Summer Hike to Lac Gers in Flaine
During our holiday in Les Carroz d’Araches in the French Alps in July 2016, primarily for the Tour de France where stages 18, 19 and 20 were a short drive from Les Carroz d’Araches; I took the opportunity to do a walk in Flaine and further my stages of the Tour of Mont Blanc. I drove towards Flaine on the D106 Route de Flaine and parked at the bottom of Flaine at 1600 m altitude, catching the DMC telecabine to the peak at Flaine. It was a hot day with temperatures of 25C in Les Carroz d’Araches and 21 C in Flaine; the views of Mont Blanc from the summit were as spectacular as ever. I was surprised by the amount of snow at the summit for July. I have walked here in previous years and this is the most I had ever seen. There was a very good snow base winter 15-16 so I guess the depth of snow ensured it lasted through to summer.
Mont Blanc Summer 2016
Summer snow at Flaine summit
Walking down from the summit to the whale-back ridge. A short walk along this narrow ridge gave some spectacular views of the Grand Massif and down the valley to Sixt Fer a Cheval, although the path to the peaks looked to precarious to go any further so returned to the serpentine piste and walked towards the Combe de Gers bowl.
View from Whale Back in Flaine
Narrow path on Whaleback summit
The walk down to Lac Gers passes close to the Gers drag lift, a very steep drag, not for beginners. The view of the lake and valley down to Sixt Fer a Cheval opens up to wonderful views. The winding trail down was relatively straightforward, but the return on the other side of the valley virtually climbs straight, with no switchbacks, so it is very tiring and slow if you are not accustomed to alpine walking.
Combe de Gers bowl in summer
Signage at climb up from Lac Gers
The signage throughout the hike was clear, as shown on the climb out from Lac Gers it suggests the distance to Flaine is 2 hr 30 min and 50 min back to Lac Gers. In practice I find that adding about 20% to the times gives a more realistic estimate allowing for rest breaks. We walked back to the Flaine bowl at 1600 m and car park. Total time on the hike was approximately 7 hours.
We decided to have a longer holiday in the Grand Massif and had planned a few weeks for late March and early April.
We arrived to Bluebird conditions, with temperatures of 5-10 C in the village of Les Carroz d’Araches and 0-5 degrees on the mountain, depending on altitude. Paragliders were taking the opportunity to descend from the peaks into the village and the local restaurants and bars, like Le Marlow and La Pointe Noire had people outside enjoying drinks in the sunshine and the relaxed atmosphere.
This was all to change on the weekend of March 22-24. The snow was well predicted with an estimate of 30-40 cm depending on altitude. The freezing level dropped to 300 m, meaning that snow would be widespread across the interlinked villages of Les Carroz, Morillon, Samoens, Flaine and Sixt fer Cheval. I ventured out on 23rd March to ski Les Carroz and Morillon to find some excellent skiing. In places there must have been 60 cm of snow, the trees were fully laden and visibility was bad but the powder on and off piste was fantastic.
I’ve attached photos of the Les Molliets lift. the red piste called Stade in Morillon and a view over the village of Les carroz towards the Timolets piste.
Les Molliets chair lift and snow laden pines
Stade piste in Morillon in deep snow
Les Carroz village towards Timolets piste
On the next few days, the weather also remained colder permitting longer day spring skiing especially in Flaine and on northern slopes in Les Carroz. The pistes were in absolutely brilliant condition with large depths of snow. We enjoyed the snow covered pistes skiing through trees in Morillon and Les Carroz and motorway crusing on long red runs in Flaine.
Attached a video of a blue piste that runs from the Biollaires chair lift.
Skiing in Grand Massif at Morillon March 2014
This trip was a planned late season visit to Les Carroz d’Araches in the Grand Massif, where I expected those gorgeous spring skiing days of pure blue skies, great morning skiing, lunch and then a leisurely ski home by about 1400. We were in for a real treat. Arriving on Saturday in the 3rd week of March we had 2 days of continuous snow, white-out conditions and significant snow down below the village of Les Carroz (altitude 1200 m). Snowfall of about 30 cm was reported at altitude so we were excitedly waiting to see if the weather would be conducive for getting up on the mountain.
Some photos of the village during the snowfall is shown below
Les Carroz d’Araches village during snowstorm
Les Carroz d’Araches village during snowstorm
Then on the Monday the weather changed and blue skies appeared. And of course 30 cm of fresh powder to enjoy. The weather also remained cold permitting all day skiing especially in Flaine and on northern slopes in Les Carroz. The pistes were in absolutely brilliant condition with large depths of snow. Having skied over various seasons in the Grand Massif regularly since 2002, I assessed the next 5 days as some of the best spring skiing I have ever had. We enjoyed the snow covered reds in Morillon, Les Carroz and Flaine, did small excursions into off piste and did motorway cruising on the long runs in Flaine.
I’ve attached some images of the pistes below.
Pistes at summit of Les Carroz d’Araches
Pistes at summit of Les Carroz d’Araches
The skies remained clear all week, and the views were magnificent. An iconic view of Mont Blanc are show below from the summit of Flaine, where we enjoyed some excellent rest and recuperation in the sunshine.
