Ultimate Guide to Motorhome Skiing in The Portes du Soleil

Ultimate Guide to Motorhome Skiing in The Portes du Soleil

We departed for our first ever motorhome skiing trip without any plan further than Dunkirk, and even that didn’t pan out as we were re-routed to Calais in bad weather. A day after leaving home, we arrived in Les Gets in the Portes du Soleil – a ski-tropolis in the Northern Alps – and very quickly realised there was a whole season of motorhome skiing right here in these mountains. We decided to bring together a whole bunch of information about motorhome skiing in the Portes du Soleil in this guide.

So how can I make the most of taking my motorhome skiing in the Portes du Soleil? One of the best ways to see, and ski the Portes du Soleil in the northern French Alps is from a motorhome or campervan. With 13 resorts in the area and a good choice of aires and campsites in the region, it makes for an epic road trip for every level of skier or snowboarder. 

The Portes du Soleil has really embraced #vanlife and there are a great many benefits to planning a motorhome ski holiday focusing on this area. Whether you’re going for a week, or staying the entire season, you will find life on the road (or in the campsite) doesn’t get much better. Here’s your ultimate guide to motorhome skiing in the Portes du Soleil.

Overview of the Portes du Soleil – From a Motorhome

The Portes du Soleil [PDS] is so well set up for motorhome skiers and boarders that you’d be forgiven for wondering why the entire place isn’t over run by motorhomes and campers, trucks and vans. But as yet, it isn’t, and with careful management of the aires in particular, we hope it will stay like this for years to come.

The relatively low-lying villages within the PDS mean that access is the first point of note for motorhome and campervan drivers. There are many parking spots in the region that barely feel like a climb from the Geneva side of the Alps and that is good for anyone who’s a bit nervous of switchbacks or is tackling snow covered mountain roads in a vehicle for the first time.

There are a good array of options – both in terms of where you stay, and where you ski, and even better, for those who don’t ski or board, there are a vast number of well-marked trails for snow shoeing as well as the usual resort activities.

Snow shoeing

Guided Snow Shoeing with Days Away Adventures

For the advanced skiers and those who are nuts enough to slide off the groomed bit, there’s plenty of side and off-piste in the Portes du Soleil and, if you fancy a few days backcountry hiking, there are guides galore and some good routes to conquer.

Also renowned as a family friendly ski area, it doesn’t seem like there’s much this place can’t deliver, so if you’re planning a motorhome ski trip and haven’t considered the Portes du Soleil, read on.

Getting to the Portes du Soleil in a Motorhome

Just 8 hours from Calais (tolls and motorway route), about the same from Brussels and Toulouse, and only 6 hours from several of the winter motorhome hire meccas including Munich and Stuttgart, the PDS is very well located for any duration of motorhome ski escapade.

The down side of this is that it’s also exceptionally well placed for weekend warriors from Geneva, Paris, Bern and Turin – so it gets particularly busy over the school holidays and at weekends (check out our table of doom if you want to avoid French school holidays).

We first cruised into Les Gets at 10pm on a Monday night in late December and parked for our first ever night in the mountains. With only 3 other vans in the aire, we lucked out. With heavy snow forecast, by Thursday the entire aire was rammed with a queue of expectant/ hopeful motorhomes patiently waiting for someone to leave. We suddenly realised that we didn’t invent this motorhome ski thing after all.

That aside, the ease of access makes it an excellent choice for first timers.

Easy roads

The roads are extremely well maintained and almost all routes that you are likely to tackle in any kind of motorhome are regularly cleared. Finding a road that is snow laden for long is a rare occurrence in many of the alpine resorts – primarily because this would affect commercial buses and transfers – so you will find it relatively easy to negotiate the routes from the lowlands into resort.

