That’s why I’m partial to Flaine, because blue is their favourite colour, and if there’s ever a vote for the perfect intermediate resort then I’m backing Flaine. Snow sure, vast ski area, car free village, close to a major airport. What’s the downside? Well, the whole village is a mass of concrete blocks that gives it an appearance not dissimilar to an NCP car park. American Architect, Marcel Breuer put the kibosh on Flaine’s aesthetics and should be held responsible for the morose manifestation. However, the official line from the tourist office is that Breuer, master of the Bauhaus school, created Flaine in a pattern of light and shade, echoing the rocks and crags at the base of the valley among the pine trees – fancy words for something that resembles the North Peckham estate. But it’s easy to be sympathetic as you literally ski to and from your doorstep each day. But you don’t go to Flaine for the cute atmosphere, you go for the skiing, and Flaine’s pistes are world-class.
The Grand Massif, as it’s billed, is grossly underrated. The lift pass covers 260km of marked pistes, just enough to allow Flaine, and its satellite resorts, make the weight in the ski-circus heavyweight class.
The Flaine bowl is the main focal point for skiers and the highest point of the ski area at a modest 2550m. The Grand Massif may not boast a glacier but the main bowl faces directly north, which keeps the snow cold and fluffy. It also possess it’s own little microclimate that catches any clouds that pass its way and wrings any snow out of them. A Grandes Platieres gondola takes just nine minutes to climb 900m to its namesake. At the top there are impressive views towards Mont Blanc that, when in sunshine, is haloed by spears of translucent light. Competent skiers will find nothing in the Flaine bowl they can’t handle, even Flaine’s black-run portfolio can be achieved by most skiers with a solid traverse. I’d suggest starting on the right hand side of the sector. Cristal and Olivine, two blue-ribbon cruisers that can usually boast good snow conditions from December to May. Here you can practice your short swings or drop and hammer and let the skis run. If you take the speed option the ride is a whooping rollercoaster ride over the small snow domes and through natural half pipes. Scoring top marks on the smileometer these are top to bottom runs of over 800m and are sure to have your adrenal glands working over time. If you’re taking those first tentative steps off-piste, Flaine’s easily reached powder fields are literally a hop skip and a jump from the side of the pistes with easy navigation and are of a flattering gradient, but still steep enough to provide that essential gravitational pull. Avalanche danger is always present but the real risk is from the rock crevasses that lie under the snowpack, crossing the snow-bridges may or may not hold your weight – best to play safe and take a guide.
Flaine bowl may be the focal point but it doesn’t have a monopoly of the best runs. Just cruise your way down towards Morillion where you’ll find some of the most flattering pistes in the western hemisphere. The Vieille blue that leads into the tree-lined Sairon isn’t just the place to head for in snowy weather. No one can fail to be enchanted by this piste that’s flattering to skiers new to the sport and a drag strip to the competent. No bumps, no blind corners, swooping Gs turns and an invitation to red-line the needle or easy gliding on a modest pitch.
The anti-thesis to Flaine is Les Carroz. A traditional village of the Haute Savoie with low-rise, wood-clad buildings together with gabled roofs that house a year-round community. The contrast to Flaine it may be but the skiing fits in perfectly with the rest of the Grand Massif. The Kedeuze gondola drops you off on a ridge where you can access a cats cradle of blue and red runs or just motor down the Lou Darbes and Combe blues for a few miles of stress free skiing.
Chamonix has the Vallee Blanche, Alpe D’Huez it’s Sarenne, Flaine of course has a blue descent of legendary status. The Cascade piste is no less than a 14km blue run off the back of the Grandes Platieres down to the village of Sixt. Like Brigadoon the full length of this run is only achievable in good snow. Not a motorway piste but an easy adventure far from the lift pylons at the head of the Griffe valley. Return is by bus to Samoens where the lift system can be gained once more.
Flaine will never be one of those resorts that you’ll be able to brag about ‘doing’ in the bar. But if your ski-goal in life is to find pistes to cruise down like a 1970’s Cadillac on Route 66 and if you can get over car-park ambience then you’re going to love Flaine.