Ski Resort Top Trumps

We all have a favourite ski resort. Call me partisan, but mine is Morzine. Since my retirement as a chalet host there, I no longer feel the need to justify why. I’ve always avoided getting into what I call a game of Ski Resort Top Trumps, where the vital statistics of two resorts are compared.

When I did play the game, Morzine would usually win on ‘size of ski area’ and ‘shortness of transfer’, but it would frequently loose on ‘altitude’ and ‘ski-in/ski-out accommodation’. Now I realise that what makes a favourite skiing location, is far more subjective than objective.

With ski resorts, first impressions count. If you are unlucky with the snow, the weather or you made a poor accommodation choice you’re likely to have a lasting downer on a resort. If you went at the wrong time of year or with the wrong people, your assessment will be blurred.

If you left finding the best skiing, eating and drinking to luck, you’ll probably make an inaccurate assessment.

I profess to dislike Tignes for instance. I might have said this is because it has no tree skiing, its purpose built architecture has no Alpine charm and it seems to attract a certain type of skier that I’m struggling to define – without using the word irritating. However none of that is true. My prejudice against the Espace Killy is purely down to a gritty first experience there – and having to share a room with three snorers.

Those who do like a game of Top Trumps will soon start talking about snow records and declaring their favourite place to be more ‘snow-sure’ than yours. They will brag about altitude and the presence of a glacier. They will babble on about foehn winds and gulfstream heating then conclude, quod erat demonstrandum, Tignes is better. It certainly wins the ‘early and late season snow’ top trump. All I know is that the meteorological matrix is too complex for me to understand and soon, thanks to global warming, nowhere will have a glacier.

Like many, I also make gross generalisations about entire countries and mountain ranges based on very small sample sets. I dismissed the whole of the Rockies based on one visit made twenty years ago, because of the American’s approach to mountain food and their nannying off-piste culture.

I won’t go to Bulgaria because the lifts are unsafe and Japan is mobbed with Australians – even though I like Australians. I have Canada down as ‘too cold’ and Switzerland as ‘boring and expensive’. I turn my nose up at Andorra, even though I’ve never been there. I glibly say, ‘ I’d rather spend a week on a child-friendly cruise ship than one in Andorra’.

Despite the French seemingly doing everything they can to put me off, I still prefer skiing in France. France used to get top trumps for ‘quality of food’, but I’m not so sure anymore, now they seem to be giving us what they think we want – crapes, pizzas and burgers.

I agree that the après ski in Austria is unbeatable having had many a memorable time there when I was younger and more alcoholically robust. But I have managed the odd wild night out in France too and I’ve since discovered that hangovers conform to a single international standard.

Italian lovers often say the Dolomites are the most beautiful mountains in the world and I do not disagree, I’m just not too keen on pasta. I prefer the Cumbrian mountains in the Lake District myself, although I’ll admit the skiing there isn’t exactly extensive.

Even within France, I have my prejudices; Courchevel is full of Russian oligarchs and Meribel is full of English chalet girls called Pippa. Megève is full of fur coats worn by folk who never seem to go skiing. Chamonix holds all the trumps for ‘extreme terrain’, I know, but has all the charm of a capital city. Flaine suffers from lift queues and too much Stalinist architecture. Les Arcs is fine, but has no après scene and is often mobbed with university ski clubs.

Morzine is not big on glitz, I know – it’s not a Davos or a Klosters. It’s a place for drinking beer not sipping a negroni. You’re more likely to meet a rugby team from Liverpool there than a pack of Sloane Rangers from Surrey. What I like most about my beloved Zine is that it was a place before skiing. It has an indigenous population and it still feels French, despite being overrun by Brits in the winter. Best of all, the hands Morzine loses at Ski Resort Top Trumps are usually won by its neighbour Avoriaz (which is one lift away).

Having spent so much time there, I know how Morzine works. I know how to avoid the lift queues, where the best restaurants are and on any given day, where to find the best skiing – and on any given night the best après too. Even if (like me) you enjoy visiting other resort, it’s worth investing your time in one special place and nothing can trump that sort of knowledge.

Forgive me if I have dissed your favourite ski resort, country or mountain range above – it was all meant in humour. We can play Top Trumps in the comments below if you feel I need correcting. I’m heading back to Tignes next week, on Ski Club Leading business. Hopefully this time nobody will die in an avalanche, (especially me) and I won’t be billeted with a snorer.

The Ski Club is sending me to Meribel this season too, where I hope to update my assessment of the 3 Valleys. My skiing has improved since my first visit there and it will no doubt be a completely different place to the one in my memory – although I notice my chalet host is actually called Philippa.

You can buy signed copies of the Skiing with Demons books online here


About Chris Tomlinson

Skier, motor-biker, sailor, drinker, twitcher, runner, cricket lover and electrician. Ski Club of GB Leader, BASI Instructor, author (Skiing With Demons series) and amateur Land Rover mechanic.
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