Pipe dreams in Morzine

 

LAURENCE MACKINsnowboards with a company which takes its patrons off the beaten snow tracks to the places only the locals know about

WE’RE IN Bar Robinson, slurping local Mutzig after a hard day on the slopes, and the bar staff are clearing up before turfing the packed pub’s patrons out onto the snowy streets.

What’s odd, though, is that the three bar staff – Jean Marc, Rosine and Nicole – probably have as many grandchildren as we’ve had drinks tonight, and it’s not yet 8pm. Welcome to Rudeville, a French ski resort where nothing is quite as it seems.

Rudeville is a neat approach to the packed ski and snowboarding market by UK company Rude Chalets. Rudeville is an alternative ski experience overlaid on a traditional resort.

The French town may not be on your resort map, because the locals call it Morzine (or Manzine as I hear more than one priapic British skier mutter, while nursing their lust in one of the town’s many bars).

Rude Chalets takes its patrons off the beaten snow tracks to the places that perhaps only the locals know about. And that means drinking in Morzine’s cosiest bar (even if it does close at the unseemly civilised hour of 8pm each night); trying the town’s best goulash at the bottom of the Tronchey lift; plunging down the slopes in the middle of the night on what are essentially tea trays with two chisels for brakes, with headlamps to guide the way; and finding sweet runs on the mountains, even when the skies are empty of snow.

After a few days with the Rude Chalet team, led by husband-and-wife team Chris and Helen Lavender, most of the chalet dwellers feel as if they’ve been coming to Morzine all their lives.

Chris and Helen are walking advertisements for the ski and snowboard lifestyle. Having gone on one too many trips, the couple decided to never go home to the UK, and set up their company in 2003.

Since then, the company has grown impressively, even in the current market. The industry is on its knees and this has opened a gap for smaller, niche operations to make their presence felt.

Rude Chalets brings a terrific attention to detail with each aspect of its offer, from the décor of the chalets to the design on its website. The company also organises parties outside of the season in London, so Rudevillers can meet up for a party with their fellow honorary citizens.

The company now has four chalets, several apartments and a hotel offer in Morzine and Avoriaz (the towns sit cheek by jowl in the French Alps), a chalet in Chamonix, and have recently opened a hotel in the Austrian resort of Mayrhofen.

The chalets stand out with their slick, funky style throughout, with table football, hot tubs and games consoles.

On the walls are funky snow art and personalised boards, with original canvasses by London-based illustrator Mark Ward, and limited-edition prints by Jono Wood.

The chalets are roomy and effortlessly cool, and mealtimes can be raucous affairs, with plenty of boasting about tricks pulled off during the day.

The company has worked out a number of partnerships, which means the fridge is packed with free Red Bull, but perhaps the tastiest offer is with Burton.

Morzine is a test centre for the company, so instead of renting gear from a local shop, Rude Chalet riders can test Burton’s latest equipment for themselves for €75 per week or €15 per day.

They can swap boards during the week as well, which might sound fussy but in practice it is terrifically useful.

If the weather is particularly good and fresh dumps mean it’s powdertastic, you can pick up a Custom X and show the off-piste who’s boss. If, though, you feel more like impressing your mates in a local tricks park, you can strap on a Monkey Wrench for size.

Many riders hit a plateau in terms of ability that can be very difficult to break through. A change of board and bindings, without the costly investment, could be just the punch of confidence they need to get them up to the next level.

THERE IS A terrific level of energy and fun put into the trips by the team. Garmin GPS devices are available, and there is an annual prize for the skier or snowboarder who travels the furthest distance in their week.

When we hit the slopes, our mountain guide Chris spends no time in getting away from the busier slopes and off to some of the more secretive pockets of the mountains around Morzine and Avoriaz.

I’ve been to Morzine several times but this was an eye opener. Little huts I had blitzed past turn out to be cosy stops for hearty food or coffee and cake. Small runs in the trees that I had previously avoided are some of the best runs of the weekend.

Chris spends large chunks of time filming our little snowboarding crew as we barrel down the slopes, so any claims that we nailed a trick can be disputed long into the night back at the chalet.

A few weeks later, he fires up a montage with music on Facebook, and it’s a brilliant and fun reminder of a cracking snowtrip. Welcome to Rudeville. The locals are lovely.

