Avoriaz is a 1960s purpose-built skiing resort in the French Alps. However, it is a purpose-built skiing resort like no other – instead of ugly utilitarian apartment blocks, Avoriaz has truly unique architecture – wooden, angular, weird and enchanting. Located on a high shelf above the town of Morzine, the buildings are designed to blend in with the mountains when seen from afar. The resort is car-free, and planned so that every door opens to a piste to the bottom of town, while a series of public elevators carry people back up to the top of the town. You can ski to the shops to pick up your groceries, then take a lift back to your apartment. As part of the “Ports Du Soleil” ski area, Avoriaz is a central part of one of the largest, most diverse and best skiing areas in the world.
Avoriaz is the brainchild of Gerard Bremont, founder of French tourism company Pierre & Vacances, and member of the French jet set of the 1960s. French olympic skiing champion Jean Vuarnet discovered the area as part of the development of the Morzine skiing area, and Bremont conceived Avoriaz as a luxury resort. Three young, recently graduated architects Jacques Labro, Jean-Jacques Orzoni and Jean-Marc Roques were hired to design the resort, and with completion of the first building the Hotel Des Dromonts, Avoriaz was dubbed the “Saint Tropez de Neige”. However, as Avoriaz developed further, smaller self-catering apartments were built instead of hotels and chalets, and Avoriaz became more of a budget destination – the Hotel Des Dromonts was to remain the only hotel in Avoriaz. Many of the standard Avoriaz apartments are designed to fit as many people into as small a space as possible – but hey, it’s not about hanging about in the apartment, it’s all about the snow and the apres-ski.
I lived in Avoriaz for five months during my years as a ski bum, and I fell in love with the place. I return regularly, and it is one of my favourite places to photograph. For me, there is a magic about the buildings of Avoriaz that has a slightly dark edge to it – I was immediately reminded of the scenography from Robert Wienes 1920 horror movie “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”. It seems I am not the only one that has had this impression, as Avoriaz hosted the highly prestigious ‘Festival International du Film Fantastique d’Avoriaz’”, one of the worlds most highly regarded festivals for science fiction and horror films, between 1973 and 1993. Another person who was affected by the architecture of Avoriaz is Simon Cloutier, who is the architect in charge of new development in Avoriaz, together with the original architect Jacques Labro. Simon also came to Avoriaz as a ski bum, but he was so inspired by the buildings that he decided to become an architect so that he could come back and continue working with them. And he is sticking to his guns, as all new development in Avoriaz sits in perfect sync with the look and feel of the original buildings.