The Portes du Soleil – Ski Area Review

The Portes du SoleilLocated in the Northern French Alps, close to Lac Leman, the Portes du Soleil is the largest linked ski area in the world.

Created 40 years ago, this giant ski area straddles the French/Swiss border and brings together 12 resorts in both countries. The international flavour  of the domain means that you can start the day eating croissants in France, and lunch on the slopes in Switzerland eating Rosti!

The French resorts which make up the Portes du Soleil are Abondance, Avoriaz, Châtel, La Chapelle d’Abondance, Les Gets, Montriond, Morzine, Avoriaz, St Jean d’Aulps and the Swiss ones are Champéry, Morgins, Torgon, Val-d’Illiez – Les Crosets – Champoussin.

Because the ski area physically covers such a large area, it is perfect for those who like to clock up the miles when on skis. However, each individual resort is well suited for skiers and boarders of all levels. Overall the area’s statistics make for some impressive reading;

283 pistes (27 blacks, 104 reds, 119 blues, 33 green)
197 ski lifts
650 km of pistes
10 dedicated snowparks
90 mountain restaurants

Some Attractions in the Portes du Soleil

Abondance Ludoffaz

Abondance – The ‘Ludoffaz’ play area

The snowy slopes of the ‘Ludoffaz’ in the centre of the village are the ideal place for the whole family to try a huge range of wintersports activities.

Everyone from toddlers to grown-ups can try skiing and snowboarding in an environment where safety comes first. For more thrills there’s sledging (alone or in a chain!), rubber-ring sliding and airboarding for a no-holds-barred ride! For pure enjoyment there’s a ski lift and magic carpet to take you straight back to the top!

The Stash AvoriazAvoriaz – The Stash

Inspired by Northstar Resort in California and developed by Jake Burton… yes, that Jake Burton !

Riders whThe Stash Avoriazo like having a bit of fun with their mates should check out The Stash in Lindarets forest. The track winds through the woods with all-natural wooden obstacles at regular intervals. Look out for the Flat Log, Rainbow, Step Up and Wall Ride which you can test under the watchful eye of the forest’s yetis…

Hidden routes lie at the forest edge which lead to the secret log cabin where you can carve your own message – chances are you won’t find this cool new riders’ retreat on your first (second or third) run down!

La Chapelle d’Abondance – Cret Beni

Cret Beni La Chapelle d'AbondanceThe new 6-man Crêt Béni chairlift on the north face of Mont de Grange leads to the plateau which is ideal for beginners. More experienced skiers can rejoin the resort far below at the bottom of the Cerf piste. All visitors should keep an eye out for the wild deer which roam the nature reserve on the slopes of the Abondance valley.

Chatel – Cornebois Happy Park

Chatel - Cornebois Happy ParkThe Happy Park is on the Cornebois (Linga – Pré-la-Joux – Plaine-Dranse) at 1800m – 2000m.

The park makes use of the hilly terrain to create a ”slopestyle” space more than 800m long – in short, it’s paradise for intermediate and advanced riders with all kinds of boxes, ramps and drop-offs…

Les Gets – The Grand Cry Territory

Les Gets - The Grand Cry TerritoryA playful and educational discovery route for 5-12 year-olds to do with their skis on. Pure fun with red Indians and trappers to see and bumps, woops and raised bends to tackle.

Budding skiers can have their faces painted by the red Indian-entertainers near the teepees half way round the course.

For a perfect end to your visit head for the Trappers’ cabin to attempt the games and musical challenges!

Montriond – Abricotine

Montriond - AbricotineMontriond is home to one of the longest runs in the Portes du Soleil: Abricotine. Starting on the peaks marking the French-Swiss border, the piste travels over 8km before arriving at the foot of Ardents cable car. With its blue and red sections Abricotine can be tackled by most skiers; it also has plenty of surprises to keep you focused.

Morzine – Arbis red run from the top of Chamossiere

Morzine - Arbis red runFrom the highest point in the Morzine-Les Gets ski range, the Arbis run offers skiing for all abilities and breathtaking views! Link it with the Lievre and Retour des Nants pistes and you’ll be back in the centre of Morzine having covered 8km and a 1000 m descent in one go!

St Jean d’Aulps – At the foot of the Roc d’Enfer

St Jean d'Aulps - Roc d’EnferThe Roc d’Enfer circuit in Saint Jean d’Aulps is more than 20km of pure pisted pleasure! Departing from the Col de Graydon there’s also a walk around the fabulous Roc d’Enfer with breathtaking unspoilt scenery to explore full of spruces and hamlets.

Champery – Grand Paradis

Champery - Grand ParadisQuite simply a Portes du Soleil classic. From the Ripaille T-bar ski down this long run that sweeps past farms lying below the stunning Dents Blanches rockface. It’s so tranquil you almost wish it would never end…anyone in search of fresh tracks will find all the untouched powder they’re looking for on the edge of the slope.