- Laurence Mackin was a guest of Rude Chalets (rudechalets.com). Its prices start at £329 (€383) fully catered per person per week. Access to the Burton Test Centre is €75 per week. Morzine/Avoriaz is approximately 90 minutes drive from Geneva Airport. Aer Lingus flies direct to Geneva five days per week. A typical Saturday to Saturday fare would be around €220 including taxes.

Morzine and Avoriaz

The resort

Morzine and Avoriaz are part of the Portes du Soleil ski area, which links a dozen mountain villages with 194 lifts and around 650km of piste.

It also straddles the Swiss border and some of the runs give views over Lake Geneva, while from others you can see Mont Blanc.

It might not be the highest resort in the world but the runs are very well maintained and managed, so on days when there is no skiing to be had due to poor snowfall, Avoriaz remains open for business.

It also has two features worth checking out, even if its just for a look – the Swiss Wall is a terrifying vertical run that seems to drop out beneath your feet (indeed, its the only run in the area where skiers can both go up and down the skilifts, for those who want to have a proper look at it without taking the plunge down its kilometre-long mogul-ridden slope where the inclination hits 55 per cent.

The other feature is a lot more accessible and a lot more fun.

The Stash is a purpose-built eco-friendly park, packed with wooden rails, jumps and other obstacles that actually blend in well with the Alpine scenery.

On our visit the snowfall was too low for us to take advantage of it, but it has developed a strong reputation in a town that regards itself as the spiritual home of European snowboarding.

Alternative snowboard trips

Test weekend

Rude Chalets (rudechalets.com) is kicking off the New Year with a Burton Snowboard Test Weekend from January 6th to 8th. All guests can test the new 2012 boards and bindings for a bargain €280 per person, including transfers, lift pass, half board, unlimited wine and mountain hosting.

Rudegirls week

This one is strictly for the girls, with Rudeville turning into a female-only town (which should help counter the “Manzine” image). Tuition is provided by Angel, a former women’s half pipe and French world cup champion. It’s €813pp for the week including lessons, mountain hosting, lift pass, Burton snowboard rental, transfers, half-board and unlimited wine.

Basscamp

Snow festivals are a rising trend and Morzine is getting in on the act with its first electronic music and snow sports festival, Basscamp, taking place from April 1st to 8th. A fun-packed week of banging DJs, live bands, après-ski parties, board park comps, free ski and snowboard tuition, and a huge fancy-dress street party. Festival packages start from €686 per person per week.

Park, pipe and jib

For those wanting to up their performance a notch, the Rude Chalet park, pipe and jib tour could be just the ticket. The focus is on early starts, late finishes and huge improvements, with pro riders Chris Kightly and Andy Webb on hand for help, and technical tuition on the Big Air Bag so you can huck yourself off a big kicker and practise your spins/inverts without fear of nailing yourself on a hard-packed landing. It’s €580 per person per week.

BoardnLodge

Another option if you want to focus on your skills are the BoardnLodge snowcamps sponsored by Animal. These are week-long trips perfect for riders who have plateaued, with extensive coaching from Animal pros and coaches. A seven-night package with full board, passes and equipment is €955. The camps take place in Nassfeld in Austria, and Pila in Italy. camps.boardnlodge.com.

Off-piste fun

Not everyone wants to spend all their time on the slopes, and the Italian resort of Livigno has an excellent supplementary selection of activities.

This remote Italian village offers good skiing for the intermediary or beginner, but off the slopes you can choose from: skidooing on a frozen reservoir, which is loud, leery and an absolute blast; husky dog sledding, which is as challenging as a good red run; or raucous midnight feasts on the mountains followed by a torch-lit procession back down the snowy hills.

Directski has packages to Livigno from €391. directski.com, 1890-201205.

Ski poles

Do you have money to burn? Or perhaps you need to disappear for a few months and have plenty of cash leftover from that job the authorities are so keen to discuss with you? Bored with black slopes and want something a little tougher and more arduous? Then sign up for a South Pole ski trip.

This route traverses 900km over the Antarctic to reach the South Pole in a 50-day trip and will take months to train for.

And at €41,320 it’s the perfect Christmas present for your loved one. mtnprofessionals.com.