Flavours of Marmite land

Love it or hate it, there is one great advantage to this ski resort – oodles of snow. Catherine Scott gets her skis on.

The 2011-2012 ski season will go down as one of the greats. Ski resorts across Europe had record snowfalls. People will be talking about the powder snow conditions for years to come with four metres of snow falling in one month in some places.

After a number of fairly lean season and fears that Alpine skiing could be in danger due to global warming, to have a season where there was more than enough of the white stuff was heart warming. And the high altitude, snow sure French resort of Flaine was no exception.

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In the heart of the Grand Massif ski area, Flaine boasts a better snow record than many resorts even in leaner years, so the condition in February were truly amazing.

Another of Flaine’s pluses is its closeness to Geneva. In just over an hour you can find yourself in the centre of this modern resort, ready to hit the slopes which are at your doorstep. Perfect for a weekend or short ski trip and also perfect for people with children who may struggle on the often three-hour transfer to some Alpine resorts.

Flaine village however, is a bit like Marmite. A 1960s purpose-built resort in the Bauhaus style many hail it an architectural success, while others see it as a concrete monstrosity.

I have to say it didn’t offend me and the advantage that a car-free town centre and the convenience of being built on the slopes, far outweighed any negatives. Nightlife is quiet which makes it perfect for families, and also keeps some of the crowds away. Despite the amazing snow conditions and travelling in the normally busy month of February, the pistes and resort were far from crowded, although it may be a different matter if you go in half term. Weekends are busier as the resort’s proximity to Geneva makes it ideal for the skier looking for a short convenient break. I met some who had even driven overnight to spend just two days in Flaine before heading back to the UK for work on Monday morning.

The town centre is on three levels which you can move fairly easily between via a funicular. Although if you hire equipment from Ski Set, as we did, make sure you’ve noted which outlet you need to return it to before setting out.

As far as the actual skiing is concerned it would be hard to ask for more. Perfect for just about all abilities there is enough to keep most people more than happy.

Flaine itself has 140km of piste many in a beautiful, sunny bowl around the resort. If you like to get in your ski miles then the well linked Grand Massiff has over 265km of pistes. There is a huge selection, including a dedicated beginners area, and a large number of blue and red runs for intermediates.

We had plenty of time to ski over to the neighbouring resort of Samoens and back again to pick the children up at the end of their morning ski school.

A visit to Samoens is well worth it, although being a more traditional resort some of the lifts are a little slower.

If you do ski over to Samoens then keep going down to the picturesque village of Les Carroz. There is a beautiful tree-lined run all the way down to the village and a cable car takes you back to the top.

What Flaine itself may lack in charm is more than made up for by the stunning scenery. As well as wide open runs, many above 2,000m, there are plenty of tree-lined pistes to enjoy.

There is a choice of ski school including ESF and Esi. Our two were in the latter and found it both challenging and fun, although my six-year-old did struggle at times with the tricky drag lifts on the lower slopes.

We were staying at the impressive self-catering Montsoleil apartments through Crystal. The five-star apartment are on the outskirts of town, but the ski bus stop is outside and also a free minibus runs regularly into town during the evening.

If you want to avoid the bus then you can ski down to the ski school meeting point from the doorstep via a couple of easy runs and a chairlift. This can be a little icy first thing, but the children easily managed it. Skiing back was a little trickier especially at the end of the day when legs were tired, but the regular bus didn’t make this a necessity.

As well as impressive leisure facilities the Montsoleil boasts a beautiful outdoor heated swimming pool which was definitely a hit with the young members of the family. Despite the extreme temperatures which plummeted to 
below -20C on one day, the pool remained heated throughout with stunning views of the sun setting over the Alps. They even bring you complimentary hot chocolate to keep you warm. If outside swimming get too much for you then you can run inside to the large indoor jacuzzi, sauna and hammam to warm up.

All apartments have a balcony and from ours you could just about see the headlights from the nearby ice racing track. People race cars on a race track made out of ice – mad but great fun.

There is no restaurant or bar on site, although there is a useful bread and grocery delivery service if you can’t be bothered to walk or get the bus or taxi into town to visit one of the many supermarkets.

It may have been the favourable exchange rate at the time we visited but Flaine didn’t seem quite as expensive as some other French resorts. There is a good selection of restaurants in the village although we generally ate in. There is also a fairly good choice of self-service mountain restaurants with log fire and a glass of gluhwein – or hot chocolate – to defrost frozen fingers and toes.

A positive side from the extreme low temperatures meant that the already deep snow was well maintained throughout not suffering from the dreaded freeze-thaw which can lead to ice.

For a good value, family ski holiday within easy access of an airport and enough doorstep skiing for everyone then I would highly recommend Flaine, so long as you are not a stickler for a resort with traditional Alpine charm.

Getting there

Crystal Ski (crystalski.co.uk 08712312256) offers a week’s stay at the five-star Montsoleil apartment in Flaine, France from £454 per person including flights from Manchester.

Ecole de Ski International www.esi-grandmassif.com