Portes du Soleil: Skiing without borders
So would Portes du Soleil be no one driven by a high mountain pass, some hundreds on the Franco-Swiss border, between Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva, if his beautiful name, “Gates of the Sun”, did not decide in the late 1960s to give to a large ski region . “Every skier has the right to go and see what lies beyond the horizon,” says Article one of the playful social contract adopted at Port-du-Soleil. The idea of free movement in space was the basis for the creation of a region. The border between the French Upper Savoy and the Swiss canton of Valais has always been very conditional. People who lived on its different sides were tied up by family ties and economic interests, common language, religion, traditions … And yet United Europe was still far away, the founding fathers of Port du Soleil were clearly running ahead. 1960 year. Morzine-born Frenchman Jean Voirnet wins downhill at the Squaw Valley Olympics. After returning home, he continues to train in the area of the Avoriaz Plateau and dreams of building a ski station here. On the other side of the ridge, his Swiss friends René Coco, Jean-Maurice Tromber, René Avante ride over Champery and Crozet; for complete happiness, they lack only the lifts that would allow them to “look beyond the horizon” – to go down to France. In 1963, they set up SETVAL, a joint venture to develop tourism in the region. At the same time, at the International Exhibition in Lausanne, the project of the joint French-Swiss ski complex was first presented. In 1968, there was a “bow” in the Chavanette sector, in the area of the famous “Swiss Wall” (we’ll talk about it later), a little later the branches of the cable cars stretched from different sides to Mossettes (2277). In the 1969/70 season, the international skipass Avoriaz-Champery-Crosets was introduced, and in 1974, when all the main bundles were built, a single skipass Portes du Soleil. Sweet word Svoboda, the unrealizable dream of every Russian! .. Today, while riding in Port-du-Soleil, you manage to go abroad ten times a day – from France to Switzerland or vice versa – and go back. Nobody will ask you for a second visa here, but it is still better to have your passport with you, just in case.
There are obvious points of intersection of the border line, when, after rising from one country, you descend to another, there are, according to my calculations, at least seven. This is if traveling along the tracks. And if no trails, such opportunities are much more. The area of the ski region is 400 square kilometers, the total length of the marked slopes is 650 km. They are served by 208 lifts with a total capacity of 245,000 people / hour. Port-du-Soleil includes eight French and six Swiss resorts. We will tell about those of them that are of the greatest interest to the rolling public. * * * It is impossible to move around Port du Soleil without removing the skis. In some places you have to make small pedestrian crossings from one slope to another, in some places you have to use the services of petit trains or free ski buses. These crossings and crossings take, as a rule, from five to fifteen minutes, however, ski-safari is thereby interrupted. Only therefore not the “Gate of the Sun”, and the “Three Valleys” are considered the largest ski area in the world. Although the total length of the slopes, and its area of Port du Soleil, certainly surpasses the famous “bundle” of Courchevel-Meribel-Menueir-Val Thorens. One of the major sectors of Port du Soleil is purely French. It is located in the south-west of the region and combines the resorts of Morzine and Les Gets. There are 110 km of tracks and 53 lifts. Lying in a spacious valley at an altitude of 1000 m above sea level, Morzine is not a small town. A long main street with many shops and restaurants rises from the Eglise Square, from the church of Ste Marie-Madeleine, and stretches several kilometers along the valley. The distances from one chalet to another are becoming more and more, more and more often stables, chicken coops and barns come across, and suddenly you realize that you are no longer in the city and not in the resort, but in a large Savoy village that has carefully preserved all its flavor. A dozen cozy hotels ***, more than two dozen ** and a large number of apartments, from modest studios to comfortable, two-, three-room “suites”. Skiers in Morzine should stop somewhere near one of the gondola roads, Super Morzine or Pleney, which take them to the opposite slopes of the valley. Otherwise, you have to stomp on the lifts for quite a long time on foot or by bus. Skiing down to Morzine is possible only with Pleney (1550). This is the resort’s “home” mountain; the funicular to it was opened in 1934. Upstairs is the six-storey hotel Viking ***, by the way, with a swimming pool. On the left, if you look into the valley, there are some simple trails for beginners and a long “blue” forest slope to the foot; on the right – a steep eastern “forehead”, where professionals warm up.
