The Flaine application made by Onde M offers a summer and winter 3D flyover of the domain and surrounding mountains with interactive features such as webcams and localised weather reports. This is fascinating to start with and sets it apart from other domain apps but we have reservations about how useful it would be in practice. Visitor information appears to be quite limited and the app is less intuitive to use than others we've tried. Overall, it's free, fun to use the 3D feature and the live information is superb.
Arrive in style on the ski train...
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Self-drive ski holidays in France
Travel to France by ferry and some of the best self drive skiing in the world. Enjoy the freedom of taking unlimited baggage and up to 9 people per car via .
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Book tickets to Grenoble and take Monarch Flights to this undiscovered destination from Leeds Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham and London Gatwick. There are plenty of cheap flights available to help you get the most out of any holiday to Grenoble, whatever season you travel in.
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Pick up and ski this winter
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Massif attack: Flaine revisited
The largest of the Grand Massif’s ski villages offers an upbeat base for exploring the Grand Massif. Flaine Forum was purpose-built and sits in a wide bowl, providing it with a degree of shelter from the worst excesses of passing weather fronts. The higher altitude means slightly longer transfers from Geneva airport than to neighboring Samoëns, Morillon or Les Carroz but it’s still pretty accessible and is one of the easier drives to the Alps from the UK.
The Grand Massif is deservedly popular with British skiers, who value its wealth of varied terrain, good snow record and the fact that it offers something for just about everyone, including those in search of mileage. Select your lift-pass according to your own hunger for exploration, starting with the Forfait Flaine offering 120km of pistes around the Flaine itself. The Forfait Massif, on the other hand, shifts the focus to include the terrain between Flaine and Samoëns, Morillon, Les Carroz and Sixt Fer A Cheval - a total of 145km. Topping off the options is the Forfait Grand Massif, opening up all 265km of groomed pistes, with something for just about all levels of skiing ability. Both the lift system and piste layout are constantly being improved, although later in the day there still signs of congestion on key return runs into Flaine Forêt.
Opinion is sharply divided on the hard-edged architectural style of Flaine Forum, but with some of the original apartment blocks now officially listed as Historic Monuments they obviously have their own fans. And most subsequent developments (including MGM Constructeur’s brand new Le Centaure apartments) have sustained the general feel, preserving much of the original unity of the site. All of which makes it refreshingly free from ostentation, and a fun place to be. It’s practical, too, with everything close at hand. Slightly less so, but offering sweeping views over the village is the Hameau de Flaine - seventy or so Scandinavian-style chalets added on an elevated site 2km away by a Norwegian developer during the 1980s. Set between the two is the car-free Flaine Montsoleil resort, originally developed by the Canadian Intrawest Corporation and now owned by French leisure giant Pierre et Vacances.
Mile-hungry intermediates who find the idea of ski-touring appealing, but prefer for the most part to remain safely on-piste - the Grand Massif has lots of terrain, and each sector has its own distinct personality. And getting around is easy, with plenty of Blue-graded cruising for those simply want to glide around the mountains in relaxed fashion and see the sights. Those who normally prefer to stick closer to home might just find things more limiting, though, as all the great scenery lies beyond the surrounding ridges and many skiers waste no time heading off to enjoy them. As for beginners, if you’re keen to make rapid progress then Flaine could be a good choice, as you’ll soon be hankering to leave that bowl and ski what lies above and beyond it.
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, at least when softened by a pristine snowscape, suggests that style and functionality can co-exist — although quite how successfully is more a subjective judgement.
Freedom to explore
Whatever we may 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. 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.
Shelter in a storm
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.
© Roger Moss