"Have some bubbles with your bubbles," one cried, handing me a foaming glass. We laid back in the swirling steamy water, while giant snowflakes landed on our hair and eyelashes.
The funny thing is that this is almost exactly what happened. The rest of my party had chucked it in early, fed up with the flat light and frequent snow showers, but at the last minute I peeled off to ride alone on the six-seater express Grandes Combes chairlift that dumps you at 2200m. The visibility was so atrocious that it was impossible to read the terrain, even through decent goggles. Snow cover? A good two metres everywhere with a covering of fine soft powder.
The place was deserted except for a couple of mad lads heading for the Coupe du Monde black run. I'd managed to get down it the previous day in sunshine but now it scared me stiff, so I made for the gentler Bleue d'Arare and picked my way through the murk from one piste marker to the next, trying to let my knees read the undulations. Skiing blind like this, it's the only way and you can get into a comfortable rhythm if you relax.
It must have been enjoyable, as I took the chairlift a second time and repeated the exercise, eliciting a "You're crackers" gesture from the lift attendant. This time I pressed on down the home run, diverting left into the deep powder at the bottom to ski back to our temporary home, the Chalet Hotel au Coin du Feu, opposite the Proudains cable car.
My other half was at the door of the ski room, looking like a snowman in his thick white towelling bathrobe. "Good timing," he said. "Richie [the barman and man Friday] is just taking the cover off the Jacuzzi." Five minutes later – my salopettes swapped for swimwear – we were luxuriating in the bath-hot maelstrom, hemmed in by deep snowdrifts, with a group of cheerful Australians swilling Laurent Perrier. (It was typical of the attention to detail in this place that, despite the hedonistic look of this scene, the glasses turned out to be plastic.)
For those who smash their piggy banks each year to treat themselves to a week or two in the Trois Vallees or Val d'Isere, Morzine is worth a look. It's part of the Portes du Soleil complex of 650km (some 400 miles) of pistes, covering 12 resorts in France and Switzerland, though it isn't all joined up and woe betide those who end up in Switzerland when the lifts close. (It's a very pricey taxi ride back across the border.)
Two decades ago this area was not much more than a bunch of alpine farming villages in the Haute-Savoie, each with a few ski runs for the locals. Morzine was better known in France for ice hockey than skiing. The advent of cheap flights to Geneva changed all that. With a transfer of just 90 minutes, it became the ideal destination for a hassle-free holiday.
The snow holding is good even in poor seasons and its reputation for great powder makes it ideal for venturing off-piste. It also boasts one of the best networks of Nordic skiing trails anywhere.
The area has a very different feel to better-known places like those playgrounds of the rich, Courcheval and Val d'Isere. Not many floor-length fur coats and £5000 handbags in Morzine, which though much developed in the past decade, retains its weekly food market. In fact, each village retains its distinctive character, with the exception of futuristic Avoriaz, perched high on an escarpment. I found it rather forbidding, despite its beautiful water park (the highest in the world) and the sweet tinkling of little bells on the horse-drawn sleighs.
While Avoriaz is a purpose-built resort full of modern apartment blocks, in Morzine and the other communities, privately owned chalets and hotels predominate, most owned by local families so the accommodation remains small-scale. Airport transfers are handled by another local firm – Ski-Lifts – which runs minibuses from Geneva Airport. And, though a young apres-ski scene is starting to develop, the Portes du Soleil complex has made a conscious decision to specialise in family holidays.
Morzine has the French government's Family Plus designation, for resorts that go the extra kilometre for kids. Daily activities are organised by the municipality for children during the February holidays, including carpentry lessons. Activities for toddlers include tiny snow scooters, which are controlled by instructors on skis. Several chalets and hotels are owned and mostly staffed by British people, including Chilly Powder, owned by Francesca and Paul Eyre. Francesca was running her own catering company in London when a combination of circumstances brought her to Morzine to cook one Christmas 20 years ago. She came for a fortnight and never left. Paul, a quantity surveyor taking a career break to bum around the world, reached Morzine, met Francesca and the rest is family history: they now have three bilingual children who ski like demons. (Ben, the eldest, studies at a Canadian-sponsored ice hockey school in Austria.)
