SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - Flaine

Posted: Thursday, 6 February 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I left before sunrise to a glorious pre-dawn glow, set in a totally clear sky, highlighting the jagged silhouettes of the Alps laid out ahead of me in a glorious panorama. I was to make a rendezvous with Carl Day, who has been staying for the week in Flaine with lifelong buddy Andy.
Poor Andy, a snowboarder, has already suffered from four days of skibike marketing peer pressure and now there were two of us to face.
Our riding was for the most part off-piste, Carl has recently traded in his LenzSport Brawler for the lighter and more nimble Launch model. He has equipped it with pontoon skis, ideal for such off-piste riding. That said, I don't know what Devin does with his edges but their off-piste prowess doesn't seem to mar their on-piste grip. The man is clearly a Wizard of many Black Arts.

Flaine - good humour whilst stuck in the lift

Carl's enthusiasm and sheer sense of fun shone through, I keep recalling the image of him stacking into a "Danger Slow Down" banner placed across the trail. Its fluorescent red colour matched his frame exactly and for a brief moment it looked like he had split the bike into two.

The riding above Flaine was sublime and putting the first tracks on huge swathes of mountainside was a joy. It was the best of days, but sadly it was also the worst of days, the short pleasures were marred by the sheer amount of hanging around, most brought on by the sudden early arrival of high winds.

Flaine - putting the first tracks on huge swathes of mountainside

First it was the queue to buy a lift ticket, why only open 3 out of 6 kiosks on a bluebird day? Then it was a long queue to get the gondola up the mountain. Later the cable car we were on stopped, making a 5 minute journey last 20. Then the main cable car stopped too and the final straw was the interlinking chairlifts stopping. If this was expected why were we not warned about this at Samoens?
This meant an intolerable wait for a shuttle bus to take us from Flaine to Vernant. Accompanied by all the bad mannered jostling that Europeans have a reputation for, I only managed to find a place fighting my way on the third one to arrive. We then had to head up the mountain and across to Morillon via a low level route. Of course this meant another wait to use the Morillon telecabin to descend, in order to take another crowded, but better natured shuttle back to Samoens. I had left Carl and Andy around 3pm and didn't arrive at Samoens till 6pm.

The Grand Massif now charge a hefty premium for the use of their domain, nearly €45 for a day pass, this is double what I have been paying elsewhere and puts it  close to the prices charged by elite resorts such as Chamonix and Courchevel. If they are going to charge this level of premium, then services levels must be raised to match. If high winds are forecast, surely a couple of extra coaches could be hired for the day without breaking the resort's finances? Could you not give customers a discount off their next visit or a free drink, this is how customer service works elsewhere? Or are we just cattle to be milked dry and sent home empty?

The whole experience has left me with a sour taste that simply will not go away. I have to be back in Morillon in a few days time to ride with Mark Bayston, but it has gone to the bottom of my list of places to ride again.