It’s already snowing hard as we pass Les Carroz, with a further 14km of steady climbing ahead of us before we reach Flaine. Around the mid-way point we pass the base station at Les Molliets chairlift, barely visible beyond vast accumulations of drifted snow, leaving us in no doubt that the Grand Massif’s reputation as a snow-magnet is well-founded. By now we can sense that we’re almost there, but nevertheless tackle the final hairpin descent into Flaine Forum with due reverence. Then we see it — the vast snowy bowl bounded more by vast ridges than peaks, and at its heart the unmistakable, assertive outlines of the Bauhaus-influenced apartment blocks styled by Marcel Breuer back in the mid-’60s. Countless images in the press have shown us how it looks; now we’re finally about to see how it all feels.
All the way up
The village is car-free but today, at least, parking is no problem. Within minutes we’re walking around the heart of the village, an experience which proves a lot more uplifting than we’d imagined. As for the architecture, the overall effect, when softened by a pristine snowscape, suggests that style and functionality can co-exist — although quite how successfully is a more subjective judgement. Whatever we might feel, there’s no doubt in our minds as to the quality and quantity of the skiing on offer. We arm ourselves with Forfait Grand Massif lift-passes giving us access to a total of 265km of groomed terrain, allowing us the freedom to seek out the very best conditions, no matter what the weather might decide to throw at us. But there’s more to this decision than mere convenience, as we’ll discover.
Freedom to explore
Our first days are spent making the most of the fresh snow, sometimes by taking the Grand Platières gondola to the highest point (2480m) in the massif to storm down long, Red-graded runs like Faust, one of our personal favourites. Another similarly-entertaining option involves riding the Aup de Véran gondola over to the steep terrain below the Tête des Lindars (2561m). From here the Diamant Noir traverse link feeds over to Almandine, a long, Red-graded plunge back towards the village. One of the less-obvious attractions of this sector is the easily-overlooked but nevertheless charming Célestine, an innocent-looking Red-graded piste which winds its way down to enter near-silent forest, where it twists, skier-cross style, among the trees before emerging back right beside the village. Just don’t tell a soul about this one.
Heading further afield means taking the Grand Vans 8-seater chairlift, notable for the glacial cold of most of our journeys, despite (or because of) its rapid progress. But it’s certainly worth it, even on days when the snow falls, visibility clamps down and we have to put our trust in piste-markings alone for navigation. At times like this the reward is the sheltered terrain among the forests above Les Carroz and Morillon, where we float around contentedly in a silent world as the powder beneath our skis grows ever deeper.
We get a whole lot more of this during our final days here, the sustained snowfalls drawing us back to the tree-lined terrain. In fact, the only down-side is that the weather has closed one of our all-time favourite long-distance routes, Les Cascades, which begins at Les Grandes-Platières and ends up an incredible 14km later below a series of frozen waterfalls above Sixt-Fer à Cheval. So we have the perfect excuse to come back.
Feature by Roger Moss, © 2020