Year-round Alpine charmer
As well as being a ski resort, Morzine is a proper little Alpine town that has a year-round life stretching far beyond having fun on the mountains that surround it.
That said, winter sports enthusiasts from France and other countries – Britain in particular – have been coming here since Edwardian times. They spent their days skating on the frozen lake and gently telemarking on the rolling meadows that surround it.
Morzine is the capital of the huge 600km cross-border Portes du Soleil ski area that extends into Switzerland. It’s a great base and is ideally suited to families, however, sitting at just 1,000m the resort does suffer from the woes of being at a low altitude – on the plus side the lower pistes are lined with trees and can prove helpful when visibility is poor on bad weather days.
The village is surrounded by undulating summer pastures that become pleasantly rolling and mainly intermediate slopes in winter, linked to similar terrain in neighbouring Les Gets and attractively bordered by trees. However, the resort's low altitude means pistes are not always open all the way down, so booking an early or late-season holiday here can be risky.
After the construction of a cable car in 1934, not a lot happened in Morzine until February 1960, when the town clubbed together to send promising local racer Jean Vuarnet to the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley in California. He came home clutching the gold medal for downhill.
On his homecoming, Morzine’s elders gave Vuarnet the task of creating the high-altitude ski station of Avoriaz above it. He was also tasked with developing links with neighbouring resorts on both sides of the Swiss frontier to create the huge Portes du Soleil ski area. It’s a bit sad that Vuarnet is now much better known for his sunglasses than either his extraordinary feat of sporting prowess or for his ski area legacy.
As well as being a good base for families, Morzine has a lively après scene with plenty of bars. For those who enjoy off-slope activity, or are not so dedicated to full days on the slopes, there's a reasonable amount of other activities to fill the hours. These include ice-diving beneath a lake, nature discovery tours, snowmobiling, tobogganing, twilight snowshoeing, an Escape Rooms challenge and shopping. There's also a world-class ice rink and a large swimming pool.
Navigate Morzine's ski area with our insider's knowledge of the local slopes and beyond, on and off piste, ski schools and terrain parks.
The 600km of terrain that makes up the Portes du Soleil ski area covers a dozen resorts in France and Switzerland, and it’s all within 75 minutes drive of Geneva. Catch an early flight and it's possible to be cruising down the pistes above Morzine well before lunch.
There is great fun to be had on the Morzine slopes created on undulating summer pastures that are bordered by dense woodland, and the variety of the slopes in the Portes du Soleil suits everyone, from complete beginners to veteran powderhounds.
In a winter when there's good snow cover the ski area goes straight to the top of the class, however, Morzine stands at just 1,000m. In Austria this is a respectable altitude, but at the western end of the Alps it’s notably low, meaning the white stuff cannot be guaranteed. The ski area has invested in state of the art snowmaking, but in a tricky winter there may be green patches on the lower slopes at both the beginning and end of the season.
In a poor winter beginners can head up the mountain and make their first turns at Pleney (1,505m). Neighbouring Les Gets provides similar and largely gentle terrain, as well as acting as a gateway to explore further into this giant ski area, with plenty of tree lined runs linking the two resorts.
Strong intermediates will graduate quickly upwards from Morzine to neighbouring snow-sure Avoriaz and the much more demanding runs that stretch back down, as well as across the Swiss border towards Champéry.
There’s some really tough terrain to be found, with runs like the Swiss Wall (real name Le Pas de Chavanette) in Avoriaz, which regularly makes lists of the steepest black runs in the Alps. But overall the Portes du Soleil, which hits at high point at the top at Les Hauts Forts (2,466m), is wonderful intermediate territory, ideally suited to families and those piste-bashers who want to see how many kilometres they can clock up in a day.
A basic tour of the Portes du Soleil is a full day out, but most of it will be spent on lifts rather than on the slopes. However, lift links between the resorts are constantly being updated as well as pistes redesigned to improve flow and reduce congestion on the slopes. On a week-long holiday, it’s better to stay at the Morzine end of the circuit and explore the more local slopes in depth.
Freestylers tend to migrate to Avoriaz. This was the original European home of snowboarding and is still one of the best resorts for terrain parks, with six dedicated areas for different levels including the natural features of The Stash, and the Lil’Stash for youngsters. Morzine itself has a little park in the Nyon sector, plus a fun park for children and adult beginners, the Pingouin border on the top of Pleney. For intermediates Les Gets has a park at the top of Mont Cherie, and there's another further afield at Les Crosets in Switzerland.
Intermediates looking to spend a week cruising the slopes will feel at home in Morzine, with its access to the Portes du Soleil where the variety of the slopes will suit everyone, from complete beginners to veteran powderhounds. Off the slopes Morzine's lively après scene caters for both families and party animals alike, with plenty of bars and lots of activities, including ice-diving, snowmobiling and tobogganing. The resort is also popular for those looking for a weekend break in the mountains, due to its proximity to Geneva.
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British Embassy/Consulate: (00 33 1 44 51 31 00; ukinfrance.fco.gov.uk)
Ambulance (samu): dial 15
Police: dial 17
Fire (pompiers): dial 18
Emergency services from mobile phone: dial 112
Tourist office: See morzine-avoriaz.com, the website for the Morzine (and neighbouring Avoriaz) Tourist Board, for weather reports, lift status, webcams, traffic details and local event listings. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the office on the main street in the centre of Morzine.
Telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 33, then leave off the zero at the start of the 10-figure number.
Time difference: +1 hour
Local laws & etiquette
- When greeting people, formal titles (Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle) are used much more in French than in English.
- The laws of vouvoiement (which version of “you” to use) take years to master. If in doubt – except when talking to children or animals – always use the formal vous form (second person plural) rather than the more casual tu.
- When driving, it’s compulsory to keep fluorescent bibs and a hazard triangle in the car in case of breakdown.