On the Swiss side of the massive ski resort complex known as Portes du Soleil, the RÉGION DENTS DU MIDI has been gaining attention in the freeski scene for the past few years.
That’s thanks mostly to the efforts of Level 1 Productions star Laurent De Martin to promote his home spot. With movie projects like From Switzerland with Love and the follow-up Simply., LDM and his crew have done a great job of putting Région Dents du Midi—RDDM for short—on the skier’s map.
Words & photos: Ethan Stone
A native son of Région Dents du Midi, Laurent de Martin has championed the freeski potential of the region in his film projects. Photo: Ruedi Flück
Of course, that’s not to say that this area wasn’t already well-known before. Sprawling across 14 valleys and 12 resort towns along the Swiss-French border to the south of Lac Léman, Portes du Soleil is one of the biggest interconnected ski regions in the world. It offers close to 200 ski lifts and 1,000 square kilometers of terrain, all accessible with one lift ticket.
However, the French side of this ski megalopolis—including destinations like Avoriaz and Morzine—is better known and more visited than their affiliates on the Swiss side of the border. In the grand scheme of the Portes du Soleil, the Région Dents du Midi is still something of a side attraction, even though its ample offering of lifts, terrain and culture is anything but trivial.
Taking all this into account, when I was given the chance to visit the Région Dents du Midi last winter and scope the scene for myself, I didn’t need to be asked twice. I packed my bags, called up two friends—Daniel Hanka and Simon Bartik—who were down to join the adventure, and set a course for Champéry.
Downdays' spot checkers in residence: Daniel Hanka and Simon Bartik.
A warm welcome from an old friend at the Hotel Suisse in Champéry.
Old friends and new
At first, our plan was to link up with Laurent De Martin, who hails from the nearby village of Troistorrents. With years of shredding and moviemaking around Région Dents du Midi under his belt, there would be no better guide to show us around. However, LDM had just left on a trip for Austria, meaning we’d need to find new friends to help us get the feel for the region.
As it turns out, finding friends would be no challenge here. In fact, we ran into our first one while checking into our accommodations at the Hotel Suisse in Champéry. Waiting for us at the reception desk was none other than Camillia Berra—a former member of the Swiss Freeski Team and competitor at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Nowadays, instead of tossing double front flips on slopestyle courses, Camillia helps to run the family hotel, and spends more time ski touring than in the snowpark.
The next morning we strolled down the street from the hotel and hopped onto Champéry’s iconic red gondola, which whisked us from the valley up into the alpine at 1962 meters above sea level. Our mission: to explore the Région Dents du Midi as much as possible in one day, shoot some photos and have a good time. With the expanse of terrain already visible before us, it was clear that this challenge would be easy to meet.
The view off the top of the gondola from Champéry: Le Mur Suisse on the right side, with Le Hauts Forts (2466 m) in the background.
Directly in front of us lay the Chavanette chairlift accessing Champéry’s infamous Mur Suisse—the Swiss Wall. This kilometer-long, 330-vertical-meter slope remains permanently ungroomed. That means it’s a massive mogul field on most days, making its descent a right of passage for skiers who usually stick to the groomed pistes. There’s also the option of skiing off the back of the peak to access Avoriaz and the French side of Portes du Soleil—a trip we’d be making soon. But first, we decided to head skier’s right and check out the terrain at Les Crosets.
Le Mur Suisse, the Swiss Wall, is one of Portes du Soleil's most iconic (and leg-burning) runs.
With its trio of lifts underneath the Point des Mossettes (2277m) on the Swiss-French border, Les Crosets is the central axis of the Région Dents du Midi. It’s got a snowpark and some of the most interesting terrain on this side of the border, and it was Laurent’s tip for us to get started on our explorations. In no time at all, we found plenty of goods to work with. Underneath the Grand-Conche chairlift, the snow was still good, even it had been several days since the last storm. A playful ridgeline offered cornices galore to catch some air, and Simon and Daniel wasted no time getting radical for the camera.
Simon floats out a flatspin 3 japan.
Simon in front of the imposing backdrop of the Dents Blanches.
About halfway through our first lap on Grand-Conche, we were scoping a small cliff drop when a local kid came charging past us on twin-tip pow skis and sent the cliff without a second look. Instantly, we knew we’d found our tour guide for the day, and went chasing after him. He turned out to be Nathan, a guy from Troistorrents who was more than happy to show us around. In fact, he ended up bagging some solid shots himself.
Laid-out backflips are Nathan's specialty.
On our next lap, Nathan showed the way to a rock outcropping in the middle of an untouched powder field. “It’s perfect for backflip,” he said, then proceeded to send a perfect backie first hit while we watched on in astonishment. Daniel and Simon tried their best to keep up—but it’s always hard to compete against the home-court advantage.
Backflips on point.
Daniel followed up with this classy 180 safety.
After a few hot laps on the Grand-Conche lift with Nathan, we were ready to see more. Just in time, another local guide popped up to help us found our way. Rocking what was doubtless the best mullet on the mountain, Marcel and his friend Alexis offered to show us the French side of the mountain. We headed towards the Swiss Wall, enjoying a view of the backcountry touring zone of the Col de Cou along the way. After a quick ride up the Chavanelle chairlift, we crossed the border and descended through more playful off-piste terrain down to Avoriaz, a purpose-built mountain resort village that looks like something out of a fairy tale.
Perched on a cliff at 1800 meters above sea level, Avoriaz looks like an architect's fever dream.
Okay, I admit—since it’s on the French side, Avoriaz isn’t actually part of Région Dents du Midi. However, one of the biggest advantages of RDDM is its shared pass and access to the rest of Portes du Soleil, so the way I figure it, a visit across the border still counts as part of this spot check. After all, there’s even more terrain on the French side. In Avoriaz alone there are two different snowparks, a wooden Stash park, and a mental overload’s worth of off-piste terrain ready for the taking. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg—from here we could continue to Morzine down in the valley, then on to the resort of Les Gets on the other side, over 10 kilometers away!
However, we didn’t have enough time to fully explore the French side—it takes a full day of non-stop skiing if you want to go all the way from Champéry to Les Gets and back. After a quick bite for lunch at Les Lindarets, we took the lift back up the Pointe des Mossettes and the Swiss side, gawking along the way at all of the terrain around us. Avoriaz has a breathtaking amount of terrain, but it’s also quite a lot busier than on the Swiss side; and with French winter vacations currently taking place, the pistes were as packed as I’ve ever seen them.
Saying goodbye to our new friends.
Back in the country that we started in, we said goodbye to our new friends and headed back down to Champéry, our legs burning from the kilometers we’d covered. And we’d still only scratched the surface of the Région Dents du Midi. We hadn’t even seen the rolling, family-friendly slopes of Champoussin or sampled the tree skiing in Morgins. I guess that will have to wait until our next visit.
The next day, we linked up Swiss pro Sampo Vallotton, who lives nearby, to film a Core Shots episode. Filmed in RDDM and Avoriaz, the episode will give you an idea of what a ski day border-hopping between Switzerland and France might look like.
Want to see more from our trip to Région Dents du Midi? Check out our Story Highlight on Instagram.