Dan Fox, owner of Ski Weekends has been running holidays to the Portes du Soleil for almost 20 years. So who better to pull back the cover on the ‘other side’ of Les Gets… (get your powder skis at the ready, folks!)
We find that many resorts that have a ‘unique selling point’ can become pigeon-holed so that you would be forgiven for thinking they have little else to offer. Zermatt, for example, known for its excellent mountain restaurants and quirky Swiss village, also happens to have some fantastically diverse off-piste, but no one ever talks about it! Another example of this clouded judgement is Val d’Isère, renowned for consistent snow and expansive off-piste, but it is also quietly brimming with blue runs where beginners would thrive – but we don’t tend to hear that side of the story.
In the same vein, Les Gets is routinely labelled as the quintessential family-centric resort: known for its rolling pistes, charming and diverse village that could not be any simpler to negotiate on foot, and easy access from the airport (it’s one of our best-selling resorts for weekend visits)…
But is that really the whole story?
Ski Weekends has been operating breaks in Les Gets for 12 years and we have seen plenty more to it besides merely its ‘accessible’ side. To give you a quick idea, some of our local friends who live year-round in the Portes du Soleil prefer to ski the slopes of Les Gets on a powder day over making the trip up to Avoriaz (the highest of the Portes du Soleil resorts).
In fact, just briefly, let’s touch on the topic of the network of resorts that is the Portes du Soleil: they are of course a major advantage of booking a holiday in Les Gets. From the centre of Les Gets village, you can access one of the world’s greatest interconnected ski systems, linking 12 resorts across France and Switzerland, reaching different valleys, altitudes and weather patterns. So a holiday in Les Gets is far more than just one resort. There is no greater freedom for a skier than simply following your nose, and the Portes du Soleil allows you to do that, mile after mile, looking for quieter pistes or livelier bars, or gnarlier snowparks, steeper off-piste, better visibility. In fact, you could ski a lifetime in the Portes du Soleil and barely have skied every piste, let alone the off-piste runs. But let’s focus on Les Gets here…
So yes: the off-piste runs in Les Gets are superb and – best of all – so few people know about them, so the snow stays untracked here for much longer than the popular go-to spots elsewhere in the Portes do Soleil.
In the spirit of addressing the lesser-known side of Les Gets, let’s start with the Pointe de Chéry, the perfect pyramid-shaped mountain across from the Chavannes lift. The Mont Chéry gondola departs from the opposite side of the road from the main Les Gets lifts and is a clear option for avoiding crowds during the busier weeks. The Pointe de Chéry is where the mountain biking World Cup race descends in the summer. The views from up here, reaching as far as the Mont Blanc Massif and the Aiguilles of Chamonix, are stunning and it certainly is a more tranquil setting for couples or groups. The pistes on the sunny side are perfect mid-season, while the back side of the mountain, Chéry Nord, is a haven for quiet powder turns when the snow gods provide. There is even a steep, nicely shaded, black run, perfect for getting the thighs burning in fresh snow or for quality snow in between storms.
If we head up Chavannes to the more classic side of Les Gets, you come to the natural bowl where many of the chairlifts, including the popular Ranfolly chairlift, depart from. This is a great area to ski whatever the conditions, because the bowl shape means you can select to ski whichever aspect of the bowl has the best snow in relation to the sun-effect. The lesser skied side, it has to be said, is the steeper, shadier side, which means more adept skiers can enjoy relatively undisturbed snow under the Grains d’Or and Rosta chairs on a powder day.
The whole bowl, Ranfolly side included, is in fact an excellent place to work on some tree skiing. You can find little stashes of snow in hidden meadows here long after a snowfall, and there is little chance of getting lost due to the fact that the topography will naturally lead you back to the lifts. (It goes without saying that skiers must have the correct equipment and experience for venturing outside the poles and do so at their own risk.)
If you’re looking to avoid the intermediate-level terrain and want something a little steeper, then the Chamossière Express of Morzine—Les Gets will whisk you up into the highest altitude skiing of the region. Riding the chair up will give you an excellent perspective on what is being skied and how the snow is looking, both to the left and the right.
As you and your ski buddies exit the chair to the right, you can warm up on the fast red piste and grab some turns off the side. And, if conditions permit, on the subsequent lap, you turn left at the top towards the vast Chamossière Freeride Zone. This area is a massive expanse where you can really open up the taps. The area is routinely bombed to avert avalanches and reduce the risk to off-piste adventurers; the pisteurs will rope this zone off if the risk is too high on the day and their rules ought to be respected (for off-piste debutants it is a true benefit that the Portes du Soleil resorts manage such ‘Freeride Zones’ as these for skiers, but please take the appropriate precautions when skiing here). The Chamossière Freeride Zone is long and has many different pitches over rollers and through trees, and finally brings you back to either the Chamossière chair or on to Troncs where you can continue on your mission.
If you got a taste for the steeper slope angles and fresher snow, your next stop should be the Pointe de Nyon (2,019m). Taking the three-person Nyon chair to the top of the Pointe – the aesthetic triangular peak dominating the Morzine Valley, much like the Matterhorn does in Zermatt – you will be greeted by spectacular views of Morzine village below, even Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) in the distance. There is also a new metal viewing gangway up here, which provides you with a view towards Avoriaz and the Dents du Midi of Switzerland – perhaps the direction you will ski the following day.
Head up to Pointe de Nyon on a powder day and you will see a few season-hardened locals and almost no-one else. Be warned, venturing off-piste here is only for the most skilled skiers. It is steep and there are many terrain traps and obstacles. If you choose to build up to it then the lower part of the mountain has plenty of interesting lines in and out of trees where good snow can be found. Then at the final reaches before the chair, you can dip into the small boardercross and snowpark to keep your freestyle technique up to scratch. We recommended stopping at the restaurant here to see the brilliant eagle show, where you can even ski with a huge white-tailed eagle. Another one of the favourite restaurants in the vicinity is Chez Nanon, a small authentic mountain hut where the reblochon cheese flows like wine.
Returning back over above Les Gets village, there is a special piste that deserves a mention, that of Les Pérrières. The piste is at its best first thing in the morning, when the piste-bashers have smoothed it to perfection. Top to bottom the pitch gradually steepens allowing you to ramp up your speed and flex your skis, or board, more and more on each carve. The local racers know how good this piste is, since they regularly host races here. So if there is no fresh snow around, Les Pérrières is a great option to get the thighs burning.
Down in town there are some excellent bars and craft beer establishments to wet your whistle after the day’s exploring. Our favourites are L’Aprèski bar at the foot of the pistes, Le Pub Irlandais, which brews its own beer, or for a quieter glass of wine, try Le Bacchus at the Hotel Crychar.
So there we have it, a few ‘non-beginner’ and ‘non-family’ ideas for those looking to discover more than the typical Les Gets holidaymaker. And remember, due to the fact that most people book Les Gets for those aforementioned draws, you will have more of the other good bits to yourself, all with the same ease of access from the airport and from the centre of town, stress-free.
Oh, and a final point – because Les Gets really does tick the ‘skiing for all’ box, you know that if you’re visiting as a couple, a family, or a group of friends, all members of your party will be happy, regardless of their skiing level or interest. Visiting solo? Chalet Marjorie, with its 38 beds, is a great place to meet like-minded skiers to explore with.
See you there this winter? You’ll find us lapping those Ranfolly trees…