Terminal Neige Totemis not just another new hotel in the Alps. In the 1960s, Flaine started out as a family resort with half a dozen modest hotels, but one by one they failed, leaving visitors to pick from an expanding range of apartments and chalets. The Totem was the last to go, standing empty for three years until its rebirth this winter as the flagship of Terminal Neige, a new youth-oriented three-star brand.
The creator is the Sibuet family, farmers-turned-innovative hoteliers who built up a reputation for elegance linked to history at the Mont Blanc and Les Fermes de Marie in Megève. So far, so good, but the new generation, Nicolas, 32, and Marie, 28, have no interest in polished antiques and bone china: their Totem, created over three months for the pre-Christmas opening, is about hustle and bustle, getting what you want when you want it, no frills attached. That could be bleak if the young team wasn't so eager to help in all contingencies. A flooded cloakroom in the lobby? No worries. Open up an empty bedroom until the crisis is resolved.
The ground floor of the Totem is a huge integrated space, with an emphasis on informality. No queuing to check in: the staff step up swiftly to hand out keys. To the right, a rental shop with a coffee bar. To the left, a prominent island bar dividing the dining zone from the soft seating. No two tables are alike: perch on stools at a long raised bar, sink into animal furs in a convivial circle, pick a romantic twosome by the window.
The Totem is exceptionally proud of its bespoke chairs, especially the models that pay homage to Marcel Breuer, Flaine's celebrated Bauhaus architect. When he wasn't designing buildings to mirror the surrounding cliffs, he conjured up seats on curved steel supports inspired by cycle handle bars. You will find out that some are more comfortable than others.
Dining here is relaxed, with two well-stocked kitchen corners offering breakfast and dinner buffets, plus a lunch menu of sharing plates.
Set on one side of Flaine Forum, the hotel is the ultimate in ski-in, ski-out convenience. Clip in for a 30-second glide to the Grandes Platières gondola, the artery into a wide bowl above the tree line offering diversity for all standards. At 1,600m, Flaine is the highest and most snow-sure of the resorts on the Grand Massif lift pass, but its neighbours, Les Carroz, Samoëns, Morillon and Sixt, provide a contrasting sense of adventure on runs cut through the forest. The 14km blue cruiser from the top of the gondola down to Sixt is one of the longest in the Alps.
Flaine was conceived by a Swiss architect who loved ski touring in the Massif and it was financed by Eric Boissonnas and his American wife, Sylvie, who dipped into her oil fortune to hire Breuer to build it between 1960 and 1975.
Not everyone likes Breuer's pre-cast concrete New Brutalism, but the French recognised its importance by adding the main buildings to an inventory of historical monuments in 1991. In the same era, the resort introduced big art to the Forum, notably Picasso's Head of Woman and Dubuffet's monumental Copse of Seven Trees.
The Totem has 96 rooms, 50 classic doubles and 33 slightly larger club doubles. With eight deluxe rooms, four suites with spacious sitting rooms and the Loft Space apartment, there is no shortage of choice. Each room has one wall decorated with bold black graphics on a white background and complemented by cupboards with black and white cowhide doors. My deluxe room had a glass wall opening on to a spacious balcony on the sunny side.
The Essential Skiing Guide: France
The Pure Altitude spa has an outdoor hot tub, a gym, sauna, hamman and a tempting range of treatments. The deck is dominated by a brightly painted native American totem pole, created by Pierre Magara, Megève's favourite sculptor.
Terminal Neige Totem, Flaine Forum, Flaine, France (00 33 457 74 74 74; terminal-neige.com).
Classic Doubles start at €150, Club Doubles at €180, including breakfast.
Inghams (01483 791 114; inghams.co.uk) offers seven nights' half board at the Terminal Neige Totem, from £1,079pp, including flights from Gatwick to Geneva and transfers.Reuse content