It was during the February half term holidays of my first winter season here, that I first met George Bron. I was invited to his farm in Prodains to visit his newborn baby goats. I lived in Avoriaz that season so coming down the valley was a rarity, especially to see such special arrivals. It is a very fond memory. My french was very limited at the time so with a lot of nodding and smiling, we managed to communicate. I had my camera on hand in the ultimate tourist move and my joke of being like the ‘paparazzi’ was lost; I quickly realised that English was not to be tempted.
George was dressed in a beret and chewing hay, one might say a typical agricultural figure for these parts. You can probably imagine my surprise when I saw George the next day, dressed head to toe in the red uniform of the ESF on the plateau in Avoriaz, giving a ski lesson. He had swapped one herd for another. My mind boggled, but I realised this was just reallife double jobbing and there’s a generation of lift operators, instructors and ski patrollers who also tend to farms or other trades in the rest of their time. I had never really associated ski instructing as a way of life before; more something you did for a while before going back to real life, whatever that is supposed to be. For many these days, myself included, the mountain is just a job, and albeit a fantastic one, a job all the same but this alpine life has many layers.
For the last forty years this dean of the Avoriaz ski instructors, who was ‘born with skis on his feet’, has been tending to his goats each morning before putting on his red uniform and heading up on his morning commute to teach skiing. On returning home the day is far from finished and his work continues, tending to 47 goats and preparing cheese. The next generation of Brons are following suit with son Sébastien, a talented mountaineer. When he isn’t busy with his work as a mountain guide and ski instructor, he can be found pulling his weight on the farm. With partner Anna, they have set up a selling station at Chevrerie des Ardoisiéres, where you can drop in all year round to buy farm produce. The goat farm is located on Route des Ardoisières, the old mine road on the way to Prodains. On the way down, why not stop at the Pisciculture de Meuniers and pick up a fresh catch from the fi sh farm? You’ll find local trout and salmon trout raised and treated with the highest standards. These two wonderful experiences are on the same road.
“For many these days, the mountain is just a job, and albeit a fantastic one, a job all the same but this alpine life has many layers.”
This is a generation that isn’t afraid of hard work. Liftie Pierre Morand, who you might recognise from tele ski d’Arare, starts his day at 4am to tend to his cattle farm and has already worked a full day by the time he arrives for his morning caff eine hit. His cattle are his pride and joy and he has a deep understanding of the land. He has no mobile phone or watch, but has the most wicked sense of humour of anyone I have met. Incredibly funny and quick-witted, he is quite a character and doesn’t suff er fools lightly. He is not a man of many words but the ones he chooses generally leave an impact. These are relationships I hold very dear and have added untold richness to my years in Morzine, every conversation and encounter is an education. With their depth of knowledge of the seasons and the mountains, there is so much to learn from these wise sages. In his book ‘Le Coeur de Morzine’, Francois Marullaz recalls memories of his childhood. They paint a picture of a magical and simple time in Morzine. Locally known as Francois de la Forge, he’s a retired blacksmith, a trade that was in his family for generations. He built the Maison de Zore Restaurant on Super Morzine in 1989, which was no mean feat for the time. He ran it for many happy years with wife Monique, before passing it on to son Hervé. Her recipes still feature on the menu to this day.
Baud, Marullaz, Richard, Taberlet and Pernet are surnames rooted firmly in the soil here in our valley and date back for generations. Many ended up with the same name, hence the tradition of nicknames such as Francois de la Forge, which literally means ‘of the forge’.Growing up, Francois had two best friends, both of whom were also called Francois Marullaz. He recounts a very funny incident with the Swiss border control, when not only did they not produce the same form of papers (one had his hunting permit and another his passport territorial) and all had the same names. The less than amused border police couldn’t understand and a lot of explaining was required to make it to the motor show.
