Portes du Soleil, France/Switzerland
"Portes du Soleil" means "gates of the sun," a promotional name for more than a dozen small to mid-size resorts just a two-hour drive from Geneva. The regional lift pass accesses 212 lifts, making it one of the world's largest ski areas.
Portes du Soleil is not one resort, however, but more than a dozen. You'll find a vast network of hundreds of kilometers of marked and groomed pistes (650 kilometers or some 360 miles, to be precise), plus abundant off-piste skiing.
Terrain for intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders dominates, but each town also has a beginner area of some sort and size. However, you'll find relatively few of the super-steep pitches for which the western Alps—Chamonix, Verbier, and the like—are known.
The best-known resort centers are the close neighbors of Morzine and Avoriaz. Morzine (www.morzine-avoriaz.com) is an old farming and slate-mining village with slopeside hotels and private chalets clinging to steep hillsides, while Avoriaz (www.avoriazski.com), on a plateau above Morzine, is the product of a French building boom during the '60s and '70s. Its round, mid-rise towers are modern landmarks on the French ski scene.
Like Morzine, Châtel and Les Gets are farming villages turned into ski towns, but they are less well known in North America.
The Portes du Soleil attracts many families. Many skiers prefer to stick to the terrain closest to their resort, but everyone, sooner or later, needs to ski the whole circuit. It's more about a grand excursion than about great skiing. A must excursion for every visitor is skiing across the Swiss border to Champery, a small hamlet in an isolated valley.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication