Expert guide to Avoriaz
The snow-sure hub of the Portes du Soleil
Avoriaz was the brainchild of Jean Vuarnet, 1960 Olympic Downhill Champion and subsequently of sunglasses fame. He grew up in Avoriaz’s neighbouring resort Morzine, and dreamt of developing the pastures high above his home town into a ski resort.
Vuarnet enlisted the help of Gérald Brémond, who later founded and ran the Pierre et Vacances property and holiday group. Together, they designed the car-free resort village, perched on a cliff, with streets that doubled as pistes, and ski-in/ski-out wood-clad buildings that were in harmony with their surroundings. They also determined that they would be heated by electricity rather than polluting fossil fuels.
The two men’s dream became reality during the 1960s, and Avoriaz has continued to thrive and expand ever since. It now has over 18,000 beds, and its slopes are part of the huge Portes du Soleil ski area with 600km of pistes, a delightful intermediate playground. Avoriaz’s local slopes are also excellent for beginners and boast some of the most snow-sure steep pistes in the entire Portes du Soleil region.
Inside the resort . . .
Avoriaz’s purpose-built, angular, high-rise buildings sit on a sloping plateau, blending in well with the landscape, 800m above the traditional chalet resort of Morzine. Their cliff-top location gives stunning views, and another cliff, prettily lit at night, rises up behind the resort.
All cars must be left in vast car parks at the village entrance, with horse drawn sleighs and snowcats transporting visitors and luggage onwards. The vast majority of accommodation is in self-catering apartments.
It’s a very family-friendly resort with traffic-free snowy paths and pistes to stroll around. The Village des Enfants, where youngsters from age three can be looked after and learn first turns, is on a gentle slope right in the middle of the resort.
The Aquariaz water park is an oasis of tropical green jungle and also right in the heart of the resort and great fun for children. It includes a gently flowing indoor river with bubbles and jets, a play area for younger ones, with slides and rainfall showers, an outdoor hot tub and an aquatic halfpipe to slide down in a giant rubber ring.
Avoriaz is by far the highest and most snow sure resort in the huge Portes du Soleil area (and now markets itself as Avoriaz 1800 – it is set at 1,800m – to emphasise the fact). The whole of the Portes du Soleil area is an intermediate paradise and extends into Switzerland as well as France. There are many local ski areas to be explored, as well as doing a full circuit of the PdS.
Avoriaz was one of the first resorts to embrace snowboarding and freestyle skiing, and now there are no fewer than five varied terrain parks and a super-pipe.
On the slopes . . .
Navigate Avoriaz’s ski area with our insider’s knowledge of the local slopes and beyond, on and off piste, ski schools and terrain parks.
Avoriaz (or Avoriaz 1800 as it now likes to be known) is the highest of the 12 or so resorts that make up the Portes du Soleil ski area, with 600km of pistes. The ski area spans the France-Switzerland border, including the resorts of Morzine and Les Gets in France and Champéry and Morgins in Switzerland.
All resorts are linked by lifts and pistes except for Morzine-Les Gets – to travel between the two entails taking a gondola down to Morzine, then a walk or free open-air road train (the Petit Train) across town to the lifts up the other side.
Most lifts in the Portes du Soleil area are fast and modern but there are still a few slow chair- and drag-lifts around – especially on the Swiss slopes. Snow reliability is good in the Avoriaz sector because of its height and the fact that many of its slopes don’t get the full force of the afternoon sun. Most of the Portes du Soleil area is lower but has invested heavily in snowmaking, which keeps the pistes covered. The south-facing slopes on the Swiss side, though, can suffer in warm sunny weather.
The whole Portes du Soleil area is ideal for intermediates who like variety and a sense of travelling around; around 80 per cent of pistes are classified blue or red. Competent intermediates can easily manage a circuit around the whole of the Portes du Soleil in a day – in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction.
The Avoriaz piste map divides the local slopes into four areas, each shaded a different colour – one for beginners, others for families, playing in the trees and expert terrain.
The beginner area is extensive and includes slopes in the village itself as well as lots of easy green pistes and lifts on the way to the gondola down to Morzine.
The family areas are even more extensive and include a mixture of blue, red and black runs suitable for mixed ability groups.
The tree area has mainly blue pistes cut through the trees but there is also The Stash, a fun ungroomed area for weaving through widely spaced trees in the forest, and around or on natural wooden obstacles.
The expert area has steep black and red pistes (including one used for World Cup downhill races) on north-facing slopes where the snow is usually the best around. There are also five Snowcross runs – ungroomed routes that are avalanche controlled and patrolled. Experts can also enjoy steep runs further afield, such as the ungroomed run known as the Swiss Wall, down towards Champéry from the top of the Chavanettes drag lifts. And there’s good off-piste to be enjoyed with a guide.
Avoriaz is renowned for its terrain parks (indeed the first in France was built here in 1993). Now there are five and a super-pipe. The biggest park is Arare for expert and pro-level riders. The others are aimed at beginner and intermediate freestylers and kids.
As well as the ESF, there are lots of other schools, many run by Britons – these include New Generation, Avoriaz Alpine Ski School and Mint Snowboard School.
Who should go?
Avoriaz has a quirky charm and a varied array of terrain parks making it popular with freestylers – five to suit all levels from beginner to advanced, plus a snow cross course and a superpipe. Snowboarding made its European debut here in the late 1980s, and Avoriaz built the first halfpipe in Europe in 1993. The Portes du Soleil’s variety of slopes suits everyone though, from beginners to veteran powderhounds, and Avoriaz makes a good base for easy access to all of it. Intermediates who like variety and a sense of travelling around will feel particularly at home. The resort is very family-friendly with traffic-free snowy paths and plenty of off-the-slope activities including the Aquariaz water park. Avoriaz is by far the highest and most snow sure resort in the huge Portes du Soleil area.
Know before you go . . .
Ambulance (samu): dial 15
Police: dial 17
Fire (pompiers): dial 18
Emergency services from mobile phone: dial 112
Tourist office: See avoriaz.com, the website for the Avoriaz Tourist Board, for weather reports, lift status, webcams, traffic details and local event listings. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the office at the centre of the resort on Promenade du Festival.
Telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 33, then leave off the zero at the start of the 10-figure number.
Time difference: +1 hour
Local laws & etiquette
- When greeting people, formal titles (Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle) are used much more in French than in English.
- The laws of vouvoiement (which version of “you” to use) take years to master. If in doubt – except when talking to children or animals – always use the formal vous form (second person plural) rather than the more casual tu.
- When driving, it’s compulsory to keep fluorescent bibs and a hazard triangle in the car in case of breakdown.