Morzine is not exactly renowned for its off-piste and backcountry opportunities. Which if you like to head away from the pisted slopes is good news – read this review of Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday in Portes du Soleil to find out why.
Freeride snowboarding holiday in Portes du Soleil
Morzine is part of the massive Portes du Soleil, a 650km mostly lift linked ski area spanning the French and Swiss border. Morzine is the largest town in the region and is well linked to the many different sectors there are to explore.
To conduct this review of Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday I was fortunate to spend 10 days shredding in the area. Of course to really test the Portes du Soleil freeride snowboarding it had to be a little more special than a standard ski holiday.
So I booked onto a five day backcountry camp with Mint Snowboarding. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made, as from first to last lift we were guided to the best off-piste spots. All while learning about off-piste safety, avalanche rescue and avoidance, plus in depth coaching of our riding.
The other five days were spent with friends from Geneva who know the area well – in particular the between piste off-piste. However to get into the backcountry proper we hired a mountain guide from the Morzine Bureau des Guides.
This alone would make for an excellent Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday in Portes du Soleil. To make it unforgettable we just needed snow, and boy did the snow gods deliver. With well over a meter of fresh stuff spread across the 10 days, including four dumps of over 30cm and top ups most nights.
It meant that visibility wasn’t always the best. But across 10 days we had three that were clear blue skies and a few that were changeable. There were only really two days that were terrible conditions, and we still got out and made the most of them.
Obligatory off-piste warnings
Before I get into the review of Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday in Portes du Soleil I have four warnings I’d like you to read.
Firstly, I do not intend to give specific instructions for the backcountry routes we took, because conditions constantly change and I don’t want to send anyone somewhere dangerous. This article is a review of the different areas of freeride snowboarding in Portes du Soleil. It’s to give you an idea of whether you’d like to do similar.
Secondly, heading away from the piste is dangerous and you should only do so if you know what you are doing and have all the relevant equipment. Get yourself on an avalanche course like those by Mint Snowboarding, and until you know the area hire a mountain guide.
Thirdly, there is a always a grey area between the different types of off-piste. When I talk about ‘between piste’ off-piste I mean areas near to pistes that are avalanche controlled. By backcountry I mean areas that are not avalanche controlled. The grey area is when you cross between the two, which is down to you to know.
Fourthly, we barely scratched the surface of the freeride snowboarding in Portes du Soleil. So what you read here is just a snap shot of what you could enjoy on a Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday.
Review of Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday
For this review of Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday I will break it down by areas in the Portes du Soleil. I’ll cover the sectors we visited in detail, but I will also include some areas we were told about but didn’t get to snowboard. I will also tell you how to get to each area from Morzine.
Review of Super Morzine freeride snowboarding
The Super Morzine area is the easiest to reach from the town. Just hop on the Super Morzine gondola and then take the Zore chairlift from the top.
From the top are some simple blue runs back to the Zore chairlift. They are are not long or steep or particularly challenging but after fresh snow they are a lot of fun.
The beauty is that most people only use the Zore chair as a stepping stone on the way to Avoriaz. This means fresh snow does not get tracked out despite thousands of people heading up the Super Morzine gondola.
Beside and between the Zore pistes are a lot of slopes that are below the gradient that is at avalanche risk. In the summer this area is a mountain bike park and the various berms and jumps beneath the snow ensure that the ride is undulating and great fun.
This is the perfect place for someone that is new to off-piste to find their powder legs in relative safety. It is also good for practicing freeride tricks on the snow covered mountain biking tracks – perfect start for a Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday.
Review of Avoriaz/Prodains off-piste
Prodains itself is easy to reach from Morzine by hopping on one of the free and frequent buses. Couples with the Prodains Express you can reach Avoriaz in around 30 minutes which is by far the quickest way to reach the highest resort in Portes du Soleil from Morzine.
To explore the Prodains area you can either take the Lac Intrets lift from Avoriaz or the Grand Combes which is halfway back down into Prodains. Both bring you out high above Avoriaz where there is a designated freeride area around some blacks. This is often closed due to avalanche risk, but once made safe it is opened.
