Growing up, I had never been very enthused about travelling to France. Perhaps it was the endless frog jokes or countless replays of ’Allo ’Allo on Sunday afternoons. It might have had something to with my Danish French teacher at school – this made the language a little harder to pick up…. Or maybe it was just the fact that it didn’t sound exotic enough to add to my bucket list.
Snowboarding however, was high up on the bucket list and early one winter I found myself quitting my perfectly good job, throwing caution to the wind, and hopping on a plane to Geneva in Switzerland.
Now, you might wonder why I headed to Geneva, after all it’s not in France. It is however the gateway to the French Alps and a string of fantastic ski resorts.
I wasn’t just visiting for a snowboarding holiday. I had accepted a job as an Airport transfer driver in Morzine; a quaint French town located on the Swiss border in the region of Haute Savoie.
Nestled within the winding valleys of the Porte du Soleil area in the French Alps, Morzine is a picturesque and traditional ski resort, boasting panoramic views of the famous Mont Blanc Massif, the Dents Blanc, and The Aravis.
Driving on the wrong side of the road took some getting used to and there were a few hairy moments (one involving driving the wrong way around a roundabout and a lorry). But, it wasn’t long before I was manoeuvring the hairpin bends like a pro and I became an expert at putting snow chains on a van (except for the time when I nearly slid down a mountain edge and the snow chains flew off into a big bush).
I fell in love with Morzine the moment I passed through a stretch of road that looked like a scene from Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. A thick blanket of snow lay across the road, tree branches were drooping with the weight of fresh powder, and the cascading waterfalls had frozen mid-flow down the side of the rocky mountains.
Beautiful wooden chalets lined the side of the road and fairy lights twinkled in the windows of every building. It was like stepping into a scene from a magical Christmas film – all it needed was a choir singing carols and reindeer pulling Santa across the sky against the backdrop of the glowing moon.
Unlike many mountain resorts today, commercialism has not yet reached the charming market town of Morzine and its preserved original structures and unique character are evident throughout the town.
Morzine is one of fourteen ski resorts within the Porte du Soleil area and at 1000m it is hugely popular amongst skiers and snowboarders during the winter months, and mountain bikers, hikers and golfers throughout the summer season.
My first attempt at snowboarding was certainly eventful. It involved a skidoo trip, some slippery ice, a fluorescent yellow blow-up splint, a trip in the blood wagon, a trip in an ambulance, a two-hour wait in the medical centre, and a knee brace for 6 weeks – but that’s a whole other story.
Don’t be put off though! This kind of thing always happens to me and once that knee brace was off (and after a demi beer or two), I was back up the mountain practicing falling over with a little more grace….
I can see how people become addicted to snowboarding. When I actually managed to stay up for more than 30 seconds, the experience was exhilarating. And the scenery is breathtaking. During one of my runs I took a breather (ok, I fell over again) to look at my surroundings and absorb the crisp clean air and pure white layer of soft snow – there were even sparkly particles of snow in the air!
Though predominantly a ski resort, Morzine has adjusted to the modern sports of today and it caters for all types of mountain activities for all ages and abilities. With perfectly equipped slopes for beginners and intermediate levels, Morzine is ideal for families or less-experienced skiers and snowboarders. In addition to this, its close proximity to Avoriaz enables it to provide more challenging runs for the adventurous, with a large number of exhilarating off-piste trails.
My favourite runs (I’m still not brave or good enough to go off-piste) are the Zore and Tetras on Super Morzine. These blue runs aren’t too difficult (following my accident, I learned to snowboard on Zore) and from here there is fantastic access to Avoriaz and the Swiss resorts.
Morzine’s charisma is evident throughout the town and within the large variety of shops, restaurants, markets, and horse drawn sleigh rides. The numerous restaurants, après ski venues, and lively bars provide a vibrant evening atmosphere, while two cinemas and an indoor ice skating rink with regular ice hockey matches are perfect during those rainy days.
Après ski… hmm – perhaps one of the best bits about snowboarding. Morzine is bursting with thriving bars from 4pm onwards but the great thing about them is that the rosy-cheeked skiers and boarders come from all over the world; Paris, Morzine, the UK, Scandinavia, Russia and Australia. Rather than your typical European après-ski bars where loads of Brits congregate in their groups, everyone mingles together in Morzine. Plus, the bar owners and staff rarely speak English so I was forced to practice my sketchy Danish-French. My favourite line: “Deux demis s’il-vous-plait” Well, it saved queuing up for a second beer.
My favourite après-ski bars would have to be Bar Robinson (fondly known as Robbos), a very popular, simplistic bar run by a lovely old French couple, and Café Chaud, a bar with a cheery atmosphere and a very happy “happy hour”.
This is Morzine in a nutshell and I shall have to post another blog about its restaurants, history, people, summer activities and driving disasters because the fun certainly did not stop here.
My six-month ski season turned into two of the happiest years of my life so far and so began my new-found love for France and Vin Fizz.