I wanted to treat my two daughters for a family ski vacations. We were initially thinking of going to Colorado (we live in Massachusetts) but when I looked at the overall budget, it was not more expensive, even slightly cheaper, to go to France instead (lifts and lodging are cheaper in France). I must also say that we are French. My sky level is very good and my daughter's is good.
The whole experience was wicked awesome! It starts with transportation: Geneva is only 1.5 hour from Châtel where we were staying and which is one of the closest resorts you can get to in the Alps from that airport. This is also where I realized that we were not the only ones coming from the US. Lots of Americans and British at the airport.
I stayed in Avoriaz a long time ago and we tried Châtel this time. I loved Châtel and we stayed from 2/16 to 2/23 (typical apartment rentals are 7 days in France). This is a real village with real people who live there all year long. It is very family oriented and very cute. It is nice to walk through after a day on the mountain.
There are shuttle buses taking you to the different entry points to the slopes, from wherever it is that you're staying. Let's start by saying that the mountain is huge. We didn't get to go everywhere even after 6 days of skiing. Not only the system is extensive but the views are simply breath taking.
The lift system is very good and we never waited for more than 10 minutes, 2-5 minutes being the average. Though it was vacation time for one of the scholar zones in France, it never felt over-crowded. When certain runs seemed a bit too busy to our taste, it was always very easy to change direction and find quieter places.
The snow was great and abundant (6+ feet at the bottom and about 10 feet at the top).
A typical day was organized as a big loop. Starting in France at the Linga for example, skiing through Avoriaz and stopping right at the super-market with our skis, buying fresh bread and cold cuts for our sandwiches eaten right on the slopes under the sun, crossing to Switzerland and slowly making our way back to Châtel. All this without taking the same run twice.
We did the Chavanette (aka the Swiss wall) once and this is something you want to try if you are a decent skier. This is supposedly one of the top-10 runs in the world. If you are an intermediate skier or unsure, take the seats down instead.
Off piste is easily accessible if you are tempted though you should be careful and watch for avalanches. There seems to be great options for randonnée ski (aka Alpine Touring - AT) as well if you are into that. I had taken my skins with me in case but spent the whole time on the slopes with my daughters instead. I even saw people skinning up on the side of the slopes at the end of the day (probably getting a workout after a day at work), which is not allowed in the Northeast US at least.
By the way, you need to be ready with the French way with lines. It was a discovery for my daughters. Lines are so well organized in the US. Lines are a bit messier over there. Instead of a nice line it looks more like a big pizza slice trying to enter a bottle. if you stay on the side and may never make it. Learn to softly but steadily push your way in. It may ask you some intellectual efforts but don't worry and take it easy: you are on vacation, relax and just do the same as others; you'll be fine.
My daughters understood and mastered the system after one day.
In summary, this was a great vacation in a great place and I am strongly considering going back another year.
Thanks to Jean-Michel, Patrick and Catherine for being our guides during this week. Thanks also to "Lelette" for having kept us entertained at all times.
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