Rock The Pistes Festival
Let’s set the scene here our average visit to a British summer festival normally delivers knee deep mud, endless rain, queuing, warm beer and cold nights and trudging between stages. The Swiss/French version on the other hand mixes blue skies with the potential of knee deep powder, ice cold beer, no lift queues and skiing between stages. With that thought in mind we booked the flights threw out our wellies and in went the snowboard boots.
On paper the ‘Rock the Piste’ concept is certainly an intriguing one each day you ski to a daily concert located at one of the resorts in the Portes du Soleil ski region. Off paper and on piste arranging all of this is not so simple, it’s a huge logistical operation where helicopters whirl across the skies and move aspects of the stages across the skies like giant Lego pieces across the alps.
It’s then just a small task of assembling a new stage each day in a new ski area and a lot of it is in the hands of the gods when it comes to the weather but when you combine this spectacle with the awe inspiring backdrops of the Swiss and French Alps it is easy to see why the festival has become a huge success.
Getting to the festival itself couldn’t be simpler we flew into Geneva then boarded the efficient Swiss rail network that takes us on a spectacular journey that sails past the crystal clear waters of lake Geneva before the train pulls into the rail station at Monthey, from here another half an hour on the bus and we arrive at the authentic mountain village of Morgins our destination for the weekend.
The weather on arrival sees picture perfect blue skies combined with a blazing hot sun that beats down on the slopes that still look pristine despite the end of season being only weeks away. The spring snow conditions raise a massive smile all round one that rarely if ever leaves our face over the spectacular weekend to come.
On debarking in Morgins we are keen to get into the festival spirit as soon as possible but firstly we need to drop off our bags at the boutique hotel. Chez Jan our chosen base is a lovely traditional Swiss hotel with a rustic wooden feel throughout the rooms and subdued lighting that makes this place the perfect base for nursing those tired legs and those tired heads that are sure to come.
Just a stone throw away from the hotel we arrive at our next stop the Snow Line ski hire shop. Where we are served with typical Swiss efficiency and in minutes I am set up with a snowboard for the next day on the slopes. With the angles adjusted the setup is complete, we quickly stash our kit away in the hotel ski lockers and allow the party to finally begin.
From here it’s just a stroll across the road to an apres ski event in the centre of Morgins where rock music pumps out across the town. There are over 30 apres events happening over the week and although Morgins maybe smaller in size than some of the towns in the region their ambitions are no less in scale. The town centre is awash with festival fever dominated by an impressive stage and sound system onstage the rock band are making the most of the setup ramping things combining original material and a selection of well known covers which climaxes with a bombastic rage against the machine cover. Surrounding the stage are a variety of stalls offering a variety of local produce that smells sublime. This all combines for a perfect moment where we get to swish the Swiss beer and watch the sun setting over the alps.
The music might have reached a climax but the night is not over by any means there is now the small matter of a Quattro formaggi to plow through at the local restaurant le Di.Vins. Now fondues are always a highlight of any Swiss trip, but the mind is slightly blown when we are offered a selection of four bubbling cheeses that include, chilli, beer, mushrooms and cannabis, for a second you could be forgiven for thinking we would be experiencing highs of a different kind, but we are assured by the chef that the cannabis fondue is made of CBD Cannabis which is legal in Switzerland and contains less than 1% of THC, so it only gives the flavor and no unnatural side effects. Well fed and munchies averted we resist the urge for a final nightcap and get ready for bed where we rest our legs for the challenge ahead.
Eager to get on the slopes the next day we have a quick breakfast at the hotel, cooked freshly by the chef we opt for a mushroom omelette with more swiss cheese. Then it’s outside where we meet our host for the slopes Benjamin and our local ski guides. The plan is to tour around the Portes du Soleil region crossing over from Switzerland into France with the specific goal of arriving in Chatel for 12 o clock where Hyphen Hyphen will be today’s lunchtime entertainment.
In order to get there we first need to we work up a sweat and given the amount of terrain on offer that is not going to be a problem. Our first stop takes us from Morgins to Champoussin, which starts at the top of the Foilleuse (1819m) lift with offers a magnificent view over the Dents du Midi, we then journey up to the top of the Pointe de l’Au (2152m) skiing top to bottom to reach Les Crosets. From Les Crosets we take the chairlift upto to the top of Pointe des Mossettes (2277m) which is the highest chairlift accessed point of the Portes du Soleil and is where we finally cross the border between Switzerland and France. Today also sees us tackle the “Abricotine slope”, one of the longest of Les Portes du Soleil, from the top of la Pointe des Mossettes to the small resort of Les Lindarets just before going up to Châtel (8km long)
With our legs thoroughly warmed up we join the throng of skiers and snowboarders taking the final piste down into Châtel a wide open piste allows us to throw out some turns as we descend closer to the impressive stage setup. From the piste we can see a big crowd is already starting to build in anticipation of hyphen hyphen. This has increased tenfold by the time Hyphen Hypen step onto the stage to loud cheers from the crowd who are buzzing as the female fronted band launch into the opening song. What follows is a show that has so much energy it leaves us feeling lazy despite an active morning on the slopes. For the next ninety minutes we sample great music, local wine and local foods and really get to chill out with the great music on offer.
