Hamish McRae: Super-sized ski terrain? Fine, but you may lose on quality

Something to Declare

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The Independent Travel

Does size matter in ski resorts? Obviously any half-decent skier would like enough variety to be able to pick different areas for different days – but for that, do you need a ski area to be huge? After all, there are downsides that come with extreme size.

I was pondering this when skiing in Morzine in France. Morzine connects into the Portes du Soleil system, which is one of the two main contenders for the title of largest linked ski area in the world. The other, the Trois Vallées, claims a little more than 600km of connected runs, against Portes du Soleil's 650km. However, you have to walk across Morzine to connect between lifts to get from one bit of the system to the other. Hence the argument ....

Of course, from any practical point of view it does not matter. If you have the equivalent of 400 miles of different pistes you have enough to keep you going for a week or two. The question is whether you should aim for one of the big European linked resort systems or whether you forget size and go for other qualities.

My inclination has always been to be in a big system – and there is certainly something special about needing to pop your passport in your jacket because you are going to ski into another country. But you pay a price.

That price is not so much pure cash, though the huge resorts are inevitably more expensive than small ones. The price is that you are in the middle of a huge industrial complex. You are getting your skiing in industrial quantities, with the massive interlinked lift networks, but you are also getting the other services on an industrial production line too.

Some resorts – Avoriaz is one – even look like giant factories perched up in the mountains. Why go on holiday to stay in a tower block and eat bad food?

So, if you want to feel you are staying in a "real" place, what do you do? The obvious alternative, going to a smaller resort, can give you exclusivity and better value for accommodation, eating and drinking, but the skiing will inevitably be more limited. Even for the good intermediate skier that can be frustrating. However, skiing at Morzine made me appreciate that there is a compromise, which is to stay somewhere nice that connects into a bigger system.

Morzine was a slate-mining centre long before anyone thought of ski holidays and it retains the feel of a normal French town – one that just happens to be up in the mountains.

You can have a wonderful holiday in one of the huge Alpine resorts: it is their business to show you a good time and their size is the key to their success. But my inclination in future will be to go for somewhere a little smaller, even if it means the skiing is slightly less extensive. Until I manage to figure out where else to combine the two, that is.