As an introduction to the freeride terrain above our base in Les Carroz this is a bit of a baptism of fire, and things don’t get much easier as we drop back down to the Vernant chair – we take in a gully that’s little more than a ski-length in width in places, and then scoot out across a mix of powder and crust that has me sweating like a fat lad in a pie shop by the time I reach the lift.
As we ascend on the chair for the second time, I suggest to Fred that “Perhaps we can do something a bit less extreme next?”.
“Ah, sorry,” says Fred, “I was told you wanted to discover the freeride terrain”. Well, we did, but maybe young French mountain guides and middle-aged English ski journalists have different ideas of what constitutes ‘freeride terrain’.
Being the professional that he is, Fred takes the hint and leads us to a Grand Massif classic – the mighty Combe de Gers. This huge, snow-choked bowl is, for me, the epitome of ‘freeride’ – slopes of different gradient and different aspect spread out over 800-metres of vertical, a few trees at the bottom to add interest, a hideously long and steep drag lift as the only means out (boarders beware!) and, three days after the last snowfall, it’s still possible to find untracked lines.
Needless to say, we have a ball floating through soft fluffy stuff all the way down to the Gers draglift and then, thighs screaming after the 40-minute ascent on the Poma (just joking…although it feels like it by the time you’re at the top) we cruise down into Flaine.
Two more different ski resorts than Flaine and Les Carroz would be hard to imagine. Flaine is, of course, famous for its no-nonsense, utilitarian Brutalist architecture, whereas Les Carroz, which you pass on the way up to Flaine, is a much more traditional alpine village with a lovely balcony setting amongst trees.