The runs are often un-pistes making it a lot of fun after snow. However, if you bear far left there are some very interesting routes through the trees. The further left you go the more challenging the snowboarding becomes.
At its extreme left you have an excellent slope which ends with you having to to unstrap to cross a partially frozen stream and traverse an icy path clinging to a cliff face. It’s a short but sketchy hike come scramble, if you fell it would be inconvenient rather than a disaster.
You are rewarded with a ride through virtually untouched glades. They are linked by narrow, and in some cases very challenging, routes through the trees. The powder got heavy towards the bottom but it was a lot of fun.
If you don’t go as far left there are a few easier routes down through similar glades without the difficult bits. But they are shorter runs, plus being more accessible they gets tracked out sooner. Both routes bring you back to the Prodains Express.
Review of Avoriaz/Fornet freeride
From the top of the Fornet chair – which leaves from just above Avoriaz via the Stade Chair – you can enjoy one of the best backcountry routes I tried on this Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday in Portes du Soleil. Rather than taking the piste you hike/climb over a ridge (this is an avalanche prone slope) into the Vallee de la Manche.
I have enjoyed two different routes down. The first was straight down, through a wide and steep bowl – one at a time to avoid overloading the snow pack. It narrows at the bottom and there are a couple of big cliffs to avoid, but also some small cliffs perfect for practicing cliff drops.
You then run through a gully that in places is like a natural half pipe. There are numerous undulations and opportunities to bust out a trick. Be careful as it ends with a flat section then a short uphill, so if you fall it is a long walk.
The other option is to traverse left across across an avalanche prone slope. We traversed a very, very long way and I spotted that other people had dropped in at various spots, showing there are many routes down.
The long traverse took us to completely untouched powder – impressive a day and a half after it had last snowed. The way down is a series of smaller and less steep bowls than the other route. It’s easier, but in some ways more fun as you could practice tricks the whole way safe in the knowledge that if you get it wrong there is not a long walk.
Both routes bring you to a cross country ski route that is only slightly downhill. There are no lifts at the bottom so you need to catch the bus which comes every hour or two – so plan your arrival. There’s a great restaurant at the bottom for a lunch stop or cheeky beer.
Along the edge of the blue and red runs from the fornet chair is some good between piste freeride. This is the highest area in all of the Portes Du Soleil so it would be rude not to visit it during a Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday.
Freeride in Ardent and Lindarets Valley (low end)
From above Avoriaz you can drop into the Lindarets and Ardent Valley where there are a wealth of freeride snowboarding to explore. You can also access the area more quickly by catching the bus from Morzine to Ardent and hopping on the Ardent Gondola.
If arriving via Avoriaz you can take the world famous Stash which was voted the best ski run in the world by CNN. It’s a nature inspired zone that merges freeride and freestyle with many routes and lots of features. There is also a lot of between piste off-piste in the area that is avalanche safe.
But if you want to properly freeride, from the ridge between Avoriaz and Lindarets there are a few small chutes that give you access to a large powder field with well spaced trees. There are many routes to choose from offering everything from narrow challenging to easy glades, they bring you out on on the run down to Ardent.
Be warned if you go too far left at the start here are some big cliffs. Apparently you can reach all the way to Ardent if conditions are right and you know how to avoid the cliffs.
From the top of the Ardent Gondola you can also access Chatel via the Chaux Fleurie chair. This also gives you access to the other side on Lindarets Valle and some of great freeride snowboarding fun.
From the top of the lift you can follow the chair between the pistes for some avalanche safe fun. If you go far left from the top it is more challenging. The slopes here also get steeper and more difficult about half way down, with trees and a stream needing to be avoided.
From the top of the same chair if you follow the black run along the ridge – you might need to unstrap and do the one foot shuffle. When it turns right toward Chatel if you carry straight on it leads to what became our ‘home run’ into Ardent.
There are a few options, ranging from easy and minimal effort to a short hike/climb and sketchy traverse. They all open up into a bowl and the more effort you put in the longer and less tracked the run out will be. The bowl ends in woods and there are some fun but complex routes through to a snow covered footpath.