Morgins – La Foilleuse

Morgins - La FoilleuseFrom the centre of Morgins village take the chair up the mountain which will drop you off slap bang in front of the Dents du Midi peaks before you can say ‘abracadabra’. The blue (which is in fact a red!) leading back down to the resort is floodlit 2 nights a week so you can ski underneath the stars…ski touring fans take note: Friday night is traditional climb night!

Torgon – Tronchey Freeride

Torgon - Tronchey FreerideOn the way up this little-known spot appears beneath your skis or board. With its steep ride and excellent snow, it’s a favourite for local riders. From the top of the Tronchey chair you simply point yourself downhill and let the huge powder arcs begin with the Rhone river plain far below to provide a magical contrast…

Val d’Illiez-Les Crosets-Champoussin – The Aiguille des Champeys

Val d'Illiez-Les Crosets-Champoussin - The Aiguille des ChampeysChampoussin’s Aiguille des Champeys is a firm favourite for those in search of powder – whatever their level. With its steep ‘n’ deep couloirs and enticing untracked snow at the piste edge there’s a slice of happiness there for all freeriders!

Accommodation in the Portes du Soleil

The Portes du SoleilAccommodation wise, the Portes du Soleil has property for all occasions – from traditional chalets in the beautiful mountain villages, to ski in/ski out apartments in the purpose built high altitude resort of Avoriaz.

We have a huge range of self catered ski accommodation to suit all requirements available to rent in many of the Portes du Soleil’s major resorts. Follow the links to discover our accommodation in: Abondance, Avoriaz, Châtel, La Chapelle d’Abondance, Les Gets, Morzine, Avoriaz, Champéry, Torgon, Val-d’Illiez – Les Crosets – Champoussin.

The Portes du Soleil snow record

The Portes Du Soleil ski area has an enviable snow record. Its proximity to Mont Blanc and Lac Leman creates a micro-climate which means that the area tends to get significant snowfall from the start of December through to when the lifts close in late April.

Because most of the lower slopes are pasture land, depths of 10-20cms are often all that is required to open the pistes, compared with higher altitude resorts where a metre or so is needed to cover the rocks.

Those in the know have long since discovered that the Northern French Alps have some of the best and consistent snow conditions to be found anywhere across Europe. Over the last few seasons, the Portes du Soleil has had fantastic conditions while at the same time the higher and so called “snow sure” resorts in the south of France have been sorely lacking in snow. Come and find out what all the fuss is about…!

Download the Portes du Soleil Piste Map (it’s a big file).

Save money this year – ski in Chatel

Chatel Ski Holidays
Chatel Ski Holidays

Looking for a budget ski holiday this year? Why not try Chatel, in the giant Portes du Soleil ski area of France and Switzerland.

The resort is close to Geneva Airport (great for budget flights with Easyjet), and is also one of the first resorts you reach when driving from Calais.

With the greatly improved pound-to-euro exchange rate (and assuming it doesn’t change too much during the winter), in-resort prices will be between a fifth and quarter cheaper than they were last winter.

What’s more, the Chatel tourist office is offering 10% off either a local-area Chatel lift pass (valid 3 days or more) or a Portes du Soleil lift pass (valid 5 days or more) if you book online before the 9th December 2012. Visit Chatel.com for more information.

We also have lots of budget apartments to rent in this ever popular resort – plenty of studios and 1-2 bedroom apartments which won’t break the bank! Follow this link to view our self catered apartments in Chatel.

Mountain biking in the Portes du Soleil

Mountain Biking in the Portes du Soleil
Mountain Biking in the Portes du Soleil

How often have you actually ridden your mountain bike down a mountain? If you mostly ride in the UK, then chances are you don’t do it very often. However, this sport that we all know and love is called “mountain biking” for a reason. If you sit at the top of a mountain pass in the French Alps, looking across towards the snow capped mountains and glaciers of the Mont Blanc range, with 1500m descent of twisty technical single track ahead of you; suddenly it all starts to make sense.

The Portes du Soleil region, in the northern French Alps, has become a Mecca for mountain biking and not without good reason. In winter the area is famous for being the largest linked ski area in the world, but during the summer months it is also easily the largest lift served mountain bike trail area in the world.

The area really does have something to offer all styles and levels of mountain biking. For cross country riders, there are plenty of demanding climbs to challenge your fitness. For downhill riders, there are well over 20 dedicated downhill tracks ranging from easy to insane. For free riders, the area really comes into its own with mile after mile of varied terrain including bike parks, technical forest single track, exposed steep faces and north shore style courses.

In response to the growing demand from mountain bikers from all disciplines, many of the resorts in the area have invested heavily in mountain bike infrastructure.

