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France: Avoriaz, 50 years on and still in the vanguard!

Inaugurated in 1966, this futuristic resort still remains a model of town planning and conviviality. Its aficionados, skiers, tourists seeking peace and quiet or nostalgic for the seventies, nurse an unfailing loyalty to it...

Nestling at an altitude of 1,800 m on an eyrie overlooking Morzine, Avoriaz backs directly onto the chain of the Dents du Midi, whose crests rise to 2,756 m. The road that leads there from Cluses (D902, D28 and D338) generally passes through a thick layer of cloud.  

On arrival at the top of the schist cliff facing due south, visitors get the impression of having left their worries behind at the bottom of the valley. But the biggest shock is yet to come! Somewhere between The Truman Show (the Peter Weir film with Jim Carrey) and The Prisoner (cult 1960s series), Avoriaz looks like a fascinating virtual "Playmobil village", cut off from the world, where life itself seems to go on differently.

Avoriaz, a revolutionary project

Before its development in 1962, the site of Avoriaz was an area of mountain pasture where, from springtime until late autumn, shepherds occupied wooden huts with flat-stone roofs.

The 1960 Olympic downhill ski champion, Jean Vuarnet from Morzine, was the first to appreciate the fantastic potential for Alpine skiing of the slopes of the Chavanette and Les Hauts Forts massifs, which overlook the Avoriaz plateau. Jean Vuarnet therefore entrusted his project for a winter sports resort to Gérard Brémond, the future founder and chairman of the Pierre & Vacances group, who hired three young architects fresh out of college: Jacques Labro, Jean-Jacques Orzoni and Jean-Marc Roques.

The visionary stroke of genius of these creators was to imagine a 100% environmentally-friendly winter sports resort, which would be closed to cars, would aesthetically blend in with the surroundings, and where you could put your skis on as soon as you stepped outside. Although revolutionary at the time, this concept has not dated at all! 

An architecture which plays with snow, stone and sun 

Far from the traditional Savoyard chalets and run-of-the-mill ski resort atmosphere that still prevails here and there, Avoriaz has its very own style.  

With respect to colour, its buildings (chalets, blocks, hotels, church) are all covered with red cedar shingle from Canada. This unvarnished, rotproof wood has the particular feature of changing colour depending on the degree of sunshine, going from ochre to grey on the north side and from brown to orangey on the south side.

The other beauty of Avoriaz lies in its mimetic architecture which, rejecting right angles (a form that is foreign to nature according to Jacques Labro), blends in with the setting formed by the surrounding mountains. Footbridges, fan-shaped balconies, and terraces give the impression of opening onto the landscape.  Never overwhelming, the buildings - some of them, such as the Hôtel des Dromonts, resembling pyramids carved out of the rock - give the impression of rising up towards the peaks out of the icy rock of the cliff.

Inside, the dwellings recreate the aesthetic quintessence of the 1960s, with porthole windows, spiral staircases, bubble-shaped bookcases, brick fireplaces and mushroom tables. Avoriaz, or the living museum of Pop Art! 

Finding your way around Avoriaz

 Since the resort opened, cars are parked at the entrance in two vast car parks. Even more than in Zermatt where there is an abundance of electric taxis, people get around here on foot, skis, or even sleighs drawn by horses from the Jura.

On your arrival, a caterpillar-treaded minibus will take you and your luggage to your place of residence. In the morning, skiers and snowboarders go straight down from their accommodation to the chairlifts in the lower part of the resort. In the evening, you can do your shopping using a trolley sled for your provisions. To combat pollution, Avoriaz is also the first French resort to be heated exclusively by electricity rather than fuel oil ... 

One of the world's largest skiing areas  

Located half way between Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva, Avoriaz benefits from a balanced microclimate (dry, cold and humid), which guarantees snow of constant quality until the end of April (on average, 8 m of snowfall each year).  

Between 1,800 m and 2,466 m, the skiing area of Les Portes du Soleil (which includes Avoriaz) has 200 ski lifts and 650 km (404 miles) of runs linking 14 resorts between France and Switzerland. You can thus ski across the border, compare landscapes, and sample Swiss specialities in mountain restaurants.

For fans of new forms of skiing, Avoriaz has two snowparks and a "super pipe". You can also enjoy comprehensive snowboard courses and try out the latest generation equipment. 

Our suggested itinerary to explore the skiing area

 First take the chairlift from Le Tour, which will take you to Les Mossettes blue run (2,277 m). Then take Les Mossettes express chairlift to the Swiss border.  From there you can enjoy Les Mossettes superb red run, which leads to the resort of Les Crosets (1,660 m). The "Crosets 2" chairlift links up to the "Croset 2" red run. Next take the Ripaille ski tow to Le Grand Paradis' famous red run, one of the skiing area's finest. From February you can see herds of mouflons grazing beneath the Pointe de Ripaille! To return to Avoriaz, take Le Grand Paradis 1&2 chairlift. After skiing down the Croset 2 and Ripaille pistes, take the Chavanette chairlift. At an altitude of 2,180 m, the Pas de Chavanette separates the skiing areas of Avoriaz and Les Crosets and comes out, on the Swiss side, at the famous Mur de Chavanette. This black run, internationally renowned for its bumps over 1,250 m, is reserved for good skiers!

Avoriaz is also one of the resorts best suited for initiating children, from the ages of 3 to 16, to skiing in a fun way.  For 30 years, at the instigation of 1966 world slalom champion Annie Famose, the heart of the resort has harboured a 5 ha (12 acre) children's village (Village des Enfants), where monitors of the École de Ski Français apply an original teaching method based on play (bumps, toboggans, hoops, coloured tracks, etc). For more experienced children, lessons are given on the pistes of the skiing area. 


Useful information

Office du Tourisme d'Avoriaz
www.avoriaz.com

Lodging in Avoriaz

Restaurants in Avoriaz