Enjoying sunshine, mountain views and restaurant in Flaine
Mont Blanc view from Flaine March 2012
In January I skied the Gers bowl for the first time. It had just opened on the weekend. On previous visits to the Grand Massif and Flaine it had either been closed or icy moguls but on the 18 January after recent dumps of snow and with no avalanche warnings it was an ideal opportunity to give it a try. The Combe de Gers bowl is a large un-pisted bowl with approximately 800 m of vertical drop going down towards the Lac de Gers and ultimately Sixt fer a Cheval.
Gers bowl January 2010
Paragliding in Gers Bowl
While skiing the bowl a para glider whizzed past nearby – shown in attached photograph.
The main run is the black Styx which is quite steep but plenty of terrain to select the best route to the bottom of the drag lift. The drag lift takes you back to the top of the Combe de Gers or if the Cascade run is open (the longest blue run in Europe) then you can ski down to Sixt fer a Cheval and catch the free shuttle bus back to Samoens and cable cars and chair lifts back to Flaine or elsewhere in the Grand Massif. Attached some photos providing views looking both down into the valley and back up the bowl; including the drag lift.
Combe de Gers is accessed from the top of the DMC (Les Grandes Platieres Cable car)or the Col de Plate chair lift. The conditions were fantastic (no moguls but amazing snow with plenty of powder and some un-tracked spots). This is an under rated ski area, the views down the valley from the top of Styx, the terrain and challenge, in my opinion makes Gers one of the best ski runs in the French Alps. Suitable for strong intermediates and experts.
Lower slopes of Gers Bowl
Gers Bowl Lone skier
An alternative treat from Cascades or Styx is the restaurant at the Gers lake, a popular place to sit, enjoy a meal and admire the scenery. Access is either off the bottom of the Styx run, which means a walk around the lake shore, or from the notice and phone that is situated by a bridge on the Cascades run, after dropping into the Gers valley; skiers call up the restaurant and are pulled up to it on the back of a skidoo (the ride and tables are best reserved in advance).
After a successful early ski holiday in the Grand Massif of France in 2008 we decided to repeat the timings in 2009. Arriving in Les Carroz d’Araches on Saturday December 12th, there was a few inches of snow in the village which had arrived that day. Flaine had seen similar dumps of snow with the resort opening on December 12th. On Monday 14th December we skied in Flaine, with fantastic conditions, a sunny cold day with clear views of Mont Blanc, as seen in the image below.
Flaine skiing December 2009
An estimated 100 cm of snow at 2200 m and 20 cm at 1600m was sufficient for a good day of skiing in Flaine. Disappointingly, there were only 3 ski lifts open; the small beginners lift at 1600m, the large DMC telecabine providing access to the top of Flaine and the Col de Plate chair lift accessible the bottom of the Serpentine/Crystal ski runs.
Grand Massif mountain view
Serpentine ski run Flaine
The ski runs in Flaine were in great condition with plenty of snow cover until reaching the village at 1600m where some stones had been churned up. The images above show the ski runs at the top of Flaine.
Snow continued to fall in the village of Les Carroz d’Araches from Monday Dec 14th, with a centimetre or so every day until Friday 18 December when heavy snow continued to fall all day, leaving at least 10 cm in Les Carroz village and continuing to the upper slopes at 2200m.
The snow cannons were active all week, with sub zero temperatures (typically -10 degs C during he daytime) throughout. The good snow base built up in November and the blown snow, plus the snowfalls in December made for excellent skiing over the Christmas period.
The snow levels in the Grand Massif during winter season 2008-2009 were excellent and surpassed levels seen over the past 5 years. At Flaine opening mid December 08 the snow cover was fantastic; a picture taken skiing in Flaine on Dec 14 2008.
Flaine cascade ski runs
Having skied regularly in the Grand Massif since 2001 it was great to be able to do runs like Cascade from Flaine to Sixt fer Cheval and I was able to do a run that I had never previously done as it appears rarely open. This is the the red Grand Chaudron piste which is accessed from the Veret drag lift off the blue piste called Tourmaline; which is one of the main runs down into Flaine from Les Carroz d’Araches. The snow was in perfect condition in late March and with fantastic views it is worth doing. With further large snowfalls in the third week of March and weather remaining cold the snow was excellent. Attached is a photo of the Timolets run going back to Les Carroz d’Araches at 1150 m altitude.
Les Carroz Timolet skirun
The snow in the Grand Massif was excellent so we decided to ski from Les Carroz to Flaine and then try the 14 km Cascade ski run, if open. Catching the Grand Platieres (DMC) telecabine takes the skier from 1600 m to 2500 m; where there is a great view of the Mont Blanc chain and the mighty mountain itself.
The Cascade run was open. These are photos of the scenery as we made our way from the top of Flaine to Sixt fer Cheval at the bottom of the ski run.
Exiting the DMC telecabine in Flaine
Start of the Cascade ski run
Skiers alone on cascade ski run in Flaine
The white sea in Flaine
Approachng treeline from Flaine to Sixt fer Cheval
View through trees on lower slopes approaching Sixt fer Cheval
Bottom of Sixt fer Cheval
At the bottom of the run is a small restaurant that serves snacks and drinks where one can wait for the free bus that takes skiers back to Samoens and Morillon to continue skiing.