One thing to note is that many of the mountain passes are closed between France and Switzerland (and some within France) during the winter season, so if your ambition is to flit between one valley and another, you may find it best to tie a road border crossing in with a trip to stock up on LPG and cupboard essentials in the bigger towns that lie in the shadow of the Haute-Alps. of course – one of the many attractions of the Portes du Soleil is that you can ski over the border, not a stretch of tarmac in sight.

Crossing the channel (if you need to)

If you’re coming from the UK, the fastest method across the channel is Le Shuttle (or the Chunnel as we call it for our overseas readers) – a 35 minute whizz from Folkstone to Calais and you can be parked up in Citi Europe ramming your cupboards full of canned Tartelette and stuffing every nook and cranny with an unbelievably reasonably priced Pinot Noir.

If you prefer the more romantic route and you’ve got time on your side (or are on a budget) the ferry is a glorious way to escape the dreary British winter (we covered our UK exit ferry trip here) and we’ve enjoyed travelling both ways.

To toll or not to toll

This is a simply economic equation you will have to do for yourself. It’s called Discrete Choice Theory and can also be applied to the train-ferry conundrum but put simply you’ll find yourself in one of the following camps:

Money Time Crossing Toll/ No Toll Explanation
Lots None Train Toll Fastest combination and cost
Lots Lots Either Either The choice is yours – but the non-toll roads are prettier!
None None Ferry Toll A trickier one but, on balance, you’ll make more time up on the tolls – the difference between ferry and train aren’t as much as you’d imagine and the cost can be very different.
None Lots Ferry No Toll An awesome choice with lots of options – into the Netherlands instead of France or from the south coast of the UK to the stunning North coast of France. The journey across the country gives you the chance to stop at lots of incredible places and this becomes a real road trip!

Of course there should be another column for ‘dog or no dog’ but you get the point…

Once you’ve decided on the above, you’ll have a lot of choices presented by your friend Google Maps.

Tips for driving to the Portes du Soleil

  • Be careful on the Swiss border as, political climate dependent, there are a bunch of restrictions about bringing in (or taking through) certain food stuffs from non-EU nations (see the current listing here).
  • You do need winter tyres (we’re not debating it any further – here’s law and here are is our first hand experience as we travelled to the Alps for the first time in a motorhome – both worth a read if you’re in two minds)
  • Detour to Luxemburg, only if it makes sense – brim your fuel tank and jerry cans and bask in low tax glory
  • Get your International Driving Permit – it’s a couple of quid and you just never know when/ if we’ll get caught out in the sh!t-storm that is BREXIT. You can only currently do this at certain Post Offices. Here’s link to the branch finder. Do it now.
  • Have snow chains accessible – if there’s one way to impress the Gendarme it’s for you to have swift access to your snow chains for a visual check and all your paperwork handy.
  • There’s another way to impress the Gendarme and that is to ALWAYS have an open bag of Haribo on the go – that way you can casually offer the officers a sweet treat and this is just good for Anglo-French relations.

Skiing the PDS

Not always the first thing on a motorhome ski check list (‘where the heck can we park?’ being numero uno) but in the Portes du Soleil there’s so much choice, skiing can be your primary focus when choosing where to stay.

Here are some stats – if this doesn’t convince you that there’s something for you in the 13 resorts of the Portes du Soleil, then nothing will.

  • The area crosses France and Switzerland (8 resorts in France – if you count Montriond – and 5 in Switzerland)
  • Over 500km of piste (depending on who you talk to as some think it’s nearer 700km) making it the second largest ski area in the world
  • 200 lifts from 900m to 2400m
  • Free ski buses cover  the French area making it really easy to take advantage of the area ski pass if you chose that option
  • Huge variety of pistes for all levels

Next on the list of things to consider is where you’re going to park. Here you’re going to find the reliable options*, whether you prefer a campsite, aire or car park.

