Up the road from Morzine lies a secret ski resort with lines to rival Revelstoke’s (and hardly anyone to share them with)
It was from the valley road up to Morzine that I spotted it. A steep strip of bare land among the trees, gondola hanging overhead. That must be the Grande Terche resort, I thought. And that lift line looks skiable.
Only a day later, having ascended via the old oeuf-style gondola (think bench seats that face away from each other, scratched perspex windows, fat skis slotted into the snowboard slots), I was at the top of that same strip with a friend, looking down on a run that would make Revelstoke’s infamous Kill the Banker run weak at the knees… and this one doesn’t even have a name.
We dropped in for several hundred metres of 40°+ powder turns, yelping and hollering in disbelief. How could we have bagged first tracks right under the lift? We did the same run a few more times before dropping off the side for a big north face powder field with a wooded exit along a riverbed. We felt the buzz that comes with exploration and discovery – funny for such an unassuming, softly-spoken resort.
The Grande Terche is the name for the small family-friendly resort above St Jean d’Aulps village, which is included in a Portes du Soleil lift pass but not linked by lifts with Morzine/Avoriaz – which may go some way to explaining why it feels so special. It feels remote, but also laid-back and welcoming.
There are two main occasions you will find me here: either when I feel like having a relaxing ski with friends or family, away from the crowds, enjoying some local wine and piste-skiing (there are several well-maintained and consistent red runs), or on big powder days. The accessible vertical and sense of remoteness conspire to transport you to the depths of British Columbia.
From the higher chairlifts (there are nine lifts in all), small hikes of 20 minutes give you access to untapped chutes, which funnel down onto the trails that lead back to the base of the main gondola. Just make sure the line you choose leads into the correct valley, otherwise you may have a little walk on your hands. There is talk of linking the resort with the picturesque village of Graydon, and then from there to Mont Chéry, which would link it with Les Gets. One day, perhaps.
Even the lifties here are friendly, recognising you even after your first lap. They hold the chair and wish you a “bon ski!”. And while you’re sitting on one of the ponderous slow-moving chairs, gazing up towards the Roc d’Enfer, or across the valley to the pointy Dents du Midi, you can discuss your next approach or line at leisure. You are not hurried. There is enough snow to go around for the small number of skiers you are sharing it with.
To return to the topic of pistes, the Grande Terche resort does have its own ‘circuit’, which includes a 5km run round the back into the next valley, the Domaine Chèvrerie, consisting of a long red piste and then a trail through forest to a small collection of chalets and farmsteads. I can think of few places in Europe I have skied where the sheer number of uninterrupted trees and forest gives you such a sense of vast wilderness. There are views on that trail where you have no sign of civilisation at all. Then you reach the chairlift at the Chèvrerie, which picks you up and deposits you near the Chalets de Torchon. You can eat there or ski back over to the Grande Terche side to the Village des Follys for some true Savoyard grub.
Whichever capacity you visit it in, you will feel unhurried and you will probably find yourself grinning more than you do at the bigger resorts down the road. And remember, if you look around, you can make the skiing as challenging as you want. FL