There might not have been any snow, but that didn't stop Mary Novakovich enjoying Morzine's newly upmarket outlook
They trudged in the rain, lugging their skis, faces set in determination. Passing the green expanse of Morzine's Pleney ski area with its idle cable car, they caught the shuttle bus to take the gondola to Avoriaz, the only place that had any snow. It was the week before Christmas, and the ski season was looking alarmingly uncertain in France's Portes du Soleil.
Luckily, Morzine's speedy new gondola at Les Prodains could take skiers up to its high-altitude and relatively snowy neighbour Avoriaz in only a few minutes. And luckily for me, I didn't have to worry about catching shuttle buses because I was being ferried about in comfort by the staff at Chalet M, the latest addition to the British-run Boutique Chalet Company.
If the snow was a disappointment, the chalet certainly wasn't. Its owners, Chris and Sarah Hamblin, are part of an effort to drive Morzine upmarket – on their part, with accommodation that wouldn't look out of place in swankier resorts such as Verbier or Courchevel. Chalet M is a picture of understated luxury: offbeat original artwork, warm pine walls, squashy sofas and a giant fireplace. The double-height windows in the open-plan living area look out over Morzine and the Pleney pistes. In the kitchen, the chalet's cheerful British staff unobtrusively keep things running smoothly, ensuring that their guests are well fed and watered.
Pre-ordered skis and boots were waiting in the boot room, saving us the hassle of struggling to get the right gear in an overheated ski shop. People were on hand to take us where we wanted, and to get the outdoor hot tub ready after a day on Avoriaz's slopes. I could almost – but not quite – forget the fact that Morzine's pistes remained resolutely green and off-limits.
At its heart, Morzine remains a traditional Savoyard farming village that has an agricultural life beyond the slopes. And the things that have kept this family friendly place so popular over the decades are still there: cheap and cheerful pizzerias, noisy après-ski bars full of British seasonaires and some good skiing for all levels (when there's snow, that is).
But a knowing smartness has been creeping in to the bars and restaurants, in addition to the surge in new, luxury chalets. The top table in town is undoubtedly L'Atelier, an elegant fine-dining temple in the otherwise unassuming surroundings of the three-star Hotel Le Samoyède in the village centre. Chef Alexandre Baud-Pachon, originally from Morzine, has brought some of the more luxurious ingredients he's picked up from his previous stints in Geneva and Courchevel – particularly his signature dish of lobster ravioli.
Meanwhile, foie gras and scallops featured on the menu at La Chaudanne. The decor was upmarket Savoyard – lots of warm wood, dark leather banquettes and exposed brick – but the unexpected quirk was the cellar wine bar glimpsed through the glass floor at the restaurant's entrance. It was hard to imagine a cosier spot: under the vaulted brick ceiling were soft cream leather seats and chunky wooden tables surrounded by hundreds of wine bottles set into the thick walls. It was certainly a far cry from the boisterous "Bar Street", the booze-soaked Taille de Mas du Pleney that leads to the Pleney cable car.
Equally snug was the faux fur-covered interior at Le Coup de Coeur, where you can snuggle under blankets and watch the antics on the outdoor ice-skating rink from the rear terrace. Across the street, its sister restaurant, La Chamade, catches the eye with its menagerie of enormous animal sculptures. Inside its sleek interior, the designer has gone a bit wild with sheet metal and copper, but it makes an amusing change from the ubiquitous Savoyard wood-on-wood.
I could see a similarly idiosyncratic approach to design at Le Bec Jaune, a relatively new microbrewery co-run by Chrigl Luthy, formerly of south-east London's lauded craft brewery The Kernel. Along with chef Matthew Stone, he has brought a dash of east-London-meets-Meatpacking-District style to Morzine with this industrial-rustic hangout. Judging by the number of customers wolfing down pulled-pork buns and burritos with Le Bec's malty ales, it's a winning formula.
In last winter's Consensio Luxury Ski Stats report, Morzine managed fourth place among France's most popular luxury ski resorts, nudging ahead of glamorous Megève and Chamonix. It does have some way to go before it gets near the top three: Courchevel, Val d'Isère and Méribel. For a start, it doesn't have any five-star hotels or Michelin-starred restaurants – yet. But if plans to extend the Prodains cable car right into the village are achieved, it'll make it even easier to reach the higher-altitude snow-sure slopes.
For Morzine, the only way is up.
The closest airport is Geneva, which is served by Swiss (0345 601 0956; swiss.com), easyJet (0330 365 5000; easyjet.com), British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), Flybe (0371 700 2000; flybe.com) and Jet2 (0800 508 1350; jet2.com). Transfers to Morzine with Skiidy Gonzales (skiidygonzales.com) cost from €39 (£29)pp.
Mary Novakovich was a guest of the Boutique Chalet Company (020-3538 6001; theboutiquechalet.com) and stayed at Chalet M. It sleeps up to 14 and costs from £11,950 per week on a fully catered basis. Sister chalet iGloo sleeps eight adults and three children and costs from £9,950 per week, fully catered.
Six-day lift passes for the Portes du Soleil domain cost €242.50 (£182), and €176 (£132) just for Morzine and Les Gets.
L'Atelier (00 33 4 50 79 00 79; hotel-lesamoyede.com).
La Chaudanne (00 33 4 50 79 12 68; lachaudanne.com).
Restaurant La Chamade (00 33 4 50 79 13 91; lachamade.com).
Le Bec Jaune (00 33 9 62 09 29 63; becjaunebrewery.com).