AVORIAZ is best for: Families, intermediates, freestylers
Highlights: Car-free, sunny village with compact centre, ski-in/ski-out lodgings, shady snowsure slopes, great position on the Portes du Soleil circuit, leading resort for freestylers (five terrain parks and a super-pipe), plenty of good off-piste, access to the legendary Swiss Wall, and a renowned kids' club.
Non-skiers: Aquariaz leisure pool, bowling, skating rink, dog sledding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
Nearest airports: Geneva (100km/1hr30), Chambery (145km/1hr50), Lyon (220km/2hr30). Nearest station: Cluses and Thonon-les-bains are both around 1 hour away by road
Six-day ski pass: €260
Slap bang in the centre of the Portes du Soleil ski area, Avoriaz (1,800m) has access to some serious terrain – 650km to be exact. The local ski area ain't too shabby either with fast, modern lifts and high, snow-sure slopes receiving around eight metres of powder each winter. Avoriaz is also one of the French greats for freestylers – there are now five snowparks and a super-pipe.
Architecturally, Avoriaz is one of the more modern resorts in the Portes du Soleil but, in contrast, transportation around town is delightfully old fashioned. It is one of the few pedestrianized resorts in the Alps so you won't see any cars here; sleds, snowcats or horse-drawn sleighs are the only form of transport allowed, and skis of course – the resort’s high-altitude means skiing back to your hotel is the norm. Avoriaz has a very narrow selection of hotels and restaurants, but just a lift ride away (with more choice) is the British favourite, Morzine.
Avoriaz: 75.5km local slopes (650km Portes du Soleil)
The Portes du Soleil is one of the largest ski areas in the world, comprising 650km of slopes and 12 resorts. With a vast and varied choice of ski runs, the area offers endless possibilities, allowing you to cross the border into Switzerland.
In the heart of the Portes du Soleil sits Avoriaz – the highest resort in the area with the best snow conditions; its local ski slopes receive, on average, eight metres of powder each winter. The resort has lifts and pistes fanning out in all directions. Its closest slopes can appear a little bleak and tree-less, but they are fairly snow-sure and are served by fast, modern lifts. If you’re heading out further afield, be warned the lifts beyond Chatel are outdated and slow.
There’s plenty to satisfy all skiers in Avoriaz: long, gentle cruisers and highly acclaimed ski schools for families; five snowparks and a superpipe for freestylers; and the terrifying Swiss Wall, Olympic downhill and fast, technical off-piste routes for experts.
There are three off-piste runs that should not be missed on powder day: Vallée de la manche – a 10km descent with dramatic views of the Mont Blanc; La Pointe de Vorlaz – a very fast and technical run; and the Swiss side of Mossette which starts with a narrow passage before opening into a large plateau and canyon.
Alternatively, for a less risky off-piste experience, all ski levels can enjoy the snowcross zones which offer all the thrills of unpisted slopes in a safe, patrolled setting: the black snowcross zones of Crozats and La Frontaliere; red snowcross zones of Les Brouchaux and Pschott; and the blue La Combe des Marmottes snowcross – a playful area of small undulations, ideal for families.
On the pistes
Expert/Advanced: Expert skiers should make their first port of call the infamous Swiss Wall. Early risers will often find powder conditions, making it not nearly as terrifying, but leave it too late in the day and the Wall turns into a seriously steep icy mogul field. Take the lifts up to the Chavanette sector and beyond the Swiss border lies the Wall. Before entering the Wall, you pass the "For Experts Only" sign. After you've completed the first six turns and rounded an overhang, the Wall reveals itself as a steep 200-metre slope. Do not try to attempt the wall in icy conditions – it can be fatal.
When your legs have stopped wobbling from conquering the Wall, take the Grandes Combes lift up to 2,400m to reach the long, steep black runs down to Les Prodains – the most demanding in Avoriaz, and featuring an Olympic downhill.
Advanced skiers have a huge concentration of long reds, winding through the trees, between Les Lindarets and Chatel.
Intermediates: Gain confidence on the three long, gentle blue runs from the top of the Grandes Combes. Other options include taking the Chavanette and Fornet lifts to cruise some seriously long blues or exploring the pretty, tree-lined routes leading down to Les Lindarets and Chatel. There’s plenty of gentle intermediate terrain above Champery in the Planachaux area. From here you can also reach the large open skiing around Champoussin and Les Crosets.
Beginners: Enrol in the Avoriaz Alpine Ski School staffed with British instructors while children aged from 3 years spend a full day’s skiing (with lunch and tea) at the Village des Enfants. After a confidence-building ski lesson in the morning, head out onto the sunny green and blue slopes right next to town to practice your turns. The blue snowcross, La Combe des Marmottes, is an unpisted, but patrolled zone offering a playful area of small undulations, ideal for families.
The half-pipe has been transformed into a Super-Pipe, now 120-metres-long and six metres high.
The well-maintained Arare Snowpark, which can be accessed from Grandes Combes, is billed as “the real snowpark for freestylers” and is for advanced to expert skiers only. It features kicker and rail lines as well as an airbag jump. Next to the Arare Snowpark is the boardercross: ‘blue’ to warm up and ‘red’ to really challenge your skills.
La Chapelle snowpark is ideal for beginners and intermediates with its jumps of all sizes. It has been designed to meet the needs of both skiers and snowboarders and features different obstacles (boardercross, jumps and woops).
Intermediates can also hit The Stash, with its wooden and natural elements. Kids have their own mini snowparks at Parkway and Lil’Stash.