A Local’s Guide to Flaine

flaine-resort guideIt’s not pretty, but its snowy microclimate means it’s likely to be buried in white anyway. Add to that a vast ski area and few crowds and it’s a wonder we aren’t all fans of Flaine like Paul Caddy is…

Oh dear. Here comes the inevitable cliché, based on the world’s most famous gooey, mucky- brown food paste (Marmite, since you ask): either you love Flaine, or you
hate it. There, it’s been said. There’s absolutely no sitting on the fence with this particular French resort.

So what’s all the fuss about? Much of the resort was built during the euphoria of the concrete-obsessed Sixties so, for many skiers, it resembles a sort of East Berlin on the slopes; but with baguettes, fondues and a (slightly bonkers) Picasso sculpture thrown into the mix.

Frankly, the assault on the eyes is too much for some skiers. However, most local Flanois ignore the brutalist architecture, clip on their skis and blast down the large and mostly tree-less bowl that surrounds the village; quickly expunging visions of gloomy tower blocks from their adrenaline-addled memories.

Other locals venture further afield into the connected Grand Massif ski area which, together with Flaine, offers a generous 144 runs of on-piste skiing (a figure which almost matches that for the Espace Killy). That’s almost one a day for the whole winter season.

On snowy days, the resort blends surprisingly well into the surrounding mountainscape. It also offers off-piste skiers oodles of lines to render into steep, powder-encrusted slopes, particularly in the predominantly north-facing Gers bowl on the ‘other side’ of Flaine.

The best secret of all is that the ski resort is just a sneeze away from Geneva Airport – if one of your sneezes typically lasts for about 1.5 hours – making it perfect for a weekend or short trip away. So grab your planks, take an evening class in French modernist architecture and head over to Flaine. Local Paul Caddy did (well, apart from the evening class).

BEST RUN FOR A WARM-UP

If it isn’t cloudy, head to the top of the resort and start the morning with sweeping views of the needle-like peaks of the Mont Blanc massif. The Serpentine run – a forgiving red (then blue) run – is a cracking way to wake up the thighs. To get there, avoid the queues at the Grandes Platières gondola (known locally as the DMC) by jumping on the Têtes des Verds and Désert Blanc six-man lifts instead. Wrap up warm though – the chairlifts, while speedy, are notorious wind magnets.

BEST PLACE FOR FRESH TRACKS

Flaine’s snowy microclimate, thanks to the proximity of Mont Blanc, means that champagne powder is not uncommon in the depths of winter. The various couloirs under the Grandes Platières are great fun but get tracked out quickly and are often avalanche-prone. Try blasting down the tree-lined runs under the Aup de Veran gondola when visibility is poor. Take care though, the underlying terrain – limestone pavement – means that there are plenty of holes to swallow up the unwary, particularly early in the season or in seasons with poor snowfall. A guide is invaluable.

FOR A DAY AWAY FROM THE PISTES

Off-piste, the Gers bowl (near the Onyx black run) is a plethora of opportunities to get fresh tracks in – if you’re quick. Many off-piste areas are also popular with speed riders so don’t blindly follow tracks unless you want to become intimately-involved with a cliff face.

THE BEST THING ABOUT LIVING IN FLAINE

Is how quiet it can be. Being sandwiched between two of France’s most famous ski areas, the Portes du Soleil and Chamonix, means that during the off-season Flaine is overlooked by the masses. In January, queues are almost unheard of and the local microclimate means lots of the white stuff is yours for the taking. Compared to the rest of the Grand Massif, the lifts are pretty fast, too.

DON’T LEAVE FLAINE WITHOUT…

Exploring the rest of the Grand Massif. If the brutalist architecture of Flaine is making your eyes ache then the 265kms of runs throughout the ‘Big Massif’ (OK, so it sounds better in French) should stop the grin on your face from slipping. If whiteout conditions are plaguing the higher slopes of Flaine, Les Carroz and Samoëns have some great tree-lined runs.

BEST PLACE FOR MOUNTAIN BITES

For a truly unique dining experience, forego the normal mountain restaurants, which unhelpfully aren’t even named on the piste map, and take the 14km-long Les Cascades run to Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. About half way down the run, stop next to a sign for Gîte du Lac de Gers and call the restaurant (+33 (0)4 50 89 55 14). A few minutes later a snowcat will tow you the last few hundred metres to the wonderfully-isolated restaurant. The food is rustic and wholesome. Reservations are recommended as it gets booked up quickly.

FOR CHEAP EATS IN TOWN

Le Sucré Salé in Flaine Forêt (le-sucre-sale.fr) is a modern, but cosy, restaurant that serves up hearty and healthy food. The three-course set menu (including various tasty pitta breads) is particularly good value-for-money. Booking ahead is a good idea.

FOR A SLAP-UP MEAL

Ancolie (+33 (0)4 50 90 87 94) is based in Flaine Hameau, the part of town where concrete makes way for traditional alpine wood. The food is traditional and well worth making the detour for, as is the log fire which is usually blazing no matter what the weather outside.

FOR AN APRÈS-SKI TIPPLE

Flaine will never be known for its après-ski; Ibiza-Sur-Neige it is not. That said, The White Pub in Flaine Forum has two happy hours and is popular with a younger British crowd. The Perdrix Noir in Flaine Forêt attracts an older clientele and is a chilled spot to sip a vin chaud or three.

PISTES & PASSES

  • Number of runs: 64/144
  • Blue: 29/66
  • Red: 23/46
  • Black: 5/14 23/68
  • Flaine day lift pass €38; Grand Massif €43.50.

Fall-Line Skiing Magazine
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