosets. Valley de Crosets has some amazing off-piste which we didn’t get to ride this year but is high on the list next time we are in the Porte de Soleil. The restaurant served fantastic mountain faire, barbeque (because it was warm and sunny), salad and tarte. Many people who have spent time in the Alpes (along with many who haven’t) know well the famous mountain dishes of fondue, tartiflette and raclette, and a dish which we only discovered this season called Croute. Each restaurant has it’s own take and is essentially bread soaked in white wine with dried ham and melted cheese and may also have a fried egg on top, wild mushrooms (girolle, morille or chantrelle) and/or cornichon. I have enjoyed many over the past 4 months and this one was definitely on of the best. Made all the better by the small bottle of Johannisburg wine from Valais, don’t tell the French but this was one of our favourite bottles of wine all season, it is from Valais in Switzerland.
And so we have come to the end of our mission, all that remains is the Swiss Wall. Considered by many as one of the premier/classic piste in Europe, considered by most snowboarders and the majority of skiers as ‘hell’.
In completing our mission we have not worked our way through each run in each resort in order, simply the order in which we completed every run in each resort. And so while the Swiss Wall was the last run we completed on our mission, we enjoyed many runs over the season in Les Crosets. One of the funniest and most unexpected things that happened once again involved Jules and a telesiege, this time a T-bar. We had riden Ripaille 1&2 many times, 1 is a pommer and 2 is a t-bar, Jules always chose the t-bar and come the end of March felt pretty confident that she could get from bottom to top without incident. The most common reason for us to get Ripaille 2 was that it was the link from Switzerland back over into Forne (France) via Chavanette chair. Chavanette chair is one of the few in the Porte du Soleil in which you can catch up and down, that is because it goes over the Swiss Wall and for those not completing the Porte du Soleil mission or of sane mind it is a good way to travel from Avoriaz into Switzerland. And so you will see we have had plenty of chances to observe the Swiss Wall and those mad enough to attempt to. One sunny late March afternoon Jeany, Rob and Jules were heading back to Morzine after a lovely sunny day in Switzerland, we were on the T-bar and suddenly on the icy path up Jules board went at a strange angle, worried that she might repeat her Abondance escapades she shifted her weight to ensure that my board was heading straight up the hill. Next thing she knew she had been spun around 180 degrees and was on her bottom and flying down the icy path straight towards Rob, who was on the next t-bar below. The ‘t’ of her t-bar had sheered right off and now instead of being dragged up the hill I was flying down it. Somehow after some wiggling and jiggling, she managed to miss Rob and get off the drag lift path. At the time she had thought this was a freak accident, that was until the next time we caught Ripaille 1&2 and we were greeted at the bottom by all sorts of broken bits and pieces of t-bar.
The Swiss Wall has been described as one of ‘The worlds scariest ski runs’, it is considered too dangerous for the normal ratings of green, blue, red or black and has a 400m drop over a 1km fall,’ it is steep, long and renowned for having moguls the size of 4×4’s. Every time we completed icy, steep and/or mogulled run we felt as though it was training for the ultimate challenge – The Swiss Wall. As we dove over the precipice we committed to turning as many times as possible and not simply traversing or going left to where the face is not so steep and doesn’t really have any moguls. This was at the same moment as the local young (12 – 15 year olds) ski team straight lined it down the Wall. Rob, made it down in good time and had a chance to look back up the slope and enjoy watching Jules being lapped by the young ski team and falling a couple of times, but she made it to the bottom unscathed and with a massive smile on her face – we had conquered the Swiss Wall and our mission was complete!