Jenga In the Snow

Mark Bibby Jackson travels to the Alpine resort of Avoriaz to experience a music festival that is all about fun – and snow.

credit: Graham Wynne

I can relate to split identities. Sometimes I feel like I’m a writer who travels, at other times a traveller who writes, I guess it depends on how much I’m getting paid. So, when I was invited to the Snowboxx Music Festival in the French ski resort of Avoriaz, my first thought was whether I was going on a ski holiday with music tagged onto it, or a festival in the snow.

Fortunately, the organisers of Snowboxx have no such misconceptions as to the essence of their being.

“Snowboxx is the ultimate winter festival combining the best ski resort (Avoriaz) and the some of the best music in the world, it’s the perfect mix,” said Aden Levin, marketing manager of Main Stage Travel that organises Snowboxx.

Levin had drawn the long straw of showing a bunch of journalists around the concert before heading off to Sydney. It’s a tough life.

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credit: Sam Neill

We are sitting in an igloo bar – made of ice – surrounded by ice statues of rhinoceroses drinking cocktails (us, not the rhinos) and beer contemplating the following day’s exertions. Outside, the snow is falling as Wilkinson is playing a set on an intimate stage even more temporary than the igloo. As the temperature plunges below zero, the DJ’s fingers must be getting cold but still they spin on. One of my colleagues – a keen snowboarder – has a broad smile on his face in anticipation of the virgin snow the following morning.

It is quite mesmerically beautiful.

Fifty years old this year, the resort of Avoriaz has not met with universal approval. The skyscraper modern design – imagine a crazy game of Jenga for giants – is far removed from the traditional image of an Alpine resort. But on our first evening it has adopted a surreal glow as the cliffs emerge from the clouds and, the music now abated, we descend down a small snow chute to the downtown area. I expect to bump into a Bond villain any moment.

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Avoriaz credit: dennisvdw

Avoriaz has a feel of a small town – but one designed for fun. Various restaurants, bars and clubs vie for our attention, eventually we settle upon La Cabane where we plunge into our fondue – Switzerland is a short ski across the border – and see who can stretch the cheese the furthest. The cocktails have clearly had the desired effect.

Before long we are ploughing our way through the drifts of snow once more, only to settle into a bar where drinks are lined up and the morning after forgotten in the high of the night before.

The aforementioned morning draws back her curtain to reveal the most beautiful green valley surrounded by mountains of snow and capped with a brilliant blue sky. While the preceding night Avoriaz possessed an eerie quality, today it simply dazzles.

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Rag'n'Bone Man credit: Stevie McKenna

Our two-bedroom apartment at Pierre & Vacances’ L’Amara Apartments affords us the most perfect view down the valley towards the resort of Morzine below. In truth, I’m happy to settle here for a day and watch all the skiers plough their own furrow through the snow. A brief dalliance with the slopes, out of breath perhaps from the altitude, persuades me to return to my vantage point.

This is the beauty of Avoriaz, there really is plenty for all. I spend the rest of the morning relaxing in the swimming pool and sweating off my excess in the steam room and sauna while my colleagues take to the slopes and ski off into Switzerland for a traditionally expensive coffee.

We meet again for Rock the Pistes at Portes du Soleil, where the 2017 Brit Awards winner Rag'n'Bone Man is playing high in the mountains. Once more the atmosphere is brilliant. Hundreds of skiers are sat on the snow in the crucible arena. The smell of the barbecue wafts up and then everyone starts dancing, their aching legs temporarily forgotten. I am too young too recall Woodstock, but surely this is how it must have felt like, only substitute snow and ice for grass and grass.

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credit: Sam Neill

And so the pattern for the pursuing days is created. Skiing by day interspersed with gigs secreted around various spots in the hills. The organisers claim that more than 4,500 people attended the festival over the week, making it one of the biggest snow and music festivals in the world. By night we settle for raclette, or fondue or steak, before listening to a DJ play – Wilkinson again – at the main stage, then head off for one of the many clubs and our separate paths back to our accommodation.

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credit: Graham Wynne

On the final day, we have a bottomless brunch at Le Grand Café just across the road from our hotel. Upon entering I pass a skier clutching two bottles of prosecco under his coat on the way out. I doubt he’d pass any drink-sliding breath test. Even more than the snow and the blue skies, this is the perfect way to kick off the day. Several bottles of prosecco and scrambled eggs later, I am prepared for anything – well almost anything.

That afternoon we gather at Apres – a large open-air area where people chew the fat and drink more beer. Somehow, we have missed the human bowling, where people are strapped into giant zorb balls before being projected towards even more giant inflatable skittles, a strike assured each time, but we do arrive in time for the skim pool.

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Apres credit|: Sam Neill

I’ve always thought you must be a little mad to take up skiing in the first place, but as the assembled cast of fancy dressed skiers and snowboarders stand at the top of the hill, an icy pool awaiting them, I am convinced. The first descends to a hushed silence before propelling himself onto the surface of the water and then bouncing on his board to the other side. He lands successfully, as do the rest of the initial salvo of boarders and skiers. Eventually the madness takes over. One takes on the challenge backwards, another on one ski, the fancy dress becomes both more imaginative and revealing. And then one skier manages to clear the pool before doing a backwards somersault on the other side. The assembled melee erupts, we have found our champion.

Later that evening as I emerge from an impromptu set given by my roommate DJ Ludovic H in the early hours of the morning I bump into the back-flipping skier once more. This time he is supported by several friends, unable to walk in a straight line let alone bounce his way across water. The reward for his feat was a generous quantity of beer tokens. Perhaps I am not the only person with a split personality.

Tickets for Snowboxx 2018 will be available from £254 pp including accommodation and festival wristband and £375 pp with accommodation, festival wristband and lift passes. Packages with flights and transfers are also available. Ski hire and lessons extra.

For more information about Snowboxx Festival please visit www.snowboxx.com or call 0207 1121101

For more information about Avoriaz please visit www.avoriaz.com or call +(33) 4 50 74 02 11

For more information about Pierre & Vacances please visit www.pierreetvacances.co.uk or call 0870 0267 145

Easy Jet flies to Geneva from London Luton and Stanstead, with transfer (2 hours) to Avoriaz with Skiidy Gonzales.

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credit: Sam Neill