We might be relaxing and taking in the sun but down at the front things are really warming up as lead singer Samatha Cotta aka ‘Santa’ swaps presents for stage presence as she throws herself into the crowd. The combination of crowd surfing and singing is pretty impressive at any concert but try this at altitude and she would be forgiven for performing with an oxygen tank.
It’s an impressive spectacle and although it is only day one for us hyphen hyphen high energy show means not only have they won many new fans they have also become and remain our favourite band of the weekend.
With the feedback fading away, our drinks emptied and our bellies full we watch the crowd disperse before picking up where we left off with our guides who are on hand to ensure we make it safely back across the french / Swiss border.
The highlight of the day involves Climbing back upto the Pointe des Mossettes where on the way back we take the Tovassière piste a long steady piste back to the heart of the village. It’s late in the afternoon when we arrive back in Morgins and conditions are starting to get slushy but they are frankly perfect for a gentle snowboard back into town, especially given the few beers we sampled at the festival.
For the evening we return by taxi to the larger town of a Châtel where we swap the quite rustic feel of Morgins for the sophistication of the restaurant Le Cerf where Chef Eric Macchi and his team brings together traditional dishes, using local, seasonal, high-quality and rigorously selected products. Tonight we decide to avoid another night in a cheese coma and opt for a French fish supper which combines a starter of caviar and a main course of locally sourced fish . It’s all very fine French fair and goes down a treat with the local white wine and sets us up nicely for a restful night back in Morgins.
For our second day of the festival it all feels a bit like groundhog day. Fresh Omelette for breakfast check, blue skies check, meet ski instructors by the gondola at 9 check. Thankfully our Swiss ski instructors are ready to mix things and today and whilst we ride some of the same piste we stick the Swiss side of the Portes du Soleil region. It’s another glorious day where we can blast down the sun drenched pistes.
With conditions so forgiving on piste the group decide to take a detour to the Superpark freestyle snow park of Les Crosets. The park is expertly groomed and features a number of obstacles designed to please everyone from total beginners to seasoned professionals.
Whilst we were more than impressed by the spectacle at Châtel the Swiss setup at Morgins feels even more grand for the last and biggest of the lunchtime concerts which attract over 4,500 people. With a backdrop of sheer white mountain faces the view literally blows us away as does the sudden spectacle of wingmen flying over head before ejecting there parachutes above the stage.
It a great way to get the crowd warmed up for Charlie winston the hat toting Englishman, speaking of hats the crowd is awash with people wearing the free pink and blue hats have been distributed on entry. Try as we might I don’t think we quite achieve the effortless style that we label Charlie Chic.
On the stage the show may be a little more laid back than that of hyphen hyphen but Charlie is clearly a veteran performer with a big following in this part of the world and with beer in hand the lazy afternoon sun it hard to not be drawn into the performance.
With pitchers filled full and wine glasses clinking we stop for a lunch of grilled meats and Raclette Cheese. This local swiss delicacy according to legend was invented by a Valais winemaker called Léon who one cold winter’s day warmed up a piece of cheese over an open log fire, rather than eating it raw, and this quintessential Valais delicacy was born.
Back on stage Charlie set is growing to a close and the realisation is perhaps we should have took it a little easier on the alcohol. It’s easy to forget your still have to hit the slopes when you are so absorbed in the music. So with our drinks finished we set about the small matter of descending back into Morgins. This time we opt for the red run back into Morgins it has a great pitch and is perfect for blasting out turns. We strap on our board and head onto the piste where the snow has turned slushy and is perfectly forgiving in the late afternoon sun, it makes for a fun descent where we can really throw down our turns in the superb spring conditions, it’s probably the best run of the holiday and a great way to end our riding for the trip
With the final descent done we refuse to waste the day eeking out the most of the sunny weather sitting under the glorious blue skies sipping aperol spritz and watching the sun slowly disappears behind the mountain, it’s a perfect moment.
With a chill beginning to appear the air we grab our ski jackets and head over the road to watch one last band in Morgins.
Then it is onto the local restaurant where we order a starter of prawns with garlic and a glass of white wine. This followed by an exquisite chateaubriand which is delicious especially when washed down with the local red wine.
As it’s getting late a number of us make their excuses to go to bed but for those who hang around there is a small matter of seeing what Morgins has to offer. A quick drink in the Le Crystal Pub and it is onto Morgins top night club where the party mood continues with dancing into the early hours.
It is up again early the next day perhaps a little too early for those of us with sore heads and feet and whilst the sun may have set on another year of Rock The Pistes we just have time for one more activity, this time it’s a far more relaxing one as we check into the Thermal bath of Val-d’Illiez where we swap our winter thermals for thermal waters. Thankfully we don’t have the normal festival grime to wash off but a quick swim, sauna and steam do wonders for refreshing our tired bodies and after a quick dip it’s back on the road this time to Aigle train station where we again make the luxurious train ride past Lake Geneva and on-towards home.
Should you feel inclined to Rock The Pistes yourself the festival will return in 2020 and big plans are afoot at the festival will be celebrating their tenth anniversary. For more information visit the Rock The Pistes Festival website.