It’s a great concept, the catered ski chalet. Imagine your house, but dropped in the mountains, tantalisingly close to the slopes. Lush the place up, with big sofas everywhere and a steaming hot tub on the terrace; add some of your best friends, a chef to conjur up dinner with unlimited wine and staff to serve you. If you are organising a holiday for a big ski group, this home-from-home concept is arguably the best way to go.
You don’t find catered chalets in every ski resort, however. This curiously British invention has only been exported to certain parts of the French, Swiss and Austrian Alps.
Morzine and its neighbour Les Gets are two resorts whose pretty villages and slopes are dotted with handsome, chocolate-box chalets. When there’s been a dump of snow, it’s a particularly beautiful sight. With this in mind, I’d found a chalet in Morzine, Chalet Morin, which could fit our group of 24 people.
The resort prides itself on being relatively close to Geneva airport, but the local train station, Cluses, is nearer still. A journey all the way there by train would be more social at fraction of the carbon footprint. And so it proved.
Our Eurostar slipped out of St Pancras at 8am, and it wasn’t long before cava corks were popping and Kent became Normandy and then Paris. A change of station by prebooked taxi, coffee at Café Montreax in Gare de Lyon, and we were tearing towards the Alps on a rather comfortable TGV.
With not everyone in the group knowing each other, rail travel was a great way to bond – with friendships solidifying hours before we would tumble across the threshold of the chalet.
Morzine is located right in the middle of the Portes du Soleil, a whooping great 650km ski area that spans Les Gets, Avoriaz, Chatel and a bunch of other Swiss resorts too. The beauty of the area is that many of the runs are below the treeline, which is not only aesthetically appealing, but practical: in snow or flat light, the trees give you a visual reference point that means you can see where you are going. That kind of helps!
The expanse of the area means that the possibilities feel endless, with epic exploration possible in all directions. Nor are the slopes busy, once you get off the main access runs. In some places we’d find ourselves virtually alone on the slopes, the only other skiers ant-like specks in the distance. The slopes at Mont Chery in Les Gets stay particularly quiet, tucked away at one end of the Portes du Soleil, and overlooked by many skiers who stay on the main circuit. Here, it was perfect for carving, with spectacular views on both sides of the mountain. Avoriaz was another popular destination to ski to, and beyond it Les Crosets, with superb slopes fanning out above it.
There are also plenty of mountain restaurants here, so you are never short of somewhere to refuel. La Grande Ourse, run by a British family on Mont Chery has incredible views from the terrace. Tucked handily at the base of the Chery Nord mountainside is La Chanterelle, another well-loved favourite hut.
Over on the Swiss side at Champoussin, we discovered the little mountain hut, La Ferme à Gaby. The place has a working fromagerie – and platters that read like a Who’s Who of various local cheeses. By the end it was death-by-cheese, with mainly stomach gravity guiding us home.
With such a big ski area and so much on restaurant menus, timing is important. If you end up eating lunch on the other side of the mountain, and tarry too long, you could end up missing your connection. This could result in a hefty taxi bill or an attempt to find couchsurf a sofa space in a different chalet!
When it comes to choosing chalets, many people feel that the ultimate chalet can only be ‘ski-in-ski-out’, located right on the slopes. But like ours, most chalets are located a little distance from the slopes and the chalets usually offer a chauffeur service to bring the slopes at the start of the day and a pick up at the end. This gets you out of bed and encourages you to stay out the whole day, and so paradoxically you ski more than if the slopes began at the foot of your chalet door.
Morzine village is a fairly lively one, with après that goes from when the slopes close until the wee hours. Hotel Tremplin, located right at the foot of the slopes, will trap you for at least a first drink, and from there you can head over to Beanie’s, popular with seasonaires. Later on the Cavern and Le Coyote both gets busy, while Bec Jaune has it’s own microbrewery, spawned from it’s roots at the Kerney Brewery in Bermondsey, London.
Of course, the great thing about having 24 people in a chalet is that staying in is still like going out, with plenty of people to hang out with.
Slopes skied, cheese eaten, friendships made – the week ended all too soon. We headed back down to Cluses station, slumped into our TGV train seats, and looked out at the scenery that we were already planning to return to.
Daniel stayed at Chalet Morin, Morzine.
You can book travel from London to Cluses with Voyages SNCF.
Useful travel companion: The European Rail Map £10.99 + p&p from europeanrailtimetable.eu.