In a jam-packed cable car, being pushed from all sides by a swarm of brightly-clad children, men and women, all bound for the mountain top – I feel nauseous, debilitated, and I want to phone home. Basically, I’m terrified. I’m about to go skiing – something I swore I would never do – almost four years to the day after breaking my ankle on a red run.
We have come to Morzine, tucked between Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva in the Portes du Soleil, to ski for a week: myself as a complete novice with a traumatic run-in with the sport under my belt, and Becky with 28-years of skiing under hers and an amazing ability to descend any black or off-piste slope with graceful ease.
We were staying in Les Plan des Rochers, one of the three luxurious, beginner and child-friendly Chilly Powder catered chalets in the area.
Our chalet had some appealing features like a ‘feu’ – the main chalet’s four-sided feature fireplace which gives the residence its name, Au Coin du Feu (by the fireside) and a menu with dishes like hake on a bed of puy lentils or crab cakes with Thai sweet chill sauce,
There are red chillies everywhere – on the dinner plates, the clock; here. There’s an outdoor hot tub, and in-house creche and childcare facilities; a massage room; a bar; friendly and attentive staff – and each and every room (there are 17 in the main Au Coin du Feu chalet; six in Les Plan des Rochers; and three in the new Des Amis) has an en-suite bathroom.
The day after the worst storm in 20-years hit the area, resulting in a 100 per cent closure of all lifts, and with an avalanche risk of five (the highest) we clip into our skis and head for the baby slope, with gung-ho toddlers embarassingly flying past as we go.
Bruno, my ski-insturctor, sidles alongside me and says: “You’re looking really nervous but you’ll be ok.” And surprisingly, he was right. I was parallel turning almost straight away: “And if you can do that, you’re ready to tackle the slopes,” he said.
Although the chair lifts were still closed, we pottered about in Avoriaz village for almost two-hours in which time my confidence grew. “This area is excellent for beginners,” said Bruno. The ease of having your skis fitted at Chilly Powder with Morzine-based Doorstep Skis; lessons booked through Chilly Powder; the proximity to the cable car and the short haul up to Avoriaz with direct access to a vast range of green and blue runs make this the perfect place to ski for the novice and nervous among us.
Meanwhile, Becky was off tackling a few black runs. Later in the week she was taken on a guided off-piste tour with an Avoriaz Ski School guide called Keith: “It was absolutely amazing, just so much fun,” said Becky.
“We started at the top of the cable car and made our way to Les Lindarets through the trees in powder (off piste) and then caught the the Chaux Fleuris lift which brings you on to the French/Swiss border. Keith then suggested we went immediately off piste from the top of the lift but it was too steep for some of the group so we skied further down off piste through powder and trees to the bottom.” she said, laughing.
One afternoon, I ditched my skis and walked up to Avoriaz village. Flurries of powder-fine snow filled the air looking bright in the sunshine. It was a wonderful walk.
The Portes du Soleil is a major destination in the northern French Alps with 13 resorts between Mont Blanc in France and Lake Geneva in Switzerland. From Morzine and Avoriaz you can access more than 650 kilometres of marked pistes and about 200 lifts in total, spread over 14 valleys and about 400 square miles. It ranks among the two largest ski area in the world with its highest point at around 2,400 metres.