One of the real draws of Morzine is that it isn’t a purpose built resort. Many resorts in the alps are comprised of ugly apartment blocks and lack character. This isn’t the case with Morzine, however. The reason for this is that Morzine has a history that dates back hundreds of years – well before skiing, in fact. Knowing some of the history of the town can help enhance your stay. It can give you a better understanding of the town and add to the atmosphere.
The first mention of Morzine is from the year 1181. It was a landholding of the nearby Aulps Abbey. The name came from the Latin “Morgenes”, meaning “border area”.
Landholdings such as this were used by the local monks to help raise money as well as providing them with food, clothing and business materials. The local market also provided a source of income.
However, in 1531, the village of St. Jean D’Aulps gained independence from the monks. The town continued as a centre of agriculture for the next three hundred years.
Things began to change in the nineteenth century. The industrial revolution led to an increase in the slate mining activities in the area. The slate was taken down to larger towns – Thonon and Taninges – and from there it was sent throughout Europe.
The mines went hundreds of metres into the cliff faces. The entrances can still be seen on the cliff faces around Prodains. There are also mine entrances to be found above the Montriond lake, although these are slightly harder to find!
By the start of the twentieth century tourism was taking off in the area. This was just at the time when skiing was also starting to become popular. Local businessmen saw the potential of skiing as a way to bring ever greater numbers of tourists to the town.
The money from the slate industry meant that there was a surplus that could be invested in the new industry.
In 1925 the first hotel – The Grand Hotel – was built by Francois Baud. He also built the first official ski run behind the hotel.
The Pleney cable car – only the second such cable car in the whole of France at the time – followed in 1934.
The next huge change came when local skier Jean Vuarnet went to the Squaw Valley Olympics, where he won gold.
He returned to Morzine with the idea of developing skiing on the higher slopes as well as building the brand new resort of Avoriaz. The final part of the plan was to link all the separate villages of the area together into what would become the Portes Du Soleil. This was a huge undertaking, spanning the border between France and Sqitzerland.
Vuarnet’s vision laid the groundwork for the ski area that we know today. The lift companies continue to develop the area to make the most of the terrain and the village of Morzine is always looking at ways to develop in ways that maintain the traditional character of the town while offering modern convenience. The history of Morzine helps add to the unique feel of the town – a real mountain town with some of the best skiing in the world!