By Chloe Hardy
Winter is the best time of year to be in the Alps. Especially if you’re on holiday. Cue days spent skiing and snowboarding, afternoons and evenings spent sampling the local après scene, the best restaurants, maybe the swimming pool and most definitely the shops. But that’s not all there is do around these parts. Winter generally comes with the assumption that there’s nothing else to do other than ski, snowboard and eat, while in summer, the scope for activities extends way beyond biking and hiking. There’s rafting, canyoning, hydrospeeding and a tonne of other adventurous options on offer over the summer. But fear not. The days may be shorter and the temperatures may be A LOT colder, but there are still plenty of adventures to be had in the snow that don’t involve lifts, skis or snowboards.
Morzine, Avoriaz and Les Gets may not be known as the most extreme resorts in the Alps, but we’ve created a handy list of our favourite snowy adventures. It also comes complete with a custom adventure scale so you can tailor your extra-curriculars to your own levels of adventurousness!
The Adventure Scale:
* Not that adventurous really. You’d rather curl up with a good book than get cold, wet or fall in the snow.
** Getting a bit more extreme. You want to explore but you’re not up for something with a high risk of falls.
*** You’re adventure-curious. As long as it’s safe and supervised, what’s the worst that could happen?
**** You’re up for anything! You’re physically fit and the thought of hard work and scary situations doesn’t put you off!
***** You don’t care what it is. The more extreme the better.
You see people parapenting a lot in the Alps; on a sunny day you’ll see people floating around in the sky attached to parachute-like ‘wings’ that allow you to literally take off from the top of a mountain and fly down to the valley floor. While it requires some skill to learn, it’s really easy to give it a go yourself. A tandem flight (where you’re positioned in front of a qualified pilot who does all the steering, taking off and landing) takes up about half a day of your time and is a great way to see Les Portes du Soleil from the skies. While it may sound pretty extreme (you are flying, after all), once you’re in the air, parapenting is actually quite relaxing; just you and your guide, chilling in the sky and admiring the views. You don’t even have to do a long walk-in, you’ll be dropped off at the starting point and picked up after. Plus, if you really like it, why not return in summer? You can do a week’s course and learn how to do it yourself!
Adventure rating ****
The slightly more adventurous sibling of parapenting, speed flying uses the same principle but a shorter wing. This allows you to fly faster, closer to the treetops and gives you more agility so you can do stunts! It can also be done with on skis so you can mix the sensations of skiing and flying – you might’ve seen some brave souls practicing around the Chaux Fleurie chairlift in Avoriaz. Generally speed flyers aren’t such a common sight in the Alps as they’re usually flying too low to be seen from the ground. The same deal as with parapenting, you’ll fly with a pilot who does all the hard stuff, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the fun!
Adventure rating: *****
If you like to keep your feet firmly on the ground, snowshoeing is a great way to see some stunning mountain scenery away from the lifts. You can rent snowshoes and go at any time of the day but we recommend taking a guided night-tour. Les Portes du Soleil is full of refuges that are situated outside the ski areas and in the winter are only accessible by foot. A guided moonlit snowshoe tour will take you to one of these refuges, where you’ll be fed a hearty, traditional dinner in a cosy spot away from the crowds. If there’s enough snow you could even find yourself dining in an igloo! Your guide will also share all their local knowledge with you so you can get acquainted with Alpine wildlife that you might not normally see during a day on the slopes.
Adventure rating **
Electric Fat Biking
You’ve probably seen fat bikes before and while they may look a bit silly, they’re incredibly practical. For people living in snowy areas, they allow you to carry on riding your bike all year instead of resorting to cars and let’s face it, they’re pretty fun! An electric fat bike has wide tyres run at a low pressure, which means you have better grip on the snow and won’t sink in like you would with regular tyres. They also have an electric motor (e-bike technology is coming on in leaps and bounds at the moment) which makes pedalling uphill a breeze and means electric fat bikes are accessible to everyone. As with snow shoeing, you can take guided tours day or night, including a ride up to a refuge or igloo for dinner, and then you’re free to slip and slide your way back down. Fun fun fun!
Adventure rating ***
Ski Touring and Splitboarding
Touring is a great way to keep fit, see the less-travelled areas of the mountain and get away from the crowds. Plus, getting to the top of the mountain on foot makes the run down that much more rewarding. A great way to carry on skiing when the pistes are crowded, touring is also a good option for the environment as its entirely people-powered! However, it does require some special kit and you’ll need to be able to confidently ski off-piste. If you’re skiing you’ll notice that your skis have special bindings that come up at the heel, allowing you to effectively travel uphill. Snowboarders will require a splitboard that splits down the middle, allowing you to reposition the bindings and use it like a pair of skis on the up. Both options will require skins, carpeted strips that stick to your bases and grip the snow underneath, stopping you from sliding back downhill. If you’ve never been touring before, you should really go with a guide. Guided touring trips happen in small groups and you’ll be provided with all the equipment you need, including avalanche safety gear. Your guide will take you touring in an area that suits the snow conditions and your ability level to ensure maximum fun and enjoyment.
Adventure rating: ****
If you want to try any of the activities in this article, check out Evolution2. Based in Morzine and Avoriaz, they can make all your adventure dreams come true and ensure you truly make the most of your time in the mountains.
Find them at www.evolution2-morzine.com in Morzine or www.ecoledeglisse.com in Avoriaz.