In Switzerland, the combined areas of Champéry, Val d’Illiez-Les Crosets-Champoussin & Morgins boast a four cross track, a north shore zone, a bike park, 3 downhill courses (including the infamous UCI world cup downhill course, and the UCI 15 km cross country loop.

In Les Gets over in the French side, there is a beginners’ downhill track at the Grand Cry Park and 2 beginners’ MTB parks; the Kid’Zone and Mini Jump Park. For the more experienced there is a dirt and freestyle jump park, a four cross track, a freeride zone in “Gibannaz Canyon”, 4 downhill courses, and 6 cross-country suitable for all riders.

Chatel, which is right at the centre of the area, has perhaps the biggest selection of purpose built MTB areas with 15 MTB tracks (14 of which are downhill profiled), 5 north shore zones, 1 four cross track, the infamous freeride “La Face” mountain style zone, 1 kid’s cross and a drop zone with jump pit, wall ride, quarter, step-ups and step-downs.

Despite having great trails for intermediate, advanced and crazy riders, the Portes du Soleil area is also a fantastic place to learn mountain biking, or to go riding with young families. There are lots of opportunities to get chairlifts up to the tops of the mountains, and then find your way around on 4×4 tracks which don’t tend to be too steep or challenging.

One of the reasons why the Portes du Soleil has become so popular for mountain biking is because the sheer vastness of the area results an incredible mix of varied terrain, and ensures that the trails never become too busy. Indeed, it is possible to ride all day and not see another person. Couple this with picturesque resorts, great value accommodation and the glorious back drop of the Dents du Midi and Dents Blanches mountains, and it is clear to see why the Portes du Soleil is one of the best mountain biking destinations in the world.

The Passportes du Soleil Mountain Bike Race

Passportes du Soleil
Passportes du Soleil

The Passportes du Soleil is an epic mountain bike race in the huge Portes du Soleil region of France & Switzerland which heralds the start of summer and the opening of the lift system. It takes place over the last weekend in June, and has evolved from an earlier event known as the “Freeraid”.

Most riders don’t really treat the Passportes as a race (although you do get a number for the front of your bike) but simply a great day’s mountain bike riding. The event is massive – 2 days, 3 courses (30, 45 & 75 km) and 3700 riders. The classic trek of 75 km includes 12 ski lifts, 6500 m of total downhill, 500 m of total uphill climb.

What makes this event unique is the fact that it attracts a wide range of participants – from lycra clad cross country riders to armour clad downhill riders, and from beginners to experts. Everyone gets involved and rides the same course. True, the cross country riders tend to beat the downhill riders on the climbs, and for the real keen peddlers, there is also optional climbing sections. And true the downhillers tend to overtake the cross country riders when it comes to descending, and there are a couple of optional “free ride” sections. But overall, the race is a fantastic melting pot of all mountain bike styles and standards.

As for the course itself – it has to be one of the best in the world! It takes in some amazing panoramas on the Morgins and Champoussin sections with views of the Dents du Midi, the Dents Blanch and even Mont Blanc. There is some excellent steep and twisty single track down through the woods in Torgon. There are dedicated downhill courses used at Chatel and Les Gets. There is an epic descent from the top of Linderets down to Morzine and there are some great meandering cross-country sections on relatively easy 4×4 tracks.

Another excellent feature of this event are the fantastic refreshment stands located at regular intervals throughout the course. Large tables offer up a wide range of snacks and drinks, from energy/nut bars to cheese and ham, from energy drinks to beer and wine. It is always interesting to see who feels fit to tuck into the alcoholic drinks at ten in the morning, and then avoid them if you see them on the course!

The Passporte du Soleil is really an event for everyone. It has become so massive that it now sells out months in advance. However, if you visit the Portes du Soleil later on in the summer, it is possible to get a map from the local tourist office and cycle pretty much the whole route.

Race stats:

Classic trek – 75 Km
The classic circuit is for purists: a long tour of the Portes du Soleil about 75km
    * approximatively 75km – 12 lifts
    * 6500m of total downhill/ 500m of total uphill
    * 7 resorts to start from : Avoriaz, Châtel, Les Gets, Morzine, Champéry, Morgins et Torgon
    * 8 refreshments points

Intermediate trek – 45 km
45km with one aim in mind; having fun
    * approximatively 45km – 7 lifts
    * 4000m of total downhill /300m of total uphill.
    * 4 resorts to start from: Châtel, Champéry, Morgins et Torgon.
    * 4 refreshments points

Discovery trek – 30km
For those who are quite good at mountain biking, but out on The Portes du Soleil’s tracks for the first ime…an ideal “breaking in route”
    * approximatively 30km- 5 lifts
    * 2200m of total downhill/ 200m of total uphill
    * 3 resorts to start from: Avoriaz, Morzine et Les Gets
    * 3 refreshments points

For more information, visit the Passportes du Soleil website.