If you know a bit about skiing, and someone asks you what the largest ski area in the world is, you would probably say the Three Valleys. Similarly, if you were asked where the best “snow sure” ski areas are, you might mention some of the glacier resorts such as Tignes and Val Thorens. In both cases you would be wrong!
Currently, the largest linked ski area in the world is the Portes du Soleil area in the Northern French and Swiss Alps. The area benefits from North facing slopes and the highest average snowfall in the Alps, meaning that Avoriaz and Chatel tend to get some of the best snow conditions in Europe from the start to the end of the season. In fact, the lifts of Avoriaz often stay open until the first weekend in May. Not bad for a resort with no glacier who’s lifts only go up to 2500 m!
Avoriaz is a striking purpose built resort built on an impressive cliff top at 1800 m. Its architecture evokes a mixed response. It is extremely convenient for skiing and is right at the centre of the Portes du Soleil.
Of course, purpose built resorts are not for everyone, and if you would prefer a more traditional chalet style resort, then Chatel might be for you.
Chatel is built on the side of a sunny south/west facing slope so visitors staying in the village get beautiful views up and down the picturesque Vallee d’Abondance. However, the strength of Chatel lies in its spectacular North facing ski slopes of Linga & Pre La Joux. These areas have some of the most exciting and interesting terrain in the whole of the Portes du Soleil, and two chairlifts will take you up to Avoriaz in about 10 minutes or so.
The area gets a phenomenal amount of snow on an annual basis, and because of its aspect, it keeps it well. The domain often gets slated for its low altitude (1200 – 2500 m) but those in the know have long since realised that a high altitude resort is no good if the area doesn’t generally get much snow!
Chatel itself is a beautiful place to stay. All the buildings are chalet style and there are a number of original old farms still full of cows to be found in and around the village centre. There isn’t just skiing to keep holidaymakers entertained – the village has two cinemas, an ice rink, a lake where you can go ice diving, lots of fantastic bars & restaurants, spa facilities in a number of hotels and a whole list of non-ski related activities such as dog sledding, snow shoeing and paragliding.
One of the best things about Chatel is that it is relatively undiscovered. It attracts “people in the know” who want to avoid the crowds and find the most extensive skiing in the best areas.
For more information on this beautiful resort, you can visit the Chatel tourist office site (http://www.chatel.com).
The village also makes a spectacular destination in summer, but that needs a separate article dedicating to summer in Chatel.
Ed Ockelton lives and works in the Alps, and runs ski holidays in Chatel with White-Peak Holidays (http://www.white-peak.com). He also works as a ski journalist for a number of ski related websites.
Article Source: Chatel – The Best Kept Secret in the French Alps