Morzine is derived from the Latin “Morgenes”, meaning “border area”, sitting as it does so close to borders. The history of Morzine can largely be separated into two distinct parts - Before the building of the first ski lift and after.
In the 12th century Morzine was closely associated with the Aulps Abbey, 7 kilometres away. Monks from the Dijon area originally came as pilgrims and later settled in the area. The Cistercian monks who lived there owned the land and used it to increase their revenue. There was light industry and farming in the area. The local cheeses began to become more well known throughout France. There was also a market, which still runs every Wednesday. St Jean D’Aulps was granted independence from the Cistercian monks in 1531, during a time of religious upheaval throughout Europe. The remains of the Abbey can still be seen in St Jean D’Aulps.
Things continued at the same pace for the next 250 years. By 1800, with the industrial revolution underway, slate mining began to become a prominent industry. Evidence of the slate mines can still be seen in the cliffs above the Montriond Lake and in the cliffs on the way to Prodains. Mines were dug up to 350 metres into the cliff faces and the slate that was dug out was then split into sheets and cut to size. This slate was then taken to other towns to be sold, especially Thonon, Thones and Taninges. A road between Morzine and Thonon was completed in 1862 allowing far more slate to be sent out of town and the profits from the industry increased exponentially. Morzine began to thrive and the sleepy years of monastic farming were becoming a thing of the past.
With a greater amount of money in the area following the success of the slate industry Morzine did what many other Alpine villages were beginning to do and turned their attention to tourism. The Morzine Ski Club was founded in 1910. The first hotel, Le Grand Hotel, was built in 1925 by local businessman Francois Baud. In 1934 the Pleney lift was built and everything was in place for the next stage in Morzine’s history to begin.
The history of Avoriaz is most closely linked to skiing, as this is the purpose for which the village was initially built. The entire infrastructure is based around winter sports and the idea of building a purpose built resort for winter. Therefore, unlike Morzine (which had been settled for hundreds of years before the advent of the winter sports industry), there is not such a rich history to the area that came to be Avoriaz. However, it does still have some interesting history connected to one of the most distinguished families in the area.
The area where the village of Avoriaz would eventually be built was originally owned by the Counts of Rovorée, a very prosperous Chablais family who have had a prominent role throughout the history of the Haute Savoie region. Eventually they gifted the land to the village of Morzine in the valley and the area took on the name of the original owners - Rovorée. Over time this was shortened to Avorée and eventually it became Avoreaz. During this time the only buildings in the area were those used by shepherds for grazing animals in springtime before they would return to the valley in autumn when the climate at altitude would become less hospitable. The buildings that existed at the time were therefore only suitable for summer weather as no one would remain in the area in winter time. The earth was dry and unsuitable for any other sort of farming. At the end of the nineteenth century the Baron de l'Epée realised the potential for hunting on the plateau and began using a hot air balloon attached to a steel cable and winch to take hunting parties up to the plateau.