Some labels like picturesque, idyllic, chocolate-box, are bandied around far too freely when it bears on depicting mountain retreats, except with Champery, they all seem to merge nicely. The town gets by on balancing ease of access into the Portes du Soleil circuit with a relatively isolated location, and as such functions as a well developed but absolutely unspoiled resort. It’s not that perfect -a rather low altitude, no runs back into the resort and missing some good beginner slopes in the area – but such gripes tend to be overshadowed by the region’s arresting charm.
For some, the on-mountain attraction of Champery comes down to three words: the Swiss Wall. One of the longest and steepest mogul runs in Europe, the run’s notoriety is warranted (plenty of people still come as complete cropper on it, and it can make for painful viewing from the Chavanette chairlift), but experienced riders will not have any problem with it.
The hills directly over Champery are suitable for intermediate riders – even the blues are steeper than in neighbouring resorts, while plenty reds make for long and uniquely gratifying runs. You can experience this on the awesome Ripaille, which winds for about 6km back to Grand Paradis, having stunning scenery all throughout. Also inspiring are the red runs that separate and join back below the Mosettes chair. This area is likewise an excellent sun trap: the Col des Portes du Soleil, where these reds virtually reside, is the ‘gateway to the sun’ that originally inspired the naming of the entire area.
There’s not much for expert skiers here, though powderhounds will come across a lot of off-piste action during heavy snow. Some of this can be encountered back on Ripaille: hike up from the lift, and stay on top of the track until you are immediately above a series of powder fields (don’t attempt it if you do not know how to spot an avalanche risk because the area can be unstable). For those looking for more intimidating angles in their off-piste, the face below the Chavanette chair offers steep thrills aplenty – though taking a tumble here can end in a long spin cycle back home.
© 2012 Athena Goodlight