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High-altitude ski resort avoriaz is also a dream destination for architecture buffs

Heavy snow had been forecast, and, as our minivan climbed up the mountain from Morzine, the weather grew worse, the van’s tyres struggling to cope as a thick blanket settled on the sides of the winding road, turning it into a single track. At each hairpin bend we’d see the lights of other vehicles returning from the resort, their wheels struggling to brake while we tried to maintain forward momentum, not wanting to wheel-spin and then be stuck on the mountainside.

Eventually we reached the resort, although all we could see through the whiteout were some lights around the edge of what looked like a large garage. The last part of the journey was in a kind of portacabin on top of a tractor. Avoriaz is famous for being car-free, but in weather like this, walking was impossible. We climbed up a ladder and only a few minutes later were at our accommodation, shielding our faces from the whirling snow and feeling with our feet to find the edge of steps up to the front door. Welcome to Avoriaz 1,800m.


The next morning, we could see that more than a metre of fresh snow had fallen overnight. Sunrise was a thin line of red on the horizon at first, then golden as it illuminated a moon-like landscape. Huge snowdrifts had enveloped the entire resort overnight, making it hard to distinguish the buildings from the rest of the landscape.

Trudging through thick snow at this altitude, you are quickly out of breath, so having a ski-hire shop close to the chalet is a big advantage, as is a chalet that is ski-in and ski-out, not easy to achieve when it is also a new-build. The Chalet Beluga was constructed in 2018 only a few metres from the top of the Prodains lift, ski school meeting point and piste-side bars and restaurants. The challenge is a double one when a resort has such strict building laws as at Avoriaz, but then that has been the case since it was first planned, with natural materials and design important not only to the construction of the buildings but also their height and shape as they emerge from the landscape.

This French resort, and several like it, date from the early 1960s, when a lack of snow was causing trouble for moderate altitude resorts. A “Plan Neige” was formulated to take into effect in 1964. In total, 20 development sites were identified for “high-altitude ski resorts that must be rational, functional and effective”, but unfortunately it also meant that they had to be planned with access for cars and plenty of parking. Car was king, and President Pompidou declared: “We French love our cars, so our cities must welcome them.”

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January 2020