Do even the most eco-conscious of us spare much thought to saving the planet when we go skiing? When you’re hooked on snow you need your fix. But the awkward fact remains…if we don’t act now the snow will vanish as global warming bites and there won’t be any skiing. Does anyone care? Well, emphatically, yes. There’s a growing band of passionate people in the French Alpine village of Morzine who do care and are making a positive difference. They call themselves Montagnes Verte and they’re dedicated to making the Mountains Green (geddit!).
These are not just a bunch of hippy-dippy eco-dreamers, but hard-nosed businesspeople; tourism experts; chalet, bar and restaurant owners who’ve done the sums and have changed their old ways for new. Their treasurer and a founder member is Al Judge, who chucked in high-end banking in Geneva in 2010 for the Morzine life, and now runs a dozen catered and self-catered chalets under the AliKats banner. I stayed in the self-catering Alpaga One to investigate for myself.
Built into the steep hillside on the northeastern side of the gorge separating residences from the town, the lounge boasts a spectacular 180 view of the Pleney lift opposite. There are four ensuite rooms beautifully appointed and snuggly warm. “It’s carbon-neutral” explained Al. But what about the sauna and hot tub. Surely not very green? “Ah. The hot tub is included in the price of the holiday, but you can opt-out and receive a €200 refund. It’s part of our Low Impact Rewards: up to 20% discount on holidays. If you book one of our chalets exclusively this winter and travel by train, opt out of using the hot tub for the week, and eat a plant-based diet, then you get a 10% to 20% discount on the price of your accommodation.” I’m beginning to see that this Green God practices what he preaches; saving clients’ money and helping to save the planet. More on this later.
Through the picture window soft fat snowflakes are falling. A harbinger of good skiing to come tomorrow.
Morzine is part of the Portes du Soleil, twelve linked resorts. The town is close neighbour to Les Gets on one side and Avoriaz the other. There are lovely tree runs, just the job when it’s dumping down. I headed for Les Gets, predominately red and blue pistes, some super sheltered swoopy trails flattering even in poor visibility. Les Gets village is slightly higher than Morzine, 1,172m compared to 1,000m, both on the front line of receding snow levels. Not on this day. Around half-a-metre had fallen overnight and showed no sign of stopping. Whoopee!
Time later for a post-ski beer in town; not après, just a gentle wind down. I headed for the trendy Bec Jaune organic microbrewery, who offer three or four different ales a week: a pale, IPA or a stout. A galopin of IPA with a plate of frites went down a treat. The days have mercifully past when announcing oneself in a mountain restaurant as a végétarien or, horror of horrors, végétalien, was a conversation stopper in restaurants, especially in the mountains; the puzzling offer of a ham salad or cheese omelette being a routine response. All the restaurants I visited had a good range of plant-based dishes. This may be a direct response to the Montagnes Verte influence, but also to Morzine being the top destination in France for British skiers, who bring with them a demand for sustainable menus and seasonal, local produce. Very much the young, hipster Hackney, Hoxton vibe. Supply is definitely following demand.
Next morning, my waking earworm was the Christmas hymn…’snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow’ – there had been bare slopes a week before. Sara Burdon of the Tourist Office (also Montagnes Verte members) had laid on a special visit for me, perhaps the ultimate in conservation, the Eagles of Lake Leman. Access by road or the Pleney gondola then down the blue Grizzly run to finally take the Pré Favre chairlift. We arrived in a snowstorm and there waiting for us was Eva Meyrier, unruffled by the battering snow, a Siberian Eagle Owl perched on her left wrist, whose feathers were definitely ruffled. Meet the stunning, the beautiful, the gorgeous Ezekiel. The Eagles of Lake Leman is an organization dedicated to conserving the birds of prey whose home is the very mountains we humans are encroaching upon. The centre houses around 300 birds, eagles, buzzards, vulture falcons, and owls, enabling their breeding, conservation and rescue. Visitors can watch demonstrations of flight and hold them. The storm prevented flying but Eva handed me a thick leather gauntlet (“his claws will dig in to you otherwise”) and Ezekiel, all 2.7kg of him, lolloped onto my wrist. What an experience! What was he thinking through those jewel-like eyes? Probably sizing me up for lunch. I was transfixed by the nearness of this exquisite creature and understood why Eva and her colleagues are working so hard to mitigate the damage done by us humans to the environment. If you do nothing else in Morzine, summer or winter, I urge you to visit the Eagles of Lake Leman.
The town’s Green revolutionaries had more surprises in store for me…a Charity Shop; not full of unwanted nic-nacs and Mills and Boon bodice-rippers, but ski gear. Boots, goggles, skis, salopettes, jackets, the lot. Volunteer shop manager Christine Jahier showed me round. “We get unclaimed lost property from the gendarmerie, like these very expensive off-piste skis, and donated adult and children’s clothing and equipment. Retro all-in-ones are the trend right now…40€”. The Montagnes Verte shop is just down from Intersport.
Something very special is going on in Morzine, making us question how we take our ski holidays: choose the train over flying and cut CO2 emissions per passenger by 90%: reject hot-tubs, save money and resources: support Montagnes Verte members: opt for plant-based menus using local seasonal produce: reduce waste in chalets: use electric vehicles in resort and for transfers.
As the snow kept falling, I left Morzine reluctantly, with a big smile on my face, grateful that I had learned from the revolutionaries who are doing what we should all be doing.
A seven night self-catered stay at Alikats Chalet Alpaga 1 is priced from €7,600 / £6,690 for 12 people or €633 / £557 pp.
For those wishing to make the most of their time on the pistes, one convenient Portes du Soleil Ski pass is available, providing access to Morzine and the whole region, giving holidaymakers complete freedom to ski where and when they please. The 2022/23 prices are on sale now, with savvy holidaymakers urged to save money by booking their ski passes online. Adult passes booked through the website cost €58.50 / £51 per day and €43.90 / £39 a day for children aged 5-15 (children under five ski for free). Six-day adult online passes cost €292.50 / £257, while six-day passes for children cost €219.50 / 3193. Discounts are available for those aged 16-19 and skiers aged 65 and over, with more discounts available to those that book lift passes for multiple people at one time. For full details on these and other ski lift pass incentives, visit the dedicated ‘offers’ page on the Portes du Soleil website.
Ski hire with Caribou is priced from €23.80 / £21 for one day, for skis, poles and boots and €121.80 / £107 for six days. Les Aigles du Leman (eagle park), the eagle experience is priced from €75 / £66 pp.