Purpose built in the 1960s in a large bowl of powder facing West and aptly nicknamed the big snowy bowl, Flaine offers the widest range of skiing in the Grand Massif ski area. The resort is not the most picturesque of them all and for some visitors the severe architecture is too much to take but if you can ignore the ugly concrete buildings and focus on the fluffy white stuff you’ll find a family-friendly resort with excellent facilities. Children are particularly well catered for and good deals can be found on family lift passes. The village centre is mainly car free, compact and convenient.
In spite of its dreary reputation, Flaine is regarded as a cultural landmark in France having been designed in the Bauhuas style by celebrated architect Marcel Breuer. As a result, the resort is a hub for modern arts and at the bottom of the slopes there’s a range of art by abstract artists, the most notable piece being a large Picasso sculpture of a woman’s head.
The resort has, in recent years, undergone a number of refurbishments, and is now making something of a comeback. The Totem, a hotel originally designed by Breuer, has been revamped and rebranded as the ultra-cool and minimimalist Hotel Terminal Neige Totem.
Among Flaine’s many attractions, and foremost is the great skiing on offer, is that it’s a resort that won’t break the bank. There are plenty of low-cost accommodation options available (the new Totem Hotel has competitive rates) designed to appeal to a hip crowd of skiers who are more appreciative of Flaine’s artistic credentials than previous visitors. Newer chalet style accommodation is also available.
The main resort is small and made up of two areas accessible by lifts called the red and black devils. Forum is the busier andlower of the two at 1600m while bigger Forêt, up the hillside, is located at 1700m. The latter has its own shops and bars. There are also some rather nice traditional villages in the outlying area; Samoëns, Les Carroz and Morillon offer additional lodging options and generally better dining.
The skiing in the Flaine bowl is mainly open, but the lowest runs are wooded. Outside the bowl, above Les Carroz, Morillon and Samoëns the situation is reversed and most of the slopes are below the treeline.
In town there are various activities to partake in but nightlife and evening apres ski tend to be quiet with most people preferring to stay in their chalets.
In town, La Ferme du Sartot has a wonderful authentic setting and serves regional Savoyard specialities. The restaurant is open for lunchtime and evening bookings.
Le Desert Blanc, Flaine
Located at the top of Grande platières cable car (DMC) at 2500m is Le Desert Blanc, a self-service restaurant with a wonderful sun terrace that faces Mont Blanc and offers spectacular views. Staff are friendly and the food is filling.
Le Bissac, Flaine
Another self-service restaurant, Le Bissac is located in Flaine Foret, near the bottom of the Petit Balacha lift. Table service is available at no extra charge. Order the special of the day and you won’t be disappointed. In peak season, the restaurant always fills up, so arrive early to bag a table.
Les Chalets du Michet, Flaine
Les Michets offers fine Savoyard cuisine in an ancient thousand year-old sheepfold (shepherd’s hut). It has an a la carte menu and delicious homemade dishes and is open for lunch and dinner.
L'Eloge is attached to Les Chalets du Michet at Flaine Forum and is cheap and cheerful. Food is hearty with favourites L'Eloge such as croque monsieur, lasagnes and filling soups.
Being a high altitude resort, and with much of the bowl facing north-west, the region has consistently good snow cover. Snow canons service many of the lower slopes to ensure quality skiing here too.
The wide, gentle blues of Serpentine, Cristal and Olivine are perfect runs for beginners to practice carving their turns. We recommend the Cascade run from Flaine to Sixt, reached via the Serpentine blue, which offers 14km of continuous skiing. More challenging blue runs include Tourmaline and Mephisto. A point to note: piste classification is generally accurate, but the Tourmaline run back to Flaine under the Grands Vans chair is a challenge!
A bonus for beginners is the location of the easy runs. The green run located at Flaine’s top station enables beginners to learn while surrounded by views of the bowl and Mont Blanc and not just at the base. Nursery slopes are located next to the village.
Intermediate skiers should make for the Grand Massif area to seek out some nice blue and red – the terrain here is perfect for intermediates. Skiers who are keen to progress should head to a hairy red run called Faust which offers a decent amount of vertical. It’s opposite the Serpentine and runs all the way down from the top station to the resort. There are some steep but manageable sections.
Shy intermediates should be able to handle the Serpentine piste while more confident intermediates should take on Mephisto.A popular run is the 14km-long, lift-free Cascades piste.
Most of the expert terrain is found off-piste and it’s takes a high degree of skill to tackle it – the backcountry here is among the best in Europe so head out with a local guide to find the best powder safely. Skilled skiers will love the side-country as well as the moguls of Gers but a word of warning - the Gers draglift a challenge in itself. Expect unexpected jolts.
Other challenges for advanced skiers and snowboarders include Styx and Le Diamant Noir
Freestylers will find some great natural hits and manmade obstacles to conquer. One of the top snow parks around, the HO5 Jampark can be found on the Calcédoine run over in the Aujon area.
It’s not huge on apres ski but the resort does throw some good parties. During spring, the resort puts on classical music, electro funk, pop and rock open-air shows on the slopes. They’re completely free and an itinerary is available week by week. On the last day of the spring season the resort holds a free bbq.
For some serious relaxation, we can recommend The Pure Altitude Spa in the swanky Terminal Neige. It has a wellness space, comprising a fitness centre, sensory showers and a relaxation room which extends out onto the terrace with superb mountain views. The Jacuzzi and outdoor saunas have been refitted into old cable car cabins and will transport you to the height of well-being.