As the winter retreats and the snow melts, feeding the instantaneously verdant slopes, fi nger-painting the kaleidoscopic petals of the valley, and giving life to La Dranse which roars its approval as it hurtles down to Thonon, I typically feel at once overjoyed and wistful.
Overjoyed that spring has thrust its vigorous renewal upon us, but wistful for the crispness of the cold white / blue horizons, the hazy crepuscular half-light through which the mountains fade into the distance, and the incredible playground that the frozen water crystals have given me for several dark months.
I have always considered myself more of a winter person than a summer person. I prefer the anger of a storm, donning a horde of woollen layers, pitting myself against the elements. The summer, as someone who grew up by a seaside invaded by hordes of landlubbing red-faced farmer tans, was a time of lazy meandering along secret beaches, sun-kissed boredom and endlessly wishing for the return of low pressure to feed the ocean with swell.
So it was no small irony that it was the summer that made me fall in love with Morzine. When I first arrived in this special place back in 2006, the village was abuzz with the stereo sounds of the gentle hum of nobbled tires on tarmacadam as armour-plated human ants flocked to their place of worship, and the industrious buzz of bees gathering their nectar all around us.
The air was full of the dainty floral aromas of alpine meadows fighting with the robust nasal assault of sweet horse droppings and the stench of human sweat dripping from beneath impervious back protectors into man-made fibres.
Smiles were in abundance – happy faces fed by their passions or hurtling downhill, running uphill or exploring the distant environs inaccessible during the white cloak of winter. It was, above all, a place where my association between the elongated days of summer and listless indolence was broken. Morzine in summer was a place of action.
So for those, like me, who may have previously considered themselves devotees of the winter and impatient sufferers of the drawn-out summer, here are some simple activities that have the potential to satiate you instincts for movement, discovery and fun.
Whilst for many years I was like an anti-dog whenever the words “walk” were spoken in our household, I now enjoy nothing more than propelling myself into the mountains one step at a time. Discovering new corners of the Portes du Soleil, armed with nothing but a Swiss Army Knife, a chunk of Gruy ere, and an inappropriately cheap waterproof has provided me with some of my happiest and sketchiest moments with my family. It’s hard to beat the thrill of being trapped under a tree in an electrical storm at 1600m whilst wearing a pair of polyester shorts from Decathlon.
Too sensible for me the chlorinated swimming pool with its budgiesmuggler fascism, discover instead the delights of stroking calmly along Lake Montriond (wetsuit, a Siberian constitution or significant layers of fat required) with the triathletes, or plunging from a diving board into the more benign waters of Lak e Geneva, which is sprinkled with impossibly nut-brown locals enjoying the benefits of a 35-hour working week.
I once heard a northernised leathery weather-beaten fell runner say “I don’t run to get fit, I get fit so that I can run ”. Similarly, running in Morzine is fun, not exercise. The thrill of springing between anklesnapping rocks along the valley trail, with the rarefied air challenging your lungs to keep up is hard to beat. The altitude seems only to intensify the endorphin hit that comes with each tree passed, or ascent conquered. Any loop from Route de la Plagne, down the valley and back is around 7.5km – the perfect distance to test your anaerobic and aerobic capacity and flush your body of any imported vices.
With the passing of childhood, so too passes the instinct to climb. Morzine provides the opportunity to re-ignite that infantile desire, whilst safely and securely attached to carabiners and harnesses. Indiana’Ventures, buried in the darkness of the valley with runners gasping by along the valley trail, will push you to test your vertigo, whilst never letting you fall too far. For the more advanced, try free solo-ing the face that climbs from the foot of Prodains all the way to Changabang and then sending a selfie to Alex Honnold.
Jumping (and floating)
Watching the dangly-legged parapenters floating gently to earth from the peaks of Avoriaz, it is impossible not to imagine oneself taking a similar leap and silently drifting down to the welcome of a cold beer at the base of Pleney. For most of us, this experience will be one enjoyed whilst strapped to an Aero-Bi professional – but on a breathless summer’s day, even the prospect of having a sweaty man hugging you from behind should not deter you from experiencing the art of flight and seeing Morzine from above.
And of course Cycling
Whether you are a fan of Lycra, shaved legs and EPO, or of body armour, mud and rebuilding gears, Morzine is undoubtedly a Mecca for devotees of pedalling and pumping. Climbing switchbacks, slowly, inexorably to an exhausted conclusion; or weaving between trees with suspension forks saving your life at 1000bpm is the reason Morzine swells once again during the summer months.
But I cannot personally extol the virtues of pedal power any better than an overweight politician can kick a football for the cameras, for I am the only middle aged man left in all of Christendom that does not get excited by cycling. What’s more, no-one needs convincing that this is a reason to visit our beloved alpine playground any more than they need the various options for Brexit explained to them, again.
I can instead offer the conclusion that Morzine is in fact the perfect place to spend the summer if you really like winter, the perfect place to be if you like doing stuff.
So if you are reading this from somewhere in 74110 between the months of June and August – congratulations, you have made a fine decision. Enjoy everything this valley has to offer. If you find yourself elsewhere, book your ticket, make the journey and join the throng who perennially make Morzine as vibrant as the wild flowers that colour the