Shooting the breeze about the ski industry, the great outdoors and general gossip from the Doorstep Skis HQ in Morzine, France.
Sunday, March 4, 2018
A brief history of Morzine.
The polar opposite of 1970s tower-block resorts like Tignes and La Plagne, the beautiful, charming ski resort of Morzine began life as far back as 1090. The area was one of only two crossing-points over the river Dranse and as such was of great geographical importance.
Around the start of the 12th century, Cistercian monks began arriving in the area of St Jean d’Aulps on pilgrimage from other areas in France, most notably Dijon. The term Cistercian comes from the Latin ‘Cistercium,’ which was the name given to the Dijon village of Cîteaux from whence the monks mostly came. By 1181 they had fully established themselves in St Jean d’Aulps and in the surrounding territories, and Morzine became a “monastic grange” from the abbey of the same name.
For the monks of the day, the monastic granges were bases from which they could work the land, provide their communities with sustenance and divide up clothing, utensils and building materials amongst the population. The monks prospered for hundreds of years in the Morzine area, spreading their civilisation and religious beliefs unchallenged. One of the main reasons for this was their proficiency in farming and livestock rearing, something they learned and improved on from their Benedictine brothers, whose patron they initially shared.
St Jean d’Aulps gained independence from the Cistercian monks in 1531, around the time when the monasteries in England, Wales and Ireland were being dissolved by King Henry VIII. This was followed by around two hundred and fifty years of peaceful farming and the continued growth and prosperity of these humble mountain villages.
By 1800, technological developments meant the area’s slate could be successfully and lucratively mined. The slate mines went as deep as 350 metres into the area’s many cliff faces, and the slate that the labourers mined was split into sheets. It was then cut to size before being transported primarily to places such as Thonon, Thônes and Taninges. Morzine earned a great deal of money from this trade, money which would stand the town in good stead in the years to come.
In 1862 a road was constructed between Thonon and Morzine, and the slate production and monies earned increased accordingly. Like so many Alpine towns of the day, with the financial fruits of their labour the population of Morzine turned their attention to tourism and Morzine’s ski club was founded in 1910. In 1925, local tradesman and entrepreneur Francois Baud set up the town’s first hotel to welcome tourists, the aptly named “Grand Hotel.” He went on to build the town’s first ski jump behind the hotel, and employed Austrian ski instructors to run it.
By 1934 Morzine had its first ski lift and progress went from strength to strength. This was helped by the resort’s swollen coffers and a young local man by the name of Jean Vuarnet. Morzine-born Vuarnet won the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, bringing pride and prestige to the little mountain town. It was following this victory and the spoils thereof, that Vuarnet worked during the 1970s as Director in Charge to establish the higher resort of Avoriaz, close to Morzine. Linking in the towns of Champery and Les Crozets, Vuarnet established the ski able domain we know today, and the mighty Portes du Soleil were formed.
Today, Morzine attracts skiers and boarders from all over the world for its impressive range and variety of pistes, and the summers see hikers, parapenters and cyclists a-plenty. The town has maintained its wonderful charm, and the sense of Alpine tradition pervades to this day. The town planners have shunned the temptation to construct high-rise blocks and it’s one of the prettiest ski resorts in the entirety of the Alps.