This proves to be a lot of fun as the narrow path zigzags down the mountain. You can cut corners through trees and pop tricks on the numerous natural hits. The challenge is to keep your speed for the flat bits. It brings you out at a road just above the Ardent Gondola and a 25 min bus journey back to Morzine.
Review of Chatel freeride snowboarding
We spent lot of time on the Chatel slopes. They can be easily reached via the Chaux Fleurie chair at the top of the Ardent Gondola. From here the first option is to head along the ridge on the black run previously mentioned. It was un-pisted when we were there and is a great place to try steep powder in a avalanche managed area.
However it is more fun to drop into Chatel valley via one of the steep, short and at first scary chutes. I say at first, because one of them was almost vertical and not being able to see the bottom I lowered myself down only to find it was a shorter drop than some cliff drops I have done.
The run out is a big powder field that takes you to Pre La Joux. In places this slope is steep enough to slide, but it is broken up with convenient safe spots to stop. Lower down it mellows out and you can skirt around the trees at the bottom or head through them.
Above Plaine Dranse the mountain is basically a large bowl with a lot of gullies running through making for excellent freeride terrain. There is loads of off-piste that is avalanche safe within easy reach of the piste, including a long gully that is like a natural halfpipe.
There are numerous cliff drops in the area suitable for beginners to the more advance – the Cornebois chair passes over some of them. Initially I was apprehensive about jumping off a mini cliff, but I was happily dropping over twice my height by the end of this freeride snowboarding holiday in Portes du Soleil.
From the top of the Cornebois if you traverse towards Tete De Linga it opens up some great freeride down to the Combes chair. From here you can access to the other side of Tete De Linga via a long, steep and icy traverse. A very long powder filled run is your reward.
Freeriding the top of Lindarets Valley
The top end of the Lindarets Valley is reached via the Mossettes Chair from the Les Brochaux area. This can be reached either from Ardents Gondola via the painfully slow Lechere or by snowboarding down from Avoriaz – there is some good off-piste to the side of the Brochaux Chair, although some parts of this slope are prone to avalanche.
From the top of the Mossettes you can head into Switzerland, Over to the Fornet area of Avoriaz or back into the Lindaret Valley. There are some good between piste options around the black run from the top heading back down down the valley. Although be careful of rocks near the top and steeper sections.
Alternatively there are some spectacular backcountry routes. Heading to the right of the black there is a nice bowl, unfortunately it doesn’t take you anywhere. So you need to carry as much pace as possible heading towards Pont De Chesery.
Get it wrong – like I did – and it is a long hike followed by a short steep climb, get it right and you shorten the hike considerably. From here there is a small fun bowl and quite a technical ride through a gully before you pass through some trees and back out at Les Brochaux.
From the top of Mossettes there is a blue run along the ridge linking with Avoriaz. You can pop off the right of this at a few points for some easy but fairly steep between piste freeriding. Alternatively head to the Culbore chair from which you can access the vast face you could see from the top of Mossettes.
Be warned this slope is avalanche prone, the further you head into Lindarets valley the riskier it gets. But there are long open power field’s to be enjoyed. The Swiss side of the Culbore Chair is less steep and so much safer but gets tracked out fairly quickly.
Swiss freeride snowboarding in Crosets area
From the top of the Culbore Chair you can cross the border into Switzerland via the infamous Swiss wall. As fun as as a steep and busy mogul field is…. there are some even more fun freeride routes into Les Crosets.
From the ridge between France and Switzerland there are a few couloirs to choose from offering varying difficulties. At the bottom of each there are wide open powder fields that are just the right steepness to go fast without too much worry – watch out for streams I ended up in one when I missed a bridge
Further down you join the piste again but there are plenty of easy off-piste options. Unfortunately we didn’t explore this area a great deal.
Swiss freeride snowboarding in Morgins area
From the top of the Mossettes Chair, which can be reached from either the French or the Swiss side, there is a spectacular backcountry route down into Morgins. It begins with a traverse and then hike along a ridge towards Mont De L’Hiver.
