News from the snow
Avoriaz represents a break-through in modern resort design. While ski centres in the 1960s were being 'thrown up' or developing in areas of great natural beauty in France, Italy, Switzerland and North America, Avoriaz was arguably the first to consider the importance of architectural design. Two aspects of design also - firstly the layout plan, secondly the architecture. Built on a cliff edge above the already successful French resort of Morzine, Avoriaz still seems 'space-aged' and unique 40 years on. Sitting on the border with Switzerland, at a snowsure altitude, car-free and in one of the largest lift-linked ski areas in the world, it has a lot going for it. From a great distance it can be seen standing out against the white mountains but, because its style is so important, it appears more as a sculpture than a sprawling resort. Nearer to it, the effect changes to tall angular buildings that shine gold in the sunlight and right up close you realise that this isn't an especially hi-tec construction, the buildings just being clad in natural local red cedar wooden slates with plenty of glass, giving it a rather warm feel. The buildings are supposed to blend in to their natural environment, and in a way they do, although it should be stressed that the resort is well above the treeline on a vast snowy plateau. The architects created a large square in the centre of the resort and put a children's tobogganing slope in the middle. At one side of the square there is an open-air ice rink, on another a festival hall. The resort is designed so that all accommodation is slopeside with access over snow only. Avoriaz has its own TV and radio channels broadcasting events information and snow reports in several languages including English.
Built on a sheer granite cliff and well placed on the Portes du Soleil circuit, arguably the world's largest lift-connected ski region. Avoriaz is famous for its wood clad buildings in award winning architectural style and indeed won an award for this. A "doorstep skiing" pioneer, linked to Swiss resorts in the Region via the legendary 'Wall' descent (you can take the chair down instead if necessary). Skiing for all standards, plenty for experts including five testing blacks (20 in Region). Famous childrens' village in the centre. Avoriaz is a car free zone designed for relaxed living.
As you are in the centre of the Portes du Soleil you have a vast choice ahead of you every morning. This is in one respect the 'largest lift linked area in the world' with 650km (407 miles) of trails. On the other hand this claim isn't quite as solid as the other area that makes it - the Trois Vallées - which only claims 600km (375 miles) but does have it all totally linked, whereas at a few key points in the Portes du Soleil you may have to slip your skis off and hop on a bus to make a link. That's all rather petty though really, because the terrain is vast by any means of measuring it and the snow record is good, helped by the proximity of Lake Léman which seems to pull in some of the best and most regular snow in the region. So the first choice of the day, if you want to bother deciding, is whether to stay local or perhaps take a tour.
Various routes (shown on a special 'Ski Links' trail map) are possible. Sign-posted 'Discovery Circuits' have also been introduced giving lift-served routes for different ability levels around the area which "steer you towards the least congested slopes" according to the promotional blurb. The major directions include the hop over the nearby border in to Switzerland and then on to Planachaux, Les Crosets, Champéry and Champoussin. Secondly you may choose to head down to the picturesque and wooded slopes above Morzine and Les Gets, or thirdly you can instead head down towards Chatel, with its own border link over to Swiss Torgon and then back over to La Chapelle. There are many variations and full day circuits can be put together.
Avoriaz is a good choice for all levels of skier. Beginners have wide sunny slopes right by the resort and, because of its altitude, the slopes are snowsure for the whole season. The ski schools are all highly thought of with the Ecole du Ski Français (ESF) and the International Ski School both operational in the resort. Intermediates have the best of all worlds with 240km (150 miles) of blue and red level trails in the local Avoriaz-Morzine sector alone. The tours to outlying sectors of the Portes du Soleil are perfectly achievable for intermediates of moderate ability (able to tackle reds) so it's a great place to try exploring. Experts have more than 20 black trails to choose around the domain including one of the Alps most famous - The Wall - a vast steep mogul field that is effectively the border with Switzerland. Most skiers coming from Avoriaz in to the Swiss sector take the chairlift down this slope. The Jean Vuarnet World Cup Downhill Run is also highly regarded.
The two main ski schools and the Free Ride School host full day off and on piste tours including ski touring with mountain hiking. These schools are also happy to teach the other sliding disciplines practised in Avoriaz, such as telemark, skwal, mono and carving. Cross country skiers have 47km of trails through some beautiful mountain and forest scenery.
After skiing there's a games room and restaurant in the village itself with entertainment laid on such as puppet shows and games. Older children have a range of more sophisticated skiing or snowboarding development choices including slaloms and discovery carving. There is also a Village Snowboard especially for children age six up who just want to 'board.
The car-free environment of Avoriaz obviously makes it a safer choice for families than most. The place definitely has a feel of 'child-friendliness' which is something more than the many top resorts that rant on about how child-friendly they are but don't provide much evidence of it when you actually arrive. It's never more evident than at Christmas when Santa arrives on his sleigh, accompanied by elves laden with sweeties for the kids, setting off a week of festivities and street entertainments.
The Studio 9 Bowling Alley remains open until 2am - it has two bowling alleys, pool and video games as well as a bar. Skating on the floodlit ice rink is also available and there are two modern cinemas with Dolby digital stereo systems. It's quite a popular option for skiers to end the day in one of the Portes du Soleil resorts, check out the nightlife there and take a late night taxi back up to Avoriaz.
There are three snowboarding schools in total, including the 'boarding only' Emery school which offers an equipment-inclusive package. A special top value limited area snowboard Pass is offered by the resort for those who want to concentrate on the snow park rather than clock up a lot of piste kilometres.
To underline its status as a major 'boarding mecca, Avoriaz has a rare special area for child 'boarders. Village Snowboard is reserved exclusively for kids aged 6 to 16 at all levels.