Skiing in Morzine, France, is greener than you’d expect. Here’s why
By Michael Cranmer
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 luckily, there’s a growing band of passionate people in the French Alpine village of Morzine who are making a positive difference. They call themselves Montagnes Vertes, and they’re dedicated to making the mountains greener.
Despite what you may think, these are not just a bunch of hippy-dippy eco-dreamers. Far from it! They’re hard-nosed businesspeople, tourism experts, and 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. He chucked in high-end banking in Geneva in 2010 for the skiing in Morzine life. Today, he 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 view of the Pleney lift opposite.
There are four ensuite, eco-friendly 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. You can get up to a 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. He’s saving clients’ money and helping to save the planet.
Through the picture window soft fat snowflakes are falling. A harbinger of good skiing to come tomorrow.
More on Morzine
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 are on the front line of receding snow levels, apparently. But not on this day! Around half-a-metre had fallen overnight and showed no sign of stopping. Whoopee! I was about to know what skiing in Morzine is really about.
After a day on the slopes, it was definitely time for a post-ski beer in town; not après, just a gentle wind down. I headed for the trendy Bec Jaune organic microbrewery. They 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.
Announcing oneself in a mountain restaurant as a végétarien or, horror of horrors, végétalien, was once a conversation stopper in restaurants, especially in the mountains. The puzzling offer of a ham salad or cheese omelette being a routine response. Today, 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.
Meet the Eagles
The next morning, Sara Burdon of the Tourist Office (also Montagnes Verte members) had laid on a special visit for me. It was to what’s 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. Bizarrely, she sported 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 organisation 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 even hold the birds.
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. Namely, a visit to a charity shop.
This one wasn’t full of unwanted bric-a-brac and Mills and Boon bodice-rippers, but ski gear. Boots, goggles, skis, 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. ” And the price? A mere 40 Euro! Who knew skiing in Morzine could lead to such bargains? The Montagnes Verte shop is just down from Intersport.
Something very special is going on in Morzine. The push towards sustainability here makes us truly question how we take ski holidays. We can do better! Simply choose the train over flying and cut CO2 emissions per passenger by 90%. Reject hot-tubs, and save money and resources. Support Montagnes Verte members and help save flora and fauna. Opt for plant-based menus using local seasonal produce, and save animals’ lives. You get the idea.
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.
For more info
AliKats +44 20 35 14 60 12
Alikats Chalet AlpagaReporterReporter 1: A seven night self-catered stay from €7,600 for 12 people or €633 pp
High speed TGV trains from Paris stop at Cluses (29km) and Thonon-les-Bains (32km) from Morzine
Transfers: Skiidy Gonzales
Morzine information: +33 6 08 34 04 54
The Eagles of Lake Leman from €75pp.
Images: First and last by Jet a Porter. Second and third by seemorzine.com