Skiing at Chatel, the French Alps. The mountains are calling …

Skiing at Chatel, the French Alps.

"May your dreams be larger than mountains and may you have the courage to scale their summits" 
- Harley King

Magnificent view

The first few memories that come to mind when someone mentions ‘winter’ to me are carrot-nosed snowmen, freezing snowball fights, thick jackets, and yellow Wellington boots. Winters in the northern hemisphere also bring to mind the generous Santa and his trusted reindeer, Rudolph. Those childhood memories …

Winter is a cold season, I agree, but it is also the time when families, friends and solo travellers gather and go on snowy, fun-filled holidays.

Speaking of super fun trips, today we are going to France—the French Alps to be precise. Chatel. My friend Stephan Rijs and his family went on a ski trip recently and, they will share their experience with us. Skiing! That’s fabulous! I have never done it, so I am very thrilled about the opportunity. I hope you are too. Go, pack your warm clothes. By the way, Stephan is one of my close friends and an ex-colleague whom I’ve worked with on several projects.

Winter break

Where exactly is Chatel?

Chatel is in France, in the Haute Savoie region. Chatel is part of the Portes du Soleil ski area. It is listed as one of the most charming ski village sites in the French Alps. The Chatel village has beautiful mountain architecture and offers ski lovers loads of opportunities to explore the different routes of the Portes du Soleil.

We are at Chatel village

Chatel is 583 kilometres from the country’s capital, Paris. It is about 1000 kilometres from Amsterdam, the city where Stephan started his trip. Below is a map extracted from Google to show you both points.

Travel points

When is the best time to visit Chatel for winter holidays?

Speaking in skier’s language, when is the best time for perfect powder? We know it’s not easy to predict the weather, so it’s not going to be easy predicting the snow either. But generally, snow season in Chatel is between early December and early April. A good snow base is developed by February. Therefore, generally speaking, ski activities begin in mid-December and end in late April.

The different levels of snow firmness will provide ski-cationers different levels of ski-excitement. Expect more crowds during the (European) school holiday weekends. The more the cheers and noise, the more the fun.


An estimated 120 million people visit the Alps each year.

Do you remember how I freaked out when the temperature got below 20°C? Well, trust me, it’s biting cold just looking at these photos. Luckily the thermometer hasn’t gotten a brain-freeze like I have. At this point of writing, it shows -8°C.

It's freezing here

Knowing how important it is to keep warm, the group indulged in a fresh, morning brew. It was a filtered coffee, Alpine style. Smell that? That hot brew was excellent, Stephan.

Morning brew

This coffee increased our body heat, and it felt warmer outside: -7°C. Look! Even Google agrees with us. 😉

Getting warmer

How do you get to Chatel?

Stephan and his family decided to drive. The drive today took us about ten hours. His wife, Anke, and he took turns. Along the way, we said hello to some familiar cities and towns in Germany and indulged in some local cappuccino to stay awake.

On the way

During the drive towards the Alps, we noticed many vehicles on the road with European license plates, mainly from Denmark and some from the UK (yep, easy to recognise those cars with steering wheels on the side I’m used to).

Here’s a handy tip from Stephan. Ski equipment is bulky, and driving with your own gear can be a hassle, so it’s wise to hire the shoes, sticks, and skies at the local rentals. And that’s just what we did.

As we drove closer, we were teased with the first few glimpses of the inviting Alps.

The Alps

There are other travel options available if you are not familiar with right-side driving.
  • Train: The nearby train stations include Thonon (France), Aigle (Switzerland), and Monthey (Switzerland). There are shuttle rides from the train stations to the Alps.
  • Plane: Nearby airports include Geneva (Switzerland), Sion (Switzerland), Berne (Switzerland), and Chambery (France). There are also shuttle rides from these airports to the Alps.

Where to stay in Chatel?

There are plenty of options to choose from, from fully catered hotels and enchanting chalets to small rooms with sofa-beds at private residences.

Stephan’s group stayed in a charming chalet that belonged to a cousin’s friend. His cousin and his family were also part of this trip. This is the place they called home for the next week 😊.

Chalet in Chatel, home for the week

This chalet was fully furnished. It had four bedrooms with two bathrooms and cooking facilities. According to Stephan, ski vacations can be expensive, so cooking while enjoying each other’s company is the way to go. Reduce costs plus increase time together? I couldn’t agree more!

The village was a great place to relax, and there was plenty of sunshine and blue skies. This would mean only one thing—lots of fun!

It was just after sunrise, and we started with a good breakfast. My, my, what a healthy way to start the morning! Stephan pointed out we have more coffee, and they made space at the table for us too 😉.


Why do skiers love Chatel?

Chatel has great terrain to satisfy the needs skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels—beginner, intermediate, and expert. If you love cross-country skiing, you’d be pleased to know there are also 49 kilometres of cross-country ski trails. 

You’ll hear the term piste a lot. Piste is a firm, snow-covered area suitable for skiing. Chatel has 73 pistes with a total length of 83 kilometres. It ranks as one of the best ski locations in the world.

