Top Lift: 2466m
Ski area: 650km of piste
Adult lift pass: 237€ for six days
In a Nutshell
The highest, most snowsure resort in the giant Portes du Soleil ski area, Avoriaz has a kooky charm – and a superb array of terrain parks. It’s a great destination in a good snow year: much less so when the snow’s thin on the lower slopes.
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
Avoriaz is part of the Portes du Soleil – a trans-frontier alliance of a dozen ski villages in France and Switzerland, south of Lac Leman. It’s a vast and endlessly-varied playground, boasting 197 ski lifts, 650km of pistes, 10 terrain parks and oodles of off-piste in between. And it would be one of the world’s greatest ski areas if only it were a little higher.
Problem is, the highest lift in the Portes du Soleil tops out a 2466m, and many of the slopes are below 2000m. Several of the resort towns and villages are down at 1000m. That compares unfavourably with the A-list ski areas such as the Espace Killy and the Three Valleys – and it makes much of the skiing here vulnerable to the sudden thaws that can hit the Alps, even in January.
That doesn’t mean the lower slopes are snowless very often. Batteries of snow-cannons making the stuff artificially see to that. But it does mean snow quality is more variable than you’ll find in the likes of Val d’Isere, Courchevel or Val Thorens, with more icy mornings and more slushy afternoons on the pistes. And sometimes, in a warm spring (such as the baking hot one of 2011), some of its lower resorts are forced to close early.
Still, the terrain is very good here – and the snowfall average for the highest slopes is one of the best in France (around 8 metres a season – significantly higher than Val d’Isere, for example). Prices are noticeably lower than in some of its rivals, too. In a good, cold winter, you can have a blast here. Especially if you go to Avoriaz.
Avoriaz is not your average ski resort
Set at the top of a great cliff, in a high-ish mountain bowl, Avoriaz has always been one of the most forward-looking ski resorts in the Alps. Designed to be car-free, it’s based around a series of high-rise buildings that are linked by boulevard-style pistes on the outside, and stairs, lifts and covered walkways within. Most of the accommodation is in self-catering apartments, and some of it is brand-new. Nearly all of it is ski-in, ski-out.
It’s not just the look of the place that’s futuristic. Avoriaz has also had an open mind when it comes to the latest trends and was one of the early Alpine capitals of snowboarding. It built its first terrain park and half-pipe back in 1993. Ever since, it’s been a big supporter of freestylers, whether on one plank or two, and these days boasts three parks and a super-pipe, as well as one of Burton’s ground-breaking Stash forest parks.
Add to that the plentiful of (relatively) cheap accommodation and you’ll understand why it’s such a big hit with young Brits, Swedes, Belgians and Dutch. And while it can’t match the likes of Val Thorens for apres-ski, it can still rock at night.
Anyone for a cute little ski village with a bit of history and a rough-hewn Alpine atmosphere should give it a wide berth. And we’d strongly advise against skiing here in a snow-drought or a warm spring. Not only will you find lots of the lower pistes closed, you’ll also find everyone from the lower villages congregating around Avoriaz, which can be unacceptably over-crowded as a result. But if you’re looking for convenience, spirit, skiing variety, and – above all – terrain parks, put it somewhere near the top of your hit-list.