* There are a number of places that you can stay not listed here. Why aren’t we including these? For a number of reasons:

  • They’re a secret – if you get out on the road you will likely come across some of these spots, or people will share with you if they think you’re worthy! We have a collection of our secret spots called ‘Fresh Aires’ – if you want to know more about how you can get your mitts on this motorhome ski intel, sign up to our newsletter below 😉
  • They’re unreliable – some park ups are sketchy for a number of reasons – they’ve been intermittently closed; they’re scheduled to close; or something’s happened to make them unusable – Nyon for example is a great place to park in Morzine – if you’re under 2m which is fine if you’re in a VW Transporter without a pop-top, but not if you’re in anything else (thank you Days Away Adventures for the update)
  • They’re new! If you know of somewhere that is great for parking up – be a super hero and let us know! You can email us here or drop us a message on Facebook.
Piste Maps - Portes du Soleil

Portes du Soleil Piste Map

The Resorts of the Portes du Soleil

Morzine

The most famous of the PDS resorts, Morzine is a year round resort that’s unique in that it’s almost as popular in summer with mountain bikers as it is in winter for snow sports.

With a very buoyant ex-pat community, Morzine is popular with Brits and began, like all but two of the resorts in the Portes du Soleil area, as a traditional agricultural mountain town. It doesn’t share the quaintness of Châtel or Champéry but offers all the benefits of a bigger resort which makes it very popular.

There are no campsites in, or near Morzine but there is a serviced aire just out of town, accessible by free ski bus. Wild camping in town is frowned upon and even the most stealthy of vans are likely to find themselves the subject of police attention. It’s important to note that the aire rules are enforced in Morzine with only coachbuilt motorhomes being welcome. This is known to relax as the season progresses – panel van conversions and trucks are often moved on by police but there are many alternative places to stay in the Portes du Soleil.

Les Gets

Les Gets is a really popular resort and is where we both began and ended our motorhome ski season in 2017/18. On the outer edge of the PDS, Les Gets links directly to Morzine which is the gateway to the rest of the PDS and easy to reach by road.

It has all the facilities you need for an extended stay with plenty of restaurants, bars and shops, as well as a great medical centre, a laundrette and a decent sized supermarket. You can find a lot more information in our Les Gets guide here.

The Aire at Les Gets

Your option for parking in Les Gets is limited to the aire on the outskirts of town which has a Flot Bleu with fresh and waste water a few hundred meters from the entrance. Whilst it doesn’t have hook up it is in a fairly sunny spot, so those with solar will probably do just fine with an invertor for your 240v gear.

The greatest perk of the aire at Les Gets is that it’s ski-in, and a minute or so walk to the nearest chair lift.

For all the details on motorhome parking in Les Gets, see here.

Avoriaz

Avoriaz is the highest of the PDS resorts and has the label of being one of the first purpose-built ski towns in Europe.

Avoriaz is a perfect spot for early and late season skiing but is a little exposed – which also means incredible views. It’s very popular with mixed sport groups as it’s got a good number of snow parks and a culture that goes along with that.

Avoriaz Snow Park

What Avoriaz lacks in cutesie timber lodges, it makes up for with an awesome aire which is truly ski-in, ski-out. It’s also got everything you need apart from LPG which you’re going to fill up in Cluses.

Whilst the routes to Morzine are drama free, once you start the ascent from Morzine to Avoriaz, you’ll start to encounter some tight switchbacks. Nothing you and your motorhome can’t handle and the views are certainly worth it.

Abondance – great for beginners

Stictly speaking there’s nowhere to stay overnight in Abondance but it has a bunch of runs (13 in total) – the l‘Essert ski area –  and is a fab place for a ‘day out’. There is an aire that’s open in the summer but is disappointingly (and one of the many pitfalls of relying on general aire guides which do not have winter experience) converted to an ice driving experience during the ski season. The Flot Bleu is however open and so if you fancy a day out in a traditional village, this is a fab place.

It’s an unintimidating place for total beginners and improvers as well. It’s really quiet mid-week with 10 green and blue runs combined and lots of gorgeous hiking and snow shoeing.

