Imagine having the foresight to select a location for your business, which, 25 years later, would be one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Alps. While the Portes du Soleil’s highest resort celebrates its 50th birthday this winter, Ian McKeller’s Avoriaz Alpine Ski School celebrates its 25th anniversary.
“When I established my ski school in 1992, it was always my intention to remain in the area during the years to come. The Portes du Soleil is such a great ski area and offered then, as it does now, all the terrain we needed to run a successful ski and snowboard school.
But then I’d already been in the area for years. In the 80’s I established and ran a chalet company in Morgins, (also in the Portes du Soleil) called Ski M&M. We expanded into Les Gets and Morzine, and before I knew it, we were catering for nearly 100 clients each week across the ski area. When the business ended in 1991, I knew I wanted to launch a ski school, so I choose Avoriaz for its altitude and its central location.
Back in 1992 the ski industry was very different. Princess Anne’s family ski holidays in Morzine helped to create awareness for the resort and there were only around four British-owned chalet operators and a few large tour operators offering hotels or self-catered accommodation options. The market was nothing like it is today with so much choice on offer.
When we launched the ski school, many of our clients were experienced skiers looking for adventure, and as we had the local knowledge required, we were able to show them secret spots across the Portes du Soleil. Back then Avoriaz was more popular with the British skier as it offered good value for money and great snow, while Morzine was popular with intermediate skiers. I also remember that skis were much harder to carve and turn 25 years ago!
The most notable change for me over the last 25 years has been an increase in the number of skiers on the slopes. Of course, snowboarders had not arrived back then either! There were also far more drag lifts and far fewer last chair lifts. Avoriaz’s lifts were much better than over on the Swiss side and snow conditions were always excellent; just the odd winter had less snow.
Our biggest challenge now is the volume of skiers and snowboarders on the slopes, especially the ones going too fast for their ability. Our instructors include mountain safety briefings into all of our ski school lessons. I feel it’s so important to respect the rules of the mountain at all times, especially as skiing and snowboarding increase in popularity and there are more people on the slopes.
Of course, Morzine-Avoriaz as a resort continues to be marketed as one destination, but the differences between the two are huge. Morzine has become a very British resort, while Avoriaz has recently invested heavily in luxury self-catered apartments which create a more international feel in the resort. If Morzine and Avoriaz ever manage to expand the current Prodains Express telecabine lift into Morzine, that will make an amazing difference in integrating the two resorts. Of course this also means that numbers on the slopes will increase too…
I’m often asked for tips on how beginner skiers should choose the destination for their first ski trip. It’s an important consideration after all – pick the wrong resort and it may put you off for life! A good beginners area will offer safe, unintimidating nursery slopes with logical progression onto easy blues. Finding an international ski school with instructors that speak English is also very important, but key is an instructor with a good technical understanding and a friendly approach. In my experience, the smaller ski schools tend to have better quality control.
When it comes to our team of instructors, I’m very particular. Experience and attitude to client care are very important, as is a good level of English and an international outlook. Typically instructors will either join us for a few years to gain knowledge before moving on, or they’ll stay with us, as many have, to become valuable team members for several years.
It’s difficult to imagine what Avoriaz will be like 25 years from now. I’m fairly sure there’ll still be enough snow to go round, and there’ll probably be many more skiers too!”
Find out more about Avoriaz Alpine Ski School here: facebook.com/avoriazalpineskischool
This article is from the winter 2016/17 issue of Morzine Source Magazine.