News from the snow
One of the oldest and today still one of the prettiest tourist resorts in Switzerland, Champéry has celebrated 150 years of tourism in 2007. Fortunately for its current guests, the resort has not expanded in to a large town of high priced hotels and thousands of tourists, but instead has managed to retain its charm and character, making a stay here a pleasure in itself, even before you think about skiing. Fortunately though, the skiing is remarkable. One of the few Swiss resorts on the giant cross-border Portes du Soleil ski pass, with 650km (403 miles) of runs, served by 194 lifts, it is directly lift linked in to what is one of the claimant to the coveted 'largest ski area in the world' title. Skiers are whisked up nearly 1000 vertical metres in just five minutes by the giant, red, iconic 125 passenger cable car, arriving at a snowsure 2000m. The resort itself sites at 1050m beneath the spectacular Dents du Midi and Dents Blanches mountain peaks. Tourism in Champéry, and the greater Chablais Region of which it is a part, kicked off in 1857 with the opening of the Hotel Dent-du-Midi. This hotel opened as a response to growing tourism from Great Britain where rich people embarking on the then tradition 'Grand Tour' of Europe sought out quality accommodation in areas of spectacular beauty. The railway line followed 40 years later and one of the first cable cars in Switzerland opened here in 1939. Unfortunately the Grand Hotel Dent du Midi reached a state where repair costs weren't viable after 90 years and it was demolished in 1946. Ever since the resort has maintained its traditional architecture and is famous for the sculptured wooden balconies and characteristic roofline ("toits en sifflet") overlooking the main street. The balconies are of course bedecked with flowers in the summer. The village's historic bell tower is a key architectural asset. Today Champéry is promoted as both one of the 13 resorts of the Portes du Soleil and as one of 13 villages (half different to the other 13, half the same) within a 35km (22 mile) area in the Chablais Region, at the entrance to the famous Swiss Valais region. Champéry is looking forward to its next 150 years with the opening of Switzerland's national ice centre here in 2004, the Palladium. There is also a vision of development for the Swiss Side of the Portes du Soleil in line with modern concerns for the environment and sustainable development - issues which have always been at the heart of the resort's plans. Changes to the lifts and runs have been outlined in consultation with environmental groups and many other interested parties through to 2020 and will see fewer lifts and fewer lift towers but with higher capacity chairlifts replacing old surface tows.
Key resort in the Swiss sector of the world's largest international lift-linked ski area (the Franco-Swiss Portes du Soleil). Skiing is reached by cable car from this large village with a mostly hotel-based après-ski scene.
You can imagine that these 13 different resorts, linked together by 650km (403) miles of runs and more than 200 ski lifts and spread over 400 square kilometres offer a vast choice of snow slopes, from easy beginner trails to the infamous 'Wall' black mogul field, jokingly called a "brown run" due to its deservedly infamous reputation. This run pitches at up to fifty degrees over its one kilometre length as it descends 400 vertical metres. In addition to the pitch, moguls can reach two metres (seven feet) high. An annual race down the slope has seen the fastest descent record set at 20 seconds by extreme skier Dominique Perret. Dominique also likes cliff jumping and set a record for jumping 38 metres off a nearby rocky overhang in the Pas de Chavanette. In addition to the marked piste there are hundreds of kilometres/miles of off piste freeride terrain to explore with a local guide. Heliskiing is another possibility (banned by law in France).
There is a huge choice of runs for 'normal' skiers who have about 220 blue or red category runs to enjoy. Amongst these the descent through the They Valley to Morgins is a 'must ski.' This 7.5km (4.5 mile) run was only created for the 2003-4 season and takes you down through peaceful and beautiful scenery from the top of Les Mossettes or the Pointe de l'Au, arriving in the centre of Torgon. An en route stop at the little Cantine de Tovassière is also recommended for some local specialities.
If you don't get enough skiing in the day you can try night skiing on Wednesday evenings through to 10pm (and Saturday to 7pm). The local restaurants get in to the spirit by offering special meals and added entertainment for night skiers.
This is an official non-ski daycare/kindergarten Jack Frosts for babies and kids, proposing activities. Otherwise a list of baby sitters is available from the tourist office.
On the slopes the Swiss Ski School operates a ski kindergarten / mini club for children aged between three and seven years. A special Micropark opened for the 2006-7 as part of the Superpark above the resort. This is filled with fun terrain features children will love.
Mitchell's Bar has an excellent menu and their desserts are legendary.
On the slopes the useful 'Pass Gourmet' Guide recommends a selection of charming and romantic mountain eateries across the Portes du Soleil and local specialities to enjoy there.
The most significant of the dozens of mountain restaurants is the Coquoz above the village, founded in 1950 which has over 200 wines to try (ask for a tasting tray) and attracts French skiers over the border to try everything from delicious fondues to home made Gentian ice cream.
Another good choice is Cafe du Centre which has an enviable collection of wines and inventive Tapas. The feeling of relaxation these provide may be enhanced by the fact that the building has been fully feng shuied. It is centrally located within one of the oldest buildings in the village, with a small balcony from which the mayor used to address the villagers in days gone by.
It's as good idea to visit the tourist office where the staff introduce activities available in the village and the diverse choice of weekly evening options which continues all season. Options include an introduction to curling, a fun game of traditional Eisstock (a cross between curling and petanque), darts matches, night skiing, snowshoeing, farm visits, pony trekking and even scuba diving lessons in the swimming pool at the Palladium.
The region offers seven snowparks, three half pipes and four boardercross courses. The parks include an 'environment friendly' parek near Avoriaz which is created without the snowmaking and heavy machinery required to build most snow features at conventional terrain parks.
There are four 'local' parks for Champéry's guests on the Swiss side of the Portes du Soleil. The largest is the Superpark at Les Crosets above the village itself. This has a wide selection of terrain features. A special section for children was recently added.
There are other terrain parks at Morgins (600m long) and Champoussin (300m long with two lines) and the new 500m long SnowPark Freeridezone at Torgon.