Our first guide

What can you do in and around Chatel?

Alpine skiing is an outdoor sport (and yes, it is a winter Olympics sport). So, the first thing to do is get a map to plan your activities.

Time to plan

Stephan’s first ski trip was when he was 20 years old. He has gone on about 10 visits since. Today, he enjoys going skiing with his family and friends. They all love being active and being outdoors just as much as him. The best ingredients for a great vacation, he reminded me. The kids love the thrill of gliding fast on snow and the challenges of the difficult pistes. Skiing is also popular among his friends.

Our group

Visitors will have to travel on these cable cars to go up and down the hill. You’ll need a pass (wireless card) that allows access through the station gates. Always keep it safely with you.

The view is good here

We hopped onto the cable car with Stephan's group and reached the first ski point. We were all set and charged-up for a thrilling adventure. Before that, since I had never worn skis before, Flossie, Stephan's daughter, agreed to show us how.

Come on, let's go

Look, Flossie is all set. She has her red-hot ski boots and skis on. Let’s not keep her waiting.

The rest of us put on our boots and skis too. Stephan took us on a simple path for us as a warm up and for him to master his ski-filming skills, which turned out to be very good, I’d say. But do be careful. Safety is always the priority.

I was told that this move is called alpine skiing. The skis are curved a slightly so that it’s easier to turn. Sometimes this is called carving, because of its long curves.

We skied for a while and stopped to take photos along the way. Here is one of them. What a view! The fantastic gift of nature. Isn’t this view just breath-taking? I was lost for words.


Next, we were on the way to La Chapalle d’Abondance, another ski point. Before that, more coffee to enjoy the sunny day.

A short break

Where do you get coffee in Chatel?

Stephan speaks a bit of French, so our coffee needs were taken care of. He modestly said that the process of ordering was somewhat tricky. But the picture below shows he ordered correctly.

Café au lait at the highlands

The coffee you see here is café au lait, which is coffee with milk. Sometimes it is called un café s’il vous plait (regular coffee). I learnt that Stephan prefers black coffee, but he ordered café cu lait for our pictures today. That was so thoughtful!

An alternate way to order is of course to use the universal language. Sign! Just point to show any inviting sample on someone else’s table. “Délicieux! Merci beaucoup pour le café adorable.

We headed back to the chalet after a long day out for another surprise. It was party time! Little Flossie’s birthday.

Join me for some cake later

Happy Birthday, Flossie!

Happy Birthday Flossie!

Tips for a fun ski trip at the Alps

Here are a few tips for your ski trip.
  • Take plenty of warm clothes (don’t forget warms socks) and check the weather forecasts and patterns.
  • Rent your ski gear.
  • Cook your meals. It’s healthier, less expensive, and adds family-bonding time.
  • Search for discounted ski passes and ski hires.
  • Book your lessons or engage a private instructor to improve your skills or learn the basics.
  • Find a ski location with several different slopes.
  • Starters -> green and blue
  • Intermediate and advanced -> Red and Black
  • Get insurance coverage in case something goes wrong.
  • Bring a book or a few movies for the evenings when you are back indoors.

The mountains are calling. The alps are calling. Nature is a stunner, and these mountains provide wonderful family holidays. Did you know that at the Alps, as long as you are careful, you will not get a ticket for ski-speeding? It’s true!

Transport in Chatel

Now hear that—the laughter of children and youth. Exhilarating! Laughter is contagious. I am definitely going on those slopes soon. If we hurry, we can still make it for the 2019 Alps trip. There’s still enough snow for us.

Here are more photos of winter taken at various other places. I felt this is the appropriate winter edition to publish them. Thank you to all for the lovely photos.

Hello from the rest

We all need an angel at some point to get over a rough time. So, for those who need one today, here is an angel for your positive thoughts. Stephan, Anke, Douwe, Flossie, and cousins, thank you for sharing your experiences, tips and beautiful photos with us. And thank you for the angel. Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi, heading for the mountains. The mountains are calling …

 "Over every mountain there is a path,
although it may not be seen from the valley"
- Theodore Roethke

Traveller on location: Stephan Rijs and family, cousins. (IG:step_rijs)
Virtual traveller, me 😎


Updated: 9 March 


  1. Thanks for making it a alive memory :)

    1. I certainly learnt a lot about skiing, by writing through the experiences of my friends. The mountains have come alive! I just added it to my list of must-dos! :) :)

  2. Super. I have learned a lot as well. :-)

    1. Thank you Babak. Happy the post helped 😊.

  3. Aaaah the Alps. Absolutely breathtaking. Years ago my family and I drove from Germany through Austria into Italy. We got out of the car at the Brenner Pass and stood to look up at this towering mountain of snow. We were in awe at its majesty and grandeur. That feeling has always stayed with me whenever I see pictures of the Alps and I count myself lucky for having experienced it. That day I got a glimpse of what it must feel like to see God's face.

    1. Medusa, I totally understand what you feel. The beauty of nature, the alps (and mountains) is simply grand. The feeling of just being there is beyond words or pictures but stays in the heart for ever.

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