Since the first settlers Guy de Langres and Guerin de Pont-à-Mousosn arrived in 1093, one might say Morzine and the surrounding valleys have seen a change or two. To understand this charming place you must look back, far back into the past to a simpler time. Unlike purpose built resorts, people have inhabited this region for centuries and the skiing culture came later. It’s hard to imagine, but Morzine wasn’t built around skiing. Rather, Morzine gave birth to the ski tourism that we know today through the pioneers and fore thinkers of the times. The creation of the Cistercian monastery of St Jean d’Aulps in 1181 saw a few hundred years of quiet farming and peaceful existence in the valley. Developments in technology in the 1800’s saw a move towards mining and brought a second prosperous industry to the area. With the construction of the Grand Hotel by Francois Baud in 1925 and the Pleney cable car in 1934, Morzine started slowly changing. The fame brought by local legend Jean Vuarnet’s win in Squaw Valley and the construction of Avoriaz in 1960 connecting Switzerland and Châtel, was to change the landscape forever. But try to imagine Morzine in a time when the most valuable currency amongst the youth was clay marbles. When frog hunting was the sport de jour in Avoriaz, trips up Vorlaz were to count sheep and Chavanette was known more for its milk than its freeride. The alpage at Chavanette apparently had the best milk in the world, owing to the quality of the cow’s food. Le Crot, (or the home run to Prodains as you might know it), was where you found the best Tomme cheese. This was farming to the extreme, as the farmer had to take his livestock up the treacherous Combe de Machon to reach the sunny pastures above. Try to remember that during your next powder day on Arare! It’s warming to know you can still get one of the best tartiflettes in the region in the Alpage du Crot and you can’t beat the beignet pomme de terre of Cret de Zore. These are recipes passed down through the ages. Old stories are peppered with memories of tarte au pomme, ‘merveilles’, ‘beignet cordes’, briss’lets, homemade jams and of course legendary beignet pomme de terre. Food marked so many occasions and these are local delights that you can still find at events such as the Kermesse, a mini fair held annually on the 15th of August to raise funds for the primary school in Morzine. Solid and stable, community spirit is integral to the fabric of these villages. Life was tough with long cold winters and poor access; people supported each other and wouldn’t see neighbours go without. The building of chalets back in the day was a community aff air and the ‘leve’, which means the lift, was a wonderful tradition when neighbours and friends came together to quite literally lift the walls of the house and place the roof on the top, before placing a wreath of flowers for the chimney. The priest would bless the new home and everyone would enjoy un petit coup de rouge together with some cheese and ham if the pig had been killed.
“There is an authenticity and tradition in place here that has remained protected, even with the rapid growth”
Even with all the challenges hurled at them, the local community has always stayed solid and together. From surviving the war, to the story of the ‘insolite’, when a bizarre illness took grip of the town, aff ecting only women and children who were locked up in the village hall as they were thought to be possessed. Times when the mountain passes were used for contraband and locals would act as messengers, giving the Jews safe passage across the border. Claudius Baud of Hotel le Petit Dru describes in his book one Christmas night, when his father and brother guided a couple and their baby up Col de la Berthe. They struggled in flat leather shoes and the extreme conditions but they got them there safely. He later found out that the bandages on the childs’ legs were hiding gold. Then there’s the infamous story of the 30 sheep from Samöens who lost their footing and fell to their death from the Cret at Chavanette. Trying to make the traverse send shivers down ones spine. Superstition, like in so many by-gone cultures, was rife. The Roc d’Enfer for example, was believed to be the devils rock as it was often struck by lightning during storms. These tales have enchanted me over the years and I have always been intrigued by Morzines’ culture and history beyond skiing and other mountain sports. I was born and made in Ireland and for years I roamed and racked up airmiles like it was a national sport. But I was always drawn back to this beautiful valley and I have called Morzine home for nearly a decade. Asked by friends and family why I chose to settle here, the answer has always been the same. It’s the history and people that make it so special. There is an authenticity and tradition in place here that has remained protected, even with the rapid growth it has seen. While it is easy to get caught up in the commercialism of everything, it is important every now and then to stand still, take stock and refl ect on all that has gone before us.
Thank you to families Bron and Pernet, along with Catherine Baud for generously sharing these images with us.
Merci aux familles Bron et Pernet, ainsi qu’à Catherine Baud d’avoir généreusement partagé ces images avec nous.