Chatel ski resort is one of the principal resorts in the vast French-Swiss cross-border Portes du Soleil ski area. Chatel is still a working farming community and so retains much of its rustic Alpine village charm, making it a great ski holiday destination for families and couples.
Chatel is one of 12 linked ski resorts that together form the immense trans-national Portes du Soleil ski domain that straddles the border between France and Switzerland, in the northernmost portion of the French Alps close to Lake Geneva (Lac Leman).
The proximity of such a large expanse of relatively warmer water, combined with the cooler cloud-forming high-altitude slopes of the adjacent Alps, blesses this region with a fairly good snowfall record, despite the fact that many of the resorts are based at relatively modest altitudes.
Situated at the upper end of the long Abondance Valley, just a stone's throw from the Swiss border and close to the linked Swiss resort village of Morgins, Chatel is one of a number of handsome French Savoyard villages in this area that retain much of their traditional rural charm and are still very much working farming communities, as well as popular summer and winter tourist resorts.
The Abondance Valley is famous for its special breed of Alpine-adapted cattle, whose milk is used to produce the world-renowned Abondance cheese, and the meadows around Chatel echo with the sound of cowbells during the summer months. These lush high meadows that are vital to the local dairy industry are also a prime factor in the local winter sports tourism industry too, because their grass-covered slopes hold snow very well and don't require much depth of snow cover in order to be viable as ski pistes.
The local Chatel ski area is split into two separate sectors: Super-Chatel/Barbossine and Linga/Pre-la-Joux, the former accessed by gondola directly from the centre of the village. The local area lift pass covers both these sectors plus the linked slopes of the Swiss resorts of Torgon and Morgins (Corbeau sector only) and the Braitaz sector at La Chapelle d'Abondance, together totalling a respectable 130 km of pistes; these and all other sectors/resorts in the Portes du Soleil domain are also covered by the full area lift pass, boosting the total extent of pistes to 650 km.
Chatel village is quite spread out along the side of the valley, so many outlying chalets and hotels are some distance away from the gondola terminal, but there's an additional chairlift access point in the northern suburb of Le Petit Chatel and a regular ski bus service connects with the base terminals of the further ski lifts at Villapeyron and Pre-la-Joux in the Linga/Pre-la-Joux sector.
Super-Chatel is focused around a mid-altitude plain that houses wide beginners' slopes, above which lie a good range of attractively wooded slopes perfect for progressing novices, together with a snowpark and boarder-cross course. The slopes on the Barbossine side of the area are much tougher, as are those just over the border at the nearby linked Swiss sector at Torgon.
There's only one permanent home-run piste to Chatel, a red run from Super-Chatel down to the gondola base terminal, but with various escape-sections cut into the slope, most competent novices can manage it when conditions are good.
Adventurous intermediates can strike out from Super-Chatel towards the other Swiss resorts in the Portes du Soleil via easy links to Morgins, but the most straightforward way of linking into the core domain is to take the bus to Pre-la-Joux, where chairlifts link via Plaine Dranse and Les Lindarets into the ski area at Avoriaz.
The Linga/Pre-la-Joux sector itself is great for intermediates and advanced skiers/riders, offering some terrific long reds and testing mogul fields on north-facing slopes sheltered by forest, but none of the runs in this sector extend to Chatel village.
Off the slopes and apres ski
Chatel is an attractive and friendly resort village, with an authentic Savoyard ambiance; it's best suited to families and couples, and has a good range of facilities and amenities to match the needs and expectations of those types of guests.
The heart of the village is focused around a buttressed stone-built church and a bustling central commercial area that stretches along the through-road. There's a good range of shops, street-side café-bars and restaurants; other attractions include two cinemas and a tenpin bowling alley, ice-skating and curling rinks, plus a number of small spas and beauty salons.
Alternative activities available in the surrounding area include ice-hole fishing and under-ice scuba diving, paragliding, snowshoe trekking, and visits to a local Abondance cheese-making farm.
Apres ski is generally low-key, however there are a couple of bars in the village centre that get pretty lively just after the lifts close; the bar in the Dutch-run Hotel Lion d'Or near the church comes the closest to having a real apres-ski party atmosphere.
Later on in the evenings most visitors are content to linger over dinner in one of the many good restaurants in the village, perhaps followed by a couple of drinks in one of the handful of animated bars that occasionally feature live music and/or DJs; the Tunnel Bar and Le Avalanche are the two long-established favourites; there's also Sloopys, the resort's one small nightclub that during high season sometimes doesn't close until 6am!