News from the snow
Flaine sits on a forested hillside in a natural snowy bowl only 30km (18 miles) from Mont Blanc. The origin of the resort's name is rather romantic - legend has it that a huge giant slept in the mountains and valleys, resting his head on the spot where Flaine now stands. Flainoz was an old French word for pillow. Established in 1968, Flaine dates to the baby-booming years when France was building big ski resorts in big ski areas very quickly. The emphasis was on constructing resorts that were cheap to stay in but offered doorstep skiing in some of the world's biggest and best ski areas. Nothing else really mattered very much. Twenty years on, with the emphasis switching to quality, the concrete rectangles deposited in areas of great natural beauty have drawn much criticism but Flaine has hit back pointing out that its architecture is purposely stark and functional and that it was designed by Marcel Breuer, a master of the Bauhaus school. Although its design may at first appear incongruous it in fact echoes patterns of light and shade that are to be found in the rocks and crags at the base of the valley. What Flaine also points out, is that whatever your first impressions of its concrete monoliths, you should not judge a book by its cover! The resort is located at a snowsure altitude in the huge Grand Massif ski area, which has lift-links down to quaint traditional villages like Samoëns and Sixt in the valleys below. Flaine itself is also a more vibrant place than many of the purpose-built resorts dating from the same era, it is more genuinely family friendly too, with lots to do besides sliding and a car-free environment. The main part of the resort is split in to three sections - Forêt, Forum and Front de Neige, linked together by pedestrian walkways and lifts - the design is very functional. There is also now the choice of staying in the new development, 'the Hamlet of Flaine' - which despite the resort's complete confidence in its original concept, is a complete architectural and design contrast. Wooden built to Scandinavian-style design using a range of delicate colours, the hamlet is fully in keeping with the aspirations of '90s skiers.
Popularly regarded as an ugly, but functional, purpose built resort, Flaine has infact been designed to the Bauhaus school of architectural design and is the only modern ski resort to be recognised as an architectural treasure . The resort will celebrate its 40th birthday in 2009. Lifts radiate out in a skier-friendly natural basin, extending to Les Carroz, Morillon, Samoëns and Sixt.
Flaine is a good choice for beginners with wide gentle nursery slopes by the resort. There are also nursery slopes at the very top of the ski area, accessed by the Grandes Platières cable car and served by Petit Balacha and Colonné drag lifts.
Intermediates will get the most from the Grand Massif as all its extremities may be accessed by easy or intermediate level trails, so there's plenty of touring to be had on long tree-lined slopes. All types of descent known to man are here - from long motorway cruises to short steep mogul fields. Experts sill also find a lot to entertain them in the Grand Massif, both on the 12 black pistes and off. The Diamant Noir, the Styx and the long black option down to the base of the Samoens access lift are all popular as is the Combe de Gers bowl of powder snow.
The Ecole du Ski Français and the International Ski School are both here in force - both offering trips over to nearby Chamonix to tackle the famous Vallée blanche (For good intermediates and better) as well as ski touring, heli-skiing and on or off piste tours in the Grand massif. In addition three specialist teams offer special classes.
From age 3 to 12 there is a choice of the Ecole du ski Français (ESF) 'Rabbit Club and Club Piou-Piou' or the International Ski school's 'Green Mouse Club' (Souris Verte). The former run daily except Saturday and parents can decide whether to book for half or full days, with or without lunch. The Fantaski playground, equipped with a child's surface lift, is an animal kingdom designed to appeal to kids. The Green Mouse Club also has a playgound, operates the same days, hours and deals. Both schools also offer snowboarding tuition from age 6, and the ESF's Rabbit Club and Club Piou-Piou is specially designed and reserved for children aged 6 to 10.
In the evening Flaine's car free environment makes it a safer place than most to wander around with children. Families can enjoy skating and maybe the cinema together.
A 'Croq-raquettes' evening is a good idea, when you done snowshoes and are guided up to the Chalet Bissac restaurant for a traditional Savoyard meal in this old alpine chalet.
Most of the restaurants are in the Forum or Fôret sectors of the resort but Le Hameau's only restaurant L'Ancolie is also popular.
Both the main ski schools offer snowboarding tuition and the ESF operates its own 'Rabbit Club' and Club Piou-Piou for children aged 6 to 10 providing supervision and equipment (board, helmet, knee and elbow pads).