It’s also an inexpensive place to try out a bunch of those activities you see advertised in resorts but can never quite justify – ski-joering, husky sledding and, if they’re going to turn the aire into an ice rink, you might as well enjoy it – ice driving.

Chapelle d’Abondance

A little bigger than Abondance, Chapelle d’Abondance has a lot more skiing and has an aire nestled a 3 minute walk from the lists. There’s also an up-and-over trip into Switzerland from Chapelle d’Abondance – over to Torgon so don’t forget your passport.

There’s all the stuff you need in Chapelle d’Abondance and if you fance a few nights away from the more touristy resorts, this is an ace place to stay. The only thing you’ll have to plan for is water and waste (although you can always pop down to Abondance) as the service area on the aire is often out of operation.

Chapelle d'Abondance

Due to the location in a wider part of the valley, there’s a tonne of cross-country skiing in this area and you can even try your hand at skiing whilst wielding a weapon (otherwise known as biathalon)!

Châtel – camping and an aire in a traditional buzzy village

Châtel is particularly popular with motorhome skiers for a number of reasons and it offers both a very well equipped campsite as well as an aire at the head of the valley – still operational. Sadly – the other aire (featured in our videos) is no longer open but still watch them if you want to know about the area and the other aire and services.

Châtel is the geographical centrepiece of the Portes du Soleil area and gives you access over to Switzerland, and up and over into the more famous French resorts of Avoriaz and Morzine.

It is absolutely stunning and has some gorgeous places to eat, drink and hang out. It’s one of our favourite towns in the region. Check out more on Châtel here.

Camping l’Oustalet is really popular with motorhome folks from all over and has a pretty good value seasonnaires offering. It’s positioned at the far end of town and is a good 10 minute schlep up to where the action is, but is only a few minutes walk from the circular ski bus route which also goes into town if you want to save your legs. If you like a brisk warm-up in the morning, from l’Oustalet, you’re just a 10 minute walk (in ski boots) to the base of the Linga telecabine.

If aires are more your thing, there’s a parking spot at Pré la Joux, just at the end of the valley in the Pierre Longue car park. You have access to the service facilities 400m further down the valley back towards Châtel but are not permitted to stay overnight there. You must relocate to the areas directed by the attendants which is a little further up towards the main lifts.

Warning: When snow is good in this valley, parking is very busy and as a motorhome, you may be turned away.

Swiss side of the Portes du Soleil

If you’re planning to park up on the Swiss side, you need to plan ahead because, whilst it looks like a quick trip over the pass from Châtel to Torgon or Champéry, many of the passes are closed throughout, or periodically, in the winter season – use Google Maps and Via Michelin so you know before you get to a blustery Col and realise it’s impossible to turn around!

In the Portes du Soleil area you have two Swiss resorts that welcome campers – Torgon and Champéry.

Torgon

This slowly dilapidating ski resort is an absolute gem for anyone looking for a quite spot for a few days and access to the Portes du Soleil area. Just over from Chapelle d’Abondance, it’s a great spot from which to explore the northern area of the PDS.

Parking is in the lift car park and whilst there are loos, you need to be self sufficient in terms of power. You’ll probably want to come fully loaded as the village itself is probably further than anyone can be bothered to trek with shopping, but is ok for a quick beer.

Champéry

Further south you’ll find the pretty village of Champéry.  This is the polar opposite of Torgon in terms of feel and if you’re aiming to see the Swiss PDS area, this is a lovely spot. You can recharge your batteries (literally and metaphorically), get some laundry done and use it as a base to explore Les Crosets and Champoussin without rushing for first and last lifts.

The Camping du Grand Paradis is a few minutes walk from the Grand Paradis telecabine and this large village has enough supermarkets, cafes and restaurants to keep you entertained for your stay.

The other notable thing about this winter campsite in Switzerland is that it’s very reasonable – around €30/night for a motorhome, two adults, two dogs and electricity. Booking is advised.

