Avoriaz: Love it or Hate it?

It’s one of those places that provokes strong feelings.  If you’re a fan of traditional mountain ski villages, then this 1960s purpose-built resort in the French Alps is possibly not for you.  But it has a lot going for it and we rather like it.

Just a few weeks earlier I was in Morzine, down the mountain from Avoriaz and part of the same huge Portes du Soleil ski area.

Morzine is a proper, typical Savoyard town.

It existed long before people thought about strapping on skis for sport.

Morzine, France. Image © PlanetSKI

Now I’m in Avoriaz, a ski town that’s younger than I am.

It was born in 1966 with the opening of the first cable car, Les Prodains, from Morzine.

It was the idea of three young men who decided to develop the perfect resort from scratch.

The vision came from the 1960 Olympic downhill champion, Jean Vuarnet, who lived in Morzine and, incidentally, is said to be the inventor of the downhill tuck position.

There’s a memorial to him in a square that bears his name, close to the top of the Les Prodains lift.

Avoriaz. France. Image © PlanetSKI

He joined with architect Jacques Labro and promoter Gérard Brémond to make the dream a reality.

What they came up with was a completely car-free town which is genuinely ski-in ski-out.

You really can go everywhere on skis.

The ‘roads’ are also ski paths.

They are shared by walkers, skiers, snowshoers and the only public transport in town –  horse and carts and snowcats

Avoriaz. France. Image © PlanetSKI

Taxi Avoriaz-style. Image © PlanetSKI

Taxi Avoriaz-style. Image © PlanetSKI

Avoriaz – the Z is silent, by the way – sits on a plateau at 1,800 metres altitude.

Its architecture is unique.

Avoriaz, France. Image © PlanetSKI

Avoriaz, France. Image © PlanetSKI

Avoriaz, France. Image © PlanetSKI

As with many things made in the 1960s, it’s not to everyone’s taste.

But the whole idea was for the buildings to mimic the mountain landscape and blend in.

Avoriaz, France. Image © PlanetSKI

When you look down on the town from a distance, you can see how it works.

It’s hard to see where the mountain ends and the buildings begin.

Avoriaz, France. Image © PlanetSKI

All the buildings are constructed with untreated wood that changes colour according to its exposure to the elements.

90% of the living areas are south-facing.

They all look different.

Avoriaz, France. Image © PlanetSKI

The last new building in the town went up in 2012.

“It’s enough. We’re a sustainable resort and we don’t want to create any more buildings” Laury Eloy of the Avoriaz Tourist Office, says.

It’s mostly apartments here.

There are only two hotels and I’m staying in one of them.

Hotel Les Dromonts was the first building to go up in Avoriaz and retains all its original features.

Hotel des Dromonts, Avoriaz. Image © PlanetSKI

Hotel des Dromonts, Avoriaz. Image © PlanetSKI

Hotel des Dromonts, Avoriaz. Image © PlanetSKI

What about the skiing, you may ask?

Well, its central position in the middle of the vast Portes du Soleil makes it a perfect base for exploring the whole area.

Avoriaz & the Portes du Soleil ski area. Image © PlanetSKI

All 600km of it, with its 12 resort villages.

They include Morzine, Les Gets and Chatel in France and Champéry and Les Crosets over the border in Switzerland.

Portes du Soleil. Image © PlanetSKI

The skiing goes up to 2,466 metres.

On my visit at the start of February there’s been no new snow for at least 12 days but the 60cm or so that fell before then and the continued cold temperatures mean the cover on the pistes is still good.

Avoriaz, France. Image © PlanetSKI

Conditions on the sunny Swiss side are especially enjoyable as we head over first thing in the morning.

Except on the infamous Swiss Wall.

“It’s a very challenging black and it won’t be very nice,” our guide tells us, “but you can get the chairlift down.”

It’s early in the day and I’m barely warmed up.

I opt for the easy route.

From my overhead position I spot what appear to be chest-high hard-packed moguls at the top.

It gets marginally better as we head down.

Swiss Wall, Portes du Soleil. Image © PlanetSKI

There’s a handful of skiers standing around wondering what they’ve done.

And a collection of skis sprawled across the slope.

I conclude I’ve made the right choice.

Lookin up to the Swiss Wall, Portes du Soleil. Image © PlanetSKI

We spend the day skiing the slopes of Champéry, Les Crosets, Chatel and Avoriaz.

Portes du Soleil, Switzerland. Image © PlanetSKI

Portes du Soleil, Switzerland. Image © PlanetSKI

Portes du Soleil, Switzerland. Image © PlanetSKI

Portes du Soleil. Image © PlanetSKI

There’s a stop off for lunch at a new restaurant in Les Lindarets in Avoriaz.

Les Marmottes restaurant, Les Lindarets. Avoriaz. Image © PlanetSKI

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Portes du Soleil before it’s time to head home.

At least I’ll have plenty to do on my next visit.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even take on the Swiss Wall.

Avoriaz, France. Image © PlanetSKI


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