Going down along the 6-seater gondola cable car, the “red” highway N in the middle part is rather narrow and treacherous, especially you will not be able to relax on it. The final leg is a first-class slalom stadium; every Thursday there is skating in the evenings in the light of powerful neon lamps, and once a week there is a ski show organized by instructors from local alpine skiing schools. For the convenience and safety of long day trips around Portes du Soleil, the newest Ski-Navigator system based on GPS technology was first tested in Morzine a few years ago. With the help of a special device you can accurately determine your location in the space of the ski region. The thing is useful: getting lost in Porte du Soleil, especially if you came here for the first time, is really very simple. Skiers with different levels of training are also recommended to be guided by “zoological” signs on the tracks: Rabbit and Teddy Bear mark the path for beginners, Jackdaw – the slopes are more complicated, Baran – slopes for experts. They marked the 12 most popular routes. Start with Nyon. It is like an independent training ski base with its own 35-seater funicular, pulling from the bottom, from the valley. Hotel Chamois, near the restaurant and bar with a large terrace, several bows serving wide educational slopes. At the cramped summit of Pointe de Nyon (2019), which offers a magnificent view of the Morzine valley, is delivered by a 3-chair lift with an intermediate station. When after a heavy snowfall the top is closed due to the danger of avalanches, you are asked to go halfway. It’s a shame: here you can cool off off-piste … Strong skiers should pay attention to Chamossiere located in the depths of the valley (2002). From this peak there are two roads: “red” and “black” – northern, straight, steep … and, unfortunately, it does not matter prepared. The speed on the descent is typed decent, but instead of having fun, you have to be on the alert all the time waiting for some kind of trick. It’s a good thing that there are not so many people here: there is only one three-cressel on Chamossiere. If the traverse goes to the right, you can find a wide virgin virgin areas. Walks through the forest and alpine pastures, away from the lifts and pistes (this is called Randonnee) in Portes du Soleil, are not only not prohibited, but also seem to be welcomed; In the sports calendar of Morzine, in particular, there are several such competitions: Picaron in late January, Montee du Crot and Arthur Richard Trophy in April.
The area Ranfoilly (1850) is more crowded. Several high-speed 4- and 6-chairs serve the south-western and eastern slopes. If it were not for the French speech around, you might think that you are somewhere in Austria – in Saalbach or Kitzbühel. The same low hills covered with spruce forests with soft, smooth outlines. The “blue” rather than the “red” tracks that flow down from them, beginners feel quite comfortable on them. And two short descents from Rosta (1665), labeled as “black”, clearly give wishful thinking … Le-Je, a pretty town with two dozens of hotels ** – ***, is also somewhat similar to Austrian resorts. It is located slightly above Morzine, at 1,170 meters above sea level; houses closely in a narrow dell, and they climb up the slopes. Going down to the center of the resort, pay attention to the unusual boule de Boule de Gomme with red and yellow supports, which is surrounded by tall firs on the left hand of the old gondola and the new 6-chair cable car. A kind of museum exhibit, one of the first towing lifts of the now world-famous company Pomagalski, built in 1936 on the private initiative of a certain Monsieur Servette. The yoke looks exactly the same as almost 70 years ago (over the past decades only a few minor technical improvements have been made), and it still works fine. From slope to slope through Le-Gere now you can ski on a special transition, it will take about five minutes.
The mountain towering above the resort is a mountain with the gentle name of Mont Chery (1850). From below, it pulls out a 6-seater gondola lift, upstairs there are several wheelchairs. On very sunny southern slopes there is a slalom stadium and the so-called Gliss’ district for boarders and adherents of the “new school” of skating with “tables”, “backs”, rails, bordercross … From the ridge, where the quality “red” Marmottes begins, is a great view of Mont Blanc, resting in the distance, in a blue haze. On the north side, under the 4-wheelchair, a wide unspent slope, fields of virgin; a truly “black” piste, steep and narrow, runs along an old, long, parked-seat cable car. It is quiet and almost deserted. Perhaps this is the main feature of Portes du Soleil: the gigantic scale of the ski complex is organically combined here with tranquility and comfort. In the Three Valleys, in Val d’Isere / Tignes, in other French mega stations you are surrounded by hundreds of people everywhere. In Port-du-Soleil (above Le Jean, Morzine, Chatel, Chapelle-Abondance, above Swiss Thorgon, Morgen, Shampouassane) there are a lot of deserts.
