Skiing, France: Escape from Avoriaz ...

An early encounter with a French snowboarder prompted Stephen Wood to explore further afield. He didn't regret it

The suggestion by the mayor of the small resort of La Bresse, in the Vosges, that gendarmes should be posted on ski slopes, made the front pages of many French newspapers last week. In a quiet period for news - and high season for skiing - mayors of resorts all over France were consulted on their views (almost unanimously negative) of the initiative, which had been prompted by four accidents in three days at La Bresse, all involving injuries and all caused by snowboarders.

The suggestion by the mayor of the small resort of La Bresse, in the Vosges, that gendarmes should be posted on ski slopes, made the front pages of many French newspapers last week. In a quiet period for news - and high season for skiing - mayors of resorts all over France were consulted on their views (almost unanimously negative) of the initiative, which had been prompted by four accidents in three days at La Bresse, all involving injuries and all caused by snowboarders.

To keep the story going, Le Parisien sent a reporter to Avoriaz, in the Portes du Soleil ski area, where he conducted a straw poll among skiers on whether the conduct of snowboarders warranted police surveillance. He quoted at length Clara Deboux, a skieuse parisienne "terrorised" by snowboarders (or surfeurs, as they are termed). Safety on the pistes had, she said, been reduced by the "new race known as surfeurs. They come from nowhere, and cut across in front of you. They are a permanent source of concern.

"No doubt interviewing a skieuse parisienne was more appealing than talking to a middle-aged Londoner staying for the week in Avoriaz. But I could have given the reporter a better story, perhaps with the headline "Piste menace claims another victim".

My experience of skiing in Avoriaz was short and bitter. I set off down the narrow track - crowded with beginners - which leads to the main lift base. Towards the bottom, it has the added hazard of a pylon right in the middle. It was here, about 90 seconds after I had clicked into my bindings, that a snowboarder flew into me.

The pile of snow behind the pylon looked like a good launch-pad to him; so, hurtling down to its right, he suddenly carved a sharp left-hand turn, took off, and executed what would have been a 360-degree mid-air spin if I hadn't been minding my own business on the left-hand side of the pylon. He made it to about 270 degrees before landing on me.

Of course there's never a gendarme around when you need one and I could only explain explicitly what he was, in English and then - once I had collected myself and my ski poles - in French.

At Avoriaz, it's difficult to recover quickly from such a shock, because 30 per cent of the resort's clientele are snowboarders (thanks to its reputation for having pioneered facilities for them). When the characteristic swooshing and crunching of a snowboarder in your wake causes apprehension and anxiety, Avoriaz is no place to be, and in my dark mood, the drawbacks of the place multiplied. It was hellishly crowded, for a start (not the resort's fault but mine, for going there between Christmas and the new year); the piste map was the worst I have ever come across; and the purpose- built mid-Sixties resort, with its jagged, timber-faced apartment towers, looked as if it had been designed by a matchstick-model maker.

The list of complaints might have grown longer, but I did not ski in Avoriaz again. Because one of its virtues is that it is so easy to leave - from Avoriaz it is possible to ski to nine of the other resorts in the Portes du Soleil area, a great loop of skiing, crossing several valleys plus the border between Switzerland and France, and offering 650km of pistes and 212 lifts.

The commuter traffic within the Portes du Soleil is predominantly made up of skiers heading into Avoriaz, which is the highest and most snow- sure resort with the most challenging skiing. But, going in the opposite direction, I had a choice of destinations. I plumped for the small, family resort of Les Gets.

An easy, 25-minute trip by road, the journey on skis from Avoriaz to Les Gets is one of the most complicated links in the Portes du Soleil, involving five lifts and one surface transfer across Morzine.

The skiing at Les Gets, split into three areas, is much softer than that of Avoriaz. But it was just what I wanted: quiet, with short lift queues, plenty of room on the pistes, and mercifully few snowboarders. On the western side of the village is a largish, open ski area running down from the Mont Chery ridge, on which there is a superb Alpine panorama, the peaks (including Mont Blanc to the south east) all identified on a circular orientation table. Beyond it a red run sweeps down into the next valley, with a jolly, heavily mogulled black piste running alongside.

To the west is the main ski area, mainly red runs (including a few woodland adventures) but with some nursery slopes set high above the village. Finally, there are the wooded slopes beyond the Pleney ridge, from which blues and reds run down to Morzine, on the route back to Avoriaz.

I have reason to be grateful for that snowboarding hooligan at Avoriaz: if our paths had not crossed, I would probably not have skied at Les Gets. But I shall be grateful, too, if he and his buddies are back at school when I next venture to Avoriaz. Because then I'll be able to enjoy its skiing, and have a crack at the legendary black run, the "Wall" of Chavanette. I do prefer to create my own disasters rather than have them visited upon me by flying snowboarders.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

    Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
    General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

    All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

    The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
    How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

    How Etsy became a crafty little earner

    The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
    Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

    King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

    Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

    The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
    Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

    Don't fear the artichoke

    Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
    11 best men's socks

    11 best men's socks

    Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
    Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

    Paul Scholes column

    Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
    Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
    London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

    Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

    Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

    Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
    Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

    Khorasan is back in Syria

    America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
    General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

    On the campaign trail with Ukip

    Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
    Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

    Expect a rush on men's tights

    Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
    Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

    In the driving seat: Peter Kay

    Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road