The History of Skiing In Morzine

history of skiing in morzine first pleney lift

The History of Skiing In Morzine

The History of skiing in Morzine dates back to the 1920’s and is an evolutionary tale inspired by two local pioneers. However it took decades of religious rule, farming and mining prior to the 1920’s to get to a point where the development of skiing could be possible

In 1181 Morzine, then called Morgenes meaning border area in Latin, was recorded as the ‘granges’ of Aulps Abbey, the Cistercian monastery located down the road in St Jean d’Aulps. The granges were agricultural areas where the monks worked the land and farmed livestock to provide the church community with food, clothing and building materials. The granges were key to the survival and growth of the Cistercian’s. In 1531 St Jean d’Aulps gained independence from the Cistercians and the village thrived as a small, peaceful farming community. Later, in the 18th century, Morzine’s main economic activity became slate mining and many mines in the valley were exploited, a few of which can still be seen today. 

A Ski Town Is Born

The slate mining brought wealth to the area and eventually tourism followed. The catalyst for this new industry was local businessman Francois Baud building the Grand Hotel in 1925. It was the first hotel to be built in Morzine and he ingeniously located it at the foot of the Pleney mountain. He then went on to develop ski runs on the slopes of the Pleney directly behind the hotel. The first incarnation of the Pleney lift was installed in 1934 and was just the second ever lift to be built in the whole of France. At first the lift was mostly used by hikers but it soon tempted the more daring skiers looking for more of a challenge and voila…. Morzine became a ski resort.

The name Francois Baud will forever be synonymous with Morzine and his descendants still live in the town. The Super Morzine suspension bridge also carries his name.

Morzine During The War

Unfortunately the second world war then brought a halt to the development of skiing in the area. The Nazis occupied the town and ran regular patrols as the Col du Cou at the end of Vallee de la Manche borders Switzerland and became a vital smuggling route. Resistance fighters used the Col to smuggle weapons and fighters into France and Jews used it as a gateway to freedom from Nazi oppression.

Olympic Gold Drives Things Forward

history of skiing in morzine jean vuarnet kisses his gold medal

Back in peacetime it wasn’t long before Morzine was back at the forefront of the ski world. Local skier Jean Vuarnet won Gold in the downhill at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics in California and the town rallied behind him upon his return. Vuarnet was the driving force behind the development of the ski area and he was instrumental in the creation of Avoriaz and the linking up of local resorts forming what we now know as the Portes du Soleil. 

history of skiing in Morzine Avoriaz under construction in the 1960s

Avoriaz under construction in the 1960’s

Today Morzine is the heart of the Portes du Soleil and is the main resort town with a vibrant community and year round tourism. The ski area surrounding the town is amongst the largest in the world attracting millions of tourists every year. With over 650km of piste, 316 slopes accessed by 197 lifts which span 12 resort towns across two countries, I wonder if Francois Baud was aware of what he was starting back then in 1925??

And what better way to immerse yourself in all this history than to come and see it for yourself.  Drop us a line using the contact us form or browse through our exclusive portfolio of luxury Morzine self catered chalets and apartments here