The road from Morzine takes exactly half an hour. First, the silver six-seater Super Morzine cabins are transported across the river and raised to a wide mountain range. Then, one after another, two transport 4-chairs (underneath them are ideal training grounds) – and you are on the Avoriaz plateau. 1800 m above sea level. You can also get here, using the 65-seater funicular from the gorge Prodains. High-rise 8-12-storey buildings, with wooden panels up to the top, grow out of the rocks, almost merging with them. Some buildings stand on the edge of a 700-meter precipice, others huddle to a sheer stone wall, heaving over the plateau from the opposite side. Broken, sloping facades and roofs, going down almost to the ground, and repeat, and themselves form the surrounding landscape. The peculiarity of the appearance of Avoriaz was repeatedly marked by prestigious architectural awards. Avoriaz (Avoriaz somehow got accustomed to us, although the French do not utter the Z in the end; well, after all, Paris is also spoken of Paris in their mouths). This is the youngest and most fashionable resort of Port du Soleil. Nearly 17,000 places for guests. Hotels once or twice and miscalculated, but hundreds of 1-3-room studios and apartments. There are still a dozen and a half stylish chalets for 8-12 people each, which are bought back in the fall (in particular, by our compatriots). In general, any accommodation here is better to book in advance, the occupancy rate at the resort is high. Interestingly, many residences have Russian names: Chapka, Douchka, Malinka, Datcha, Sosna, Taiga … And how do you like the Baba Yaga commercial center? .. From where all this, no one can explain; perhaps just a tribute to the 1960s Russian fashion. The resort was born on paper on December 28, 1962. On this day, the authorities of Morzine gave the go-ahead for building a high plateau, which was used as pasture in the summer, and empty in winter. The first steps were modest: on the Tete aux Boeufs they installed an armchair and bow, the only restaurant was located in Pas du Lac … But little by little the process went. In 1966, the Hotel Les Dromonds *** was opened on Christmas Day; the residences of Sequoia, Araucarya, Thuya were built. “I made sure that people need all this,” recalls Jean Voirnet. The founder of Avoriaz is now 73 years old. After several operations, he no longer skis, he spends winters in Canada, but in the summer he comes to Morzine, where he has a chalet. The second person (and the main investor), who played a huge role in the development of the resort, was Gerard Bremon, founder and president of the Pierre & Vacanses group, which still owns the lion’s share of Avoriaz apartments. It was he who picked up a team of talented young architects: Jacques Labro, Jean-Jacques Orzoni, Jean-Marc Rock, who in those years was still a student. Together they formulated the concept of the future resort: no car traffic, power supply – only from ecologically clean sources, all buildings should be inscribed in the surrounding landscape … What Avoriazu lacked in the early 1970s was a good advertisement, and then they came up with annual festivals fantastic movies. The hit was accurate: the slightly unreal atmosphere of the snow-covered high mountain station could not be better matched the style of these paintings. At the first festival in 1973, Steven Spielberg, the then unknown, won the Grand Prix for Duel. Twice, in 1981, for the film “The Elephant Man” and 1987 for “Blue Velvet”, David Lynch received the highest award. The awards from Avoriaz were taken away by young Brian De Palma, James Cameron (“The Terminator”), Luke Besson (“The Last Battle”), David Cronenberg, Paul Verhoeven, and other directors who have gained worldwide fame. In 1990, in the nomination “Strange films”, Alexander Kaidanovsky’s “The kerosene worker” won … In different years, such masters as Michelangelo Antonioni, Sydney Pollack, Robert De Niro, Roman Polanski, the same Steven Spielberg – used the festival at the ski resort great prestige and contributed to the growth of the popularity of Avoriaz. Today he needs no advertising. All the principles underlying the organization of a modern ski station, here are perfectly followed. For example, the system ski out – ski in. In Avoriaz, there is not a single house, from the threshold of which it would be impossible to go skiing, and after skiing, you can go back to skiing. Instead of streets – trails. All cars remain on a large parking lot at the entrance to the resort (open parking – 40 euros per week, covered – 76 euros). Further, guests usually reach their apartments on foot, dragging things in plastic troughs (hire – 1 euro). Some order a sleigh with shaggy horses harnessed into them; such transfer costs 4.50-13 euros, depending on the distance plus 2 euros per luggage. Ski slopes cover Avoriaz from all sides. They are located above and below it – the northern and southern, eastern and western. The main problem is that some are too crowded. The descent sometimes turns into a gamble: how to slip between living “poles”, randomly moving in different directions, without hitting anyone and not offending? ..