As well as running two chalets, they decided to combine their skills and build a cross between a very upmarket chalet and a boutique hotel, with the focus on first-class childcare and locally sourced cordon bleu food.
"We had to raise a scary amount of money," says Francesca. Even their accountant shook his head and said they would never make a profit. They went ahead anyway. Now their business, which began with an £8000 legacy, is worth millions, thanks to the inflation in local land values. Eventually, they will sell Chilly Powder and retire on the proceeds. Lucky? Maybe, but successful people tend to make their own luck. Paul and Francesca have frequently worked 18 hours a day, often leaving the kids to fend for themselves while they dine with their guests. The hotel combines warmth and style, with a spacious dining area that has long communal tables arranged around a large four-sided hearth.
The creche organises activities from sledging and sleigh rides (drawn by huskies or horses) to finger painting snowmen and making giant sparkly paper snowflakes. One of their employees accompanies the younger children on their ski lessons to help with translation, pick them up and wipe away those tears when they tumble.
Though Francesca rarely works in the kitchen these days, everything that comes out of it bears her imprint. There's a children's tea at 5.30pm and teenagers are invited to eat with the staff, so that the adults can relax in the evening with fellow guests. Little appetisers appear on slate platters (a local industry) shortly before the four-course dinner. Because the owners eat with the clients, eating at Coin du Feu feels less like a hotel than a private dinner party. The fact Francesca does this sort of thing with apparent ease may have something to do with her pedigree. She is the great niece of Lord Curzon, Britain's foreign secretary during the First World War. Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, the family home, is now owned by the National Trust but the library and snooker room at the hotel do feel a bit like something out of Downton Abbey.
On the three-day taster, we could never hope to do justice to this huge skiing area, especially when it snowed much of the time, but we did our best. On the first day we rode up to Avoriaz in the rather slow and dilapidated cable car, which is about to be replaced by a fast gondola system. Sundays bring out the crowds, so we worked our way on mostly easy blue runs to the village at Les Lindarets, then took advantage of a window of brilliant sunshine to try some reds and blacks.
On day two the weather closed in so we linked up with another couple from the hotel and zipped up and down the runs above Morzine where the visibility was better among the trees.
The best came last. On our final morning, Francesca, who is too busy running the business to ski more than a few times a season, suggested a girls' outing to St-Jean-d'Aulps where a circle of red runs known as the Circuit d'Enfer is a favourite with the locals. It includes two glorious runs that are 5km long. Beautifully pisted, powder-covered wide slopes, alternating with trails down through the trees: nothing could be less like hell. We topped it off with hot chocolate at the Travaillon, a tiny ancient cafe run by an old woman, midway down the final sweep back down to the gondola station. It felt like the perfect ending to our little holiday. From the top, we were told, you could see both Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva on a clear day. Not today, but never mind. We can dream of that.
EasyJet (easyjet.com) has return flights to Geneva from Glasgow and Edinburgh from around £100, but prices vary hugely. Ski bags cost £18.50 online or £26 at the airport.
Where to stay
Anne Johnstone was a guest of Chilly Powder, Chalet Hotel au Coin du Feu, Morzine (chillypowder.com). Seven nights' half-board (including house wine) costs around £740 (€860) per person, with discounts for families.
Shared return transfers to all chalets and hotels in the Portes du Soleil area by Ski-Lifts (ski-lifts.com) typically cost from £59.20 but the price depends on the date of travel.
Ski hire can be arranged in advance from Doorstep Skis (doorstepskis.com), who will drop off the equipment at your accommodation. The typical price for performance skis, boots and poles is £100 per week. A six-day ski pass for the Portes du Soleil area costs £190 (ski-morzine.com). One free pass for a child under 12 with every adult pass bought online in advance.