How to ski for free in Morzine Avoriaz

by Kevin Albin

Expensive, weather dependent, and with just one week a year; ski holidays for me were missing the mark. Looking for a better way I headed to Morzine Avoriaz

For years, my ski holidays have taken on the same format. They were the next thing to look forward to after Christmas; they were expensive but I would be hoping for good snow; this was the year to improve my technique. In truth, I've always enjoyed myself but the week was never enough, and by the time I was back into it, we would be half way through the holiday. A few bad days with the weather or some hidden costs with the ski company would make me question if it was worth it. Skiing holidays should be magical. They have all the right ingredients, so why were mine leaving me flat?

I am fortunate enough to be working for myself, and so this year I took a job in a hotel in the ski resort of Morzine, in France. Morzine Avoriaz, as it is known, is part of the Portes du Soleil, which is a vast area covering fourteen resorts between Mont Blanc in France and Lake Geneva in Switzerland. There’s 650km of skiing and over 200 lifts. The Morzine area is stunning - exactly as it should look with beautiful valleys covered in pretty chalets. Being in the Alps, the area is equipped with ski lifts and ski shops, efficient road clearing and bus services, bars and restaurants, and acres and acres of great skiing.

I was applying for a job with the ski company, Alpine Tracks, as Manager of Chalet Eira, a twenty-five bedroom hotel, with bar and restaurant and with its own ski shop. Now, I’ve not worked in the hotel trade but how hard could it be? Here was the plus side: for the season, I would be earning a wage, accommodation and food, transport there and back, ski pass, ski hire and insurance. That’s four months of skiing without having to pay anything. What’s more, as it was explained to me at the interview, the hotel would be empty for most of the day as everyone would be out skiing. I would be expected to be out there as well. I took the job.

Morzine-Avoriaz is really two resorts who have joined forces. Avoriaz sits at 1800 metres and was a purpose built ski resort where the buildings, mainly in wood and slate, were designed to blend in with the surroundings. It’s great for all standards and from here you can access Switzerland. Competent skiers can try “The Wall” a route so severe you cannot see below you. Morzine’s skiing is on both sides of the valley with some gentler, tree-lined slopes. You can join Avoriaz on one side, or ski onto Les Gets on the other. There’s a real sense of journeying here with inter-connecting ski lifts, and a multitude of restaurants along the way for that essential vin chaud, or, as I would do on my day off, a full-blown French lunch with a doze in the afternoon sun.

As a town, Morzine has something different to many resorts – it has soul. People live and work there all year round. It is a community of friendly, welcoming residents who want you to be there. Vibrant bars and restaurants, organised events, helpful staff in shops. Highlights for me - watching the ski instructors’ weekly demonstration, complete with a torch lit descent, and taking a morning coffee in town while watching the skaters in the town square.

There are five snow parks for the more acrobatic skiers and snow-boarders, snowshoe trails, dog sledging, cross-country, and skating. You can try parapenting, snowmobiles, ice diving, ice climbing and glacier walking. There’s plenty to do with the kids, with play parks, tobogganing, and horse drawn sleighs. I went to Morzine with my family, and enrolled our four-year-old son with ESF ski school. As we were there for the season, we were classed as residents and entitled to a huge discount. We were skiing as a family in no time. We also tried most of the activities on offer, again with discount, whereas ordinarily we wouldn’t have the time or the money.

The work was mainly enjoyable. It is important when working a season in a resort to take quiet time to yourself; and yes, there were days when I could relate to Basil Fawlty and his hotel but we had guests who became friends. Christmas was special, with hillside chalets lit by fairy lights reflecting off the snow. For me it started with creeping through the corridors at silly o’clock, leaving presents outside the rooms of our younger guests. Christmas dinner for sixty people, shall I carve? And as for the New Year..!

This is a great way to ski all season and for free, (ok, nothing is for free) but if you’ve just left school, gap year, or are unemployed, this might be the ideal time to take this on, and you don’t have to be a manager. There are plenty of jobs for cleaning staff, drivers, cooks and ski reps, and they all get a similar package of benefits. Nor do you have to be young, I’m 51. I saved on my winter bills at home, spent little except for my own après ski, and my skiing has really come on. And you should see our son!

I always believe that getting about in the town centre is the best way to find the good bars and restaurants. If you pushed for time though, my recommendations would be:

The Dixie Bar Tel: 04 50 79 27 83 It's actually four theme bars in one and a great place for entertainment and a Guinness.

The Cavern Bar This is 70m from the Tourist Office and has a brilliant atmosphere. It's where many of the seasonal staff hang out.

The Clin d'Oeil Restaurant near the post office Tel: 04 50 79 03 10 and L'Etale Tel: 04 50 79 01 59 are great places for local traditional food.

La Flamme Restaurant Tel: 04 50 75 78 09 for that special evening.

If you are local for somewhere to stay then Chalet Eira on and the Ridge Hotel Tel: 04 50 75 00 00

For information. Tourist Office and they offer 20% discount on your ski passes if purchased on line. for all types of resort accommodation as well as what's on. for local information and activities.

Finally, my top tip for working in a resort is find that special place and keep it to yourself. It's easy to become a little institutionalized. Mine was Le Main à la Pate, an open-air pizza and crepe restaurant in the centre of town. The cold air in contrast to the hot wine was enough to put my world to rights. Enjoy!

Kevin Albin

Kevin Albin is an International Mountain Leader (UIMLA), and works around the world guiding on trekking routes and expeditions, either as freelance or with his own clients under Let Loose with Adventure. His love of travelling, places and people changed a 25 year career in the police to one of mountain tops and jungle basins. In 2003 he led a six month expedition to a remote area in Borneo where his team discovered a new waterfall. When at home in France he writes about his travels as well as young adult fiction. He recently self published a fantasy novel, Stone Child.