SkiBike Tour 2010-11 - Samoens To Flaine

Posted: Monday, 10 January 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

With a forecast for cool and overcast weather, I reluctantly dragged myself out to Samoens, in the hope that it had snowed at altitude and I would get to ride on some soft new stuff.

Samoens is another small low altitude town that appears at first glance to offer more in the way of walking and bike riding than wintersports. The station for the Grand Massif Express telecabines was poorly signposted, but a little help from my satnav located it a few minutes drive from the town square. It is at the opposite end of the "Grand Massif" domain to Flaine; there was more English spoken in the car park than you'll ever hear in Croydon, but these weren't typical package holiday tourists. My guess is that the combination of a short and level drive, no switchbacks! and access to the less busy end of the domain is a winning combination for savvy British ex pats and independent travellers.
There was free parking, no queuing for tickets, the attendant spoke English to me and almost no queue for the Grand Massif Express Gondola, which lives up to its name, rapidly getting you 700 metres up to Samoens 1600m resort height.

Ascending into the cloud base visibility was poor and it was still lightly snowing. My plan was to try and rise into clearer air higher up and leap frog over the peaks to Flaine and back.
In the murk it was difficult to get your bearings and I floundered around the hill top riding a selection of short lifts till I got my bearings and found Chariade Express to Tete de Saix.

Skibiker in the mist at the top of the Marmotte run
 I took the Marmotte run back to Samoens, visibility had improved, there was lots of fresh natural snow on a hard base, but with bad light in places it paid not to be too over zealous. I had spotted the Dahu blue run from
the chairlift and it appeared to have been unskied, it turned out to be a disappointment though as it was uphill in places. I followed a group of older skiers taking a shortcut off piste and ended up knee deep in snow, advancing cautiously, not wanting to hit a rock or loose my footskis again. They kept egging me on to head straight down the fall line, I obliged for the last 15m and received a cheer, I thank you... We chatted briefly about the reason I was on a skibike, mentioned the benefits for those like me with creaky knees and then moved on.

On my next visit to the Tete des Saix there were signs that the sun was coming through, I was able to let off the brakes a little and use the Silice and Dolomie to Vernant chair. There were a good few inches of lovely floaty fresh untrammeled snow and for the first time on this trip, my fancy new skiboards were in their element and feeling good.
Using the Vernant chair to get over the Grand Vans I followed the Tourmaline run down to Flaine, much better this time now that the sun was fully out. At one bliss full point everything came together in a strange floaty/flying out of body, someone else must be doing this, zen like was spiritual. Needless to say I tried the run a few times more it was so enjoyable.

Flaine, sort of bowl shaped

Sadly time was fast running out, the inter area linking lifts close at 4pm and I was 3 resorts away from my starting point. Reluctantly I used the Grand Vans chair to access the Perce-Neige and rushed down Marmottes to Les Mollets overlooking Carroz. Heading back up to the Tete des Saix via the L'Airon it was now minutes to closing time and with the clouds starting to reform rapidly. Not wanting to get stranded miles
from the car, I had a lovely last run back down the Marmotte to Samoens 1600 for the Gondolla run back to base station.

I conclusion, an exciting day covering lots of terrain in ideal conditions, once the sun had broken through. The convenience of the low altitude starting point may lack the romance of skibiking back to the car; but saves the whole faff of a long drive through switchbacks, possibly on snowchains, etc. I can see why this would appeal to the savvy Genevois. There isn't much ambiance around the Gondola station itself, it is very much a terminus only, but the nearby village centre has plenty of eateries, shops, small hotels, tourist office and ice rink. I believe there are ski buses from Geneva and local shuttle buses, so even without a car you can utilise the neighbourhood's potential.