Mixing learning and skiing in Morzine

By | Category: Travel destinations

a view of Avoriaz, the newer part of the area

Arriving at the rather unglamorous hour of 2am after bouncing up and down the Alpine hairpins from Geneva airport, my first impressions of Morzine were slightly on “the dark side.” But even through the night-time gloom I could glimpse what every avid skier longs for: snow.  Admittedly rather patchy, but as the season in the Alps has been somewhat hit and miss this year, I was of the opinion that every little helps. Now, in early March, there is plenty of snow around. Next morning I awoke to splendid views of imposing summits all around and there was even a hint of sunshine. Time to get my skis on, for sure!

Carrying your own ski equipment on holiday can be great in helping to build up muscles but few of us actually do it and who wants to do it at 2am?. These days it is quite common to use a company that specialises not just in transfers but knowing how to look after the sports/firness equipment that you take with you. There are companies like Ski-Lifts which specialise in airport transfers (shared, private, coach etc.) to ski resorts.

I was spending a week in the small town of Morzine, to get some good skiing in and, hopefully, also to improve my rusty school French. An old, traditional market town in the Haute-Savoie department (dating as far back as the twelfth century), Morzine is proud of its pre-ski era roots and Savoyarde culture and cuisine are evident wherever you go. In winter though, most people visit for the pleasure of that white powdery stuff and Morzine, which started as a ski resort back in 1930, has an excellent location in the Portes du Soleil, a ski area stretching far and wide. In fact it’s one of the two largest ski areas in the world and encompasses 14 resorts in both France and Switzerland and the slopes stay open here until mid-April.

the Morzine Troncs chairlift when it was being built

Morzine, although situated in a valley, still lies at an altitude of roughly 1000m  (3280 ft), which makes it easy to get up the hillsides to higher and snowier ground. Two gondolas, the Super Morzine and the Télécabine du Pléney, take you up straight from the town centre. My skis were soon sorted thanks to Boris, my French teacher for the week, who also turned out to be a keen snowboarder and we were off towards Avoriaz, one of the main ski areas of Portes du Soleil. If Morzine is something of a grandfather on the ski scene, Avoriaz is more of a newcomer, having been purpose-built in the 1960s-70s. The futuristic-looking buildings, covered in cedar wood, are all high-rise, but blend in surprisingly well with the landscape. Cars are banned and skis rule the day, but horse-drawn sleighs are available as well.

I certainly wasn’t ready to give up my skis for a sleigh-ride this soon and spent the day familiarising myself with the nearby slopes, graded from green to blue, followed by red and black, with green being the easiest and so on. I mostly stuck to the blue runs – although I confess I even went for a green early on – to break myself in gently (no emphasis on “break”). It’s hard to explain to a non-skier that sheer feeling of exhilaration and pleasure you get from hitting the slopes for the first time in the season, but I can only describe it as a sense of flying free without needing a plane. I was in seventh heaven going down the slopes in the Alpine sunshine, glorious scenery all around and beautiful snow conditions on the pistes.

seeing the conditions from above

No point overdoing it on the first day, though. It had been two years since I last skied and even if I was on cloud nine, my legs – knees and thighs in particular – were reminding me I was firmly on the ground, using muscles that were soon protesting. Returning to Morzine I instead explored the centre a bit. It was snowing cats and dogs, so what better time to try that Christmas present I had been given – ice-skates. Morzine has two rinks, one small outdoor one and a larger indoor one. I decided skating in snow would be more “festive”, so went for the outdoor one. Had just got my skates on and was merrily going round the rink, when a kindly lady caught up with me and promptly asked if I’d paid to skate yet. Oops…

Sheepishly, I paid my €4, but by then it was snowing so heavily, I couldn’t continue my skating pursuits for long. The heavy snow that evening was just the beginning. When it snows in the Alps, it really snows and for the next 2-3 days there was no let-up. By day three over 20 inches had fallen and the more barren landscape of the valley had turned into a gorgeous snow-scape with everything covered in white fluff. Sadly scenic beauty doesn’t always go hand in hand with great skiing and the constant snowfall did make it a bit harder to enjoy the slopes with reduced visibility, but nevertheless I persisted, spending the mornings on piste and the afternoons in the classroom for my first formal French lessons in more years than I care to admit.

with a stop for a snack

The Alpine French School, situated slap-bang in the centre of Morzine, offers a variety of French lessons often combined with activities, such as my ski-and-French experience and after a week I really felt my French had taken a turn for the better. My quick phone interview back in the UK had deemed my level to be intermediate – possibly a slightly generous estimate – and over the course of five days I had 3 hours of French every afternoon in a small group of students from a variety of different countries from Ireland to Singapore.

The combination of skiing in the morning and “Frenching” in the afternoon turned out to be a well-thought out concept, as there was enough time to enjoy the slopes (with conditions much improved after the heavy snow), get back to Morzine for lunch and still be ready for class at 3 pm. The lessons managed to be fun, very interactive and varied, while still being challenging enough for the more advanced speakers. My rusty, old French felt very much alive again after the first day and I took every opportunity to practise while on and off the slopes. Morzine has quite a large British expat community, however, so if you have no French to speak of (or with), most people do speak English in bars and restaurants.

before returning to the slopes

On the subject of bars and restaurants, the week wasn’t all exercise of brain and legs, since none of the above would have worked without good nourishment. Morzine, and the Haute-Savoie in general, is quite a hub for good food and drink. As well as trying local restaurants, I had the chance to enjoy some beautifully prepared dinners at Ferme a Jules, one of several cosy chalets run by AliKats. Canapés and aperitifs by the log fire, followed by a convivial 3-course meal with the other guests and then cheese and red wine back in the common room set me up nicely for my mornings on the pistes. There are certainly worse ways to get fit and improve one’s linguistic prowess.

For more informtion about skining in Morzine, click here or go to www.morzine-avoriaz.com

Getting there: Geneva is the nearest airport, served by a variety of airlines from the UK and Ireland including  Aer Lingus, Flybe, easyJet, British Airways, Jet 2, Monarch, Swiss International, Thomas Cook and TUI.

By Anna Maria Espsäter

First UK Rights

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