The run started for us on a slightly sketchy windblown slope, but soon drops into a nice gully that quickly becomes a steep challenging couloir. Our endeavours were richly rewarded as this opened into a huge completely untouched powder field.
There are many ways you could head down from here, ours took us through some densely packed trees with some very technical riding. We popped out onto a blue run that is the longest in Portes Du Soleil – don’t get excited it is a long boring cat-track into Morgins.
On the other side of Morgins we took the Corbeau Chair followed by the Culet drag before hiking up Le Corbeau. It is a small peak but a difficult hike in deep powder. The route down the other side was excellent, shallow enough so the whole group could attack the slope at once, but steep enough for some serious pace.
Torgon freeride snowboarding
Unfortunately during this review of Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday in Portes du Soleil I never made it to Torgon as it’s hard to reach. Using the lifts and buses by the time you got there, it would be time to come home. However La Chapelle d’Abondance in under an hour drive from Morzine and from there access is easy.
Our Mint Snowboarding guide talked about it in almost reverent tones. He said it is large open powder fields at just type right steepness, followed by trees with just the right space between them to make it perfect in fresh snow. One for my next trip.
Les Gets freeride snowboarding
I also never made it to Les gets during this review of Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday in Portes du Soleil. However I have snowboarded the slopes there before on a day trip from Geneva. It is easy to reach from Morzine via the Pleney lift.
Conditions were not suitable for off-piste on my visit, but I could see there’d be some fun stuff between the pistes. Also I have heard from the guides that there is some good off-piste around to the top of Mont Nyon and Mont Chamossiere, including some very challenging backcountry routes down into Vallee de la Manche.
Getting to Morzine
bout an hour from Geneva Morzine is one of the easiest resorts to reach in the French Alps. I flew from Gatwick to Geneva on Swiss Air, mainly because they offer free ski/snowboard bag carriage. Airports all over the UK offer flights to Geneva, many with more than one airline which helps to keep prices down.
At Gatwick Airport I’ve now used Cophall Parking a few times and find them both efficient and reasonably priced. On this trip I used their meet and greet service, which is run through industry leader Help Me Park. Compared to other meet and greet services there was less hanging around, I also liked that they check the car with you both on collection and delivery.
There are many other ways to reach Geneva. In the past I have caught the Eurostar from London, which is very comfy and efficient. I have also taken the Eurolines (National Express) coach service. It’s the cheapest option, and although it takes all night, early arrival and late departure means two extra full days on the slopes.
Once in Geneva you still need to get to Morzine, but being close and popular this is not a problem. There are many transfer services with reasonable competitive, plus there the MorzExpress bus service that is pretty regular and costs just €20 each way. You can even catch the train to Cluses or Thonon-les-bains from which the local buses link to Morzine.
Review of Morzine freeride snowboarding: Conclusions
I started this review of Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday in Portes du Soleil by saying the area is not known for its off-piste. Other areas such as Chamonix, Verbier, St Anton and Val d’Isere are all well known for it, and as such even the backcountry is tracked out by lunch time.
In comparison fresh lines can still be found in Portes Du Soleil a few days after it has snowed. It may not be quite as extreme as the likes of Chamonix, but there is plenty of challenging stuff, and vast amounts of accessible terrain that is steep enough to keep most snowboarders very happy.
Although I enjoy the challenge of a steep couloir, I am also pleased when it is over and I have a vast but not too steep powder field to play in. It is on slopes like this, often below avalanche risk steepness, that I have had some of my most fun as a snowboarder gas you can go flat out and try tricks with less risk.
In comparison to other ski areas the Portes Du Soleil runs are well spaced out with lots of backcountry between them. Just using the lifts and a short hike, climb or traverse you can reach a vast amount of fun off-piste, which you’ll have mostly to yourself. What more could you want from a freeride snowboarding holiday?
I hope you found this review of Morzine freeride snowboarding holiday in Portes du Soleil useful. If you fancy booking something similar visit the tourist board website: www.morzine-avoriaz.com