Other places to park

There are a bunch of other places to park – car parks and wild camping opportunities in and around the Portes du Soleil (many listed in our Fresh Aires guide). The only thing we ask is that as always, please be respectful of residents and businesses, and the will of the people – even if they are grumpy old Gendarme. It’s never worth staying somewhere you’re not welcome, even if it is your right to do so.

LPG

LPG availability is one of the main limitations of any motorhome ski trip – particularly for those choosing to live off grid. Whilst being connected to hook up can reduce your gas consumption, those on blown air heating will know that gas is always far more efficient so in a cold snap, your gas usage won’t change much, if at all.

Just remember – LPG pumps are not operational in self service fuel stations or when the station is not manned – i.e. after hours or on national holidays. This is something that has caught us out on several occasions and we never learn! It’s also worth noting the below note on the MyLPG website:

Warning for motorhome owners:
The French regulation authorises the tank refill only if the tank is EN1949 European Standard compliant. It is forbidden to refill standard cylinders.
In the past, an accident took place in France on a campervan. It resulted in reinforcement of the procedure related to the refilling of EN1949 tank. Some retail owners took it a step further as to reject all refillable LPG bottles due to the complexity for the retail station staff to control and identify if the tank complies with EN 1949 European Standard.

As far as we are aware it is still illegal to fill LPG refillable bottles yourself but in our experience, they either let you or they don’t – they won’t offer to fill them for you.

Cluses – The nearest

A 30 minute drive from Les Gets, you can get LPG (or GPL or Autogas) at the Total garage in Cluses.

Other places to fill up on LPG en route are the Casino at Annemasse, The Core in Thonon-les-Bains, the Carrefour Market in Margencel and Sallanches to the south.

Downsides

Hopefully you’ve seen that the Portes du Soleil is a motorhome ski mecca and it’s on your list – we think it’s especially good for those who want to try their first ‘tour’ and are keen to mix it up – staying in official sites and also trying their hand at off-grid camping.

That said, there are some downsides to the Portes du Soleil and so here they are:

  1. It is busy – particularly in holidays. The Portes du Soleil’s proximity to major cities with good air links and short, easy transfers means that it’s popular with everyone – weekend warriors, families, self-drive and of course, tour operators. The smaller villages are less beset by tourists and even in high season, you can still get parked without difficulty and have a peaceful trip.
  2. Campsites aren’t in abundance. But they aren’t abundant anywhere – the benefit of the Portes du Soleil is that is also acts as a gateway to the Alps – you are not far from Le Grand Massif which has a variety of parking options if you start to feel the itching in your feet.
  3. It’s not the highest ski area. But it does have great skiing early and late season – particualy in Avoriaz where parking is easy and as mentioned, ski-in, ski-out. It’s also a relatively affluent ski area and as such has benefitted from major investment in snow cannons. Don’t begrudge the bumble-bee drone through the night from the aire in Les Gets – it’s just the snow making bunnies working overtime! You’ll be grateful in the morning when you get to play in fresh powder. Even in mid April, we skied uninteruptend from Les Gets to Morzine and whilst our legs had to work hard in the crud, the slowly emerging spring was pretty special to see.

If you have anything to add about motorhome skiing in the Portes du Soleil – please add in in the comments below.

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Related Questions:

Can I take my caravan skiing? There are plenty of campsites that welcome caravans throughout Europe that are easily accessible. It is not possible for caravans to stay on aires, stellplatz and sostas which are reserved for motorhomes only.

Is it possible to wild camp in Morzine? Authorities are very strict on unauthorised overnight camping in Morzine but there are a number of places in town and the surrounding area where staying overnight in your campervan is permitted.

Are there campsites open near ski resorts in winter? There are lots of campsites near ski resorts throughout Europe open in the winter. Not all campsites are however open so it is best you call ahead to confirm. You can see our growing list of verified winter campsites here.

 

About Hannah

Gobby, opinionated, professional ski bum. Co-founder of the Winterised Project.