The mountains are no strangers to an overblown party. Ever since our ancestors went out hunting on planks and returned to a cheap bag of wine, the wonderful world of après has been alive and well.
In the past seven years though, the party on the slopes – or at least in the Alps – has seen a new gravitational force emerge as the focal point of the post-shred session.
Initially in Val D’Isere, and now in Meribel, Val Thorens, Alpe D’Huez and St. Gervais, carousing snow lovers have been drawn to the eclectic ambience of La Folie Douce – the distinctive mountain club branded the ‘dance floor on top of the world.’
Literally translating as ‘sweet madness’, La Folie Douce does exactly what it says on the tin. Between live saxophone, banging bass, cabaret performers and tabletop dancers in fancy dress and ski boots, it’s not hard to see how they justify the name.
“It comes from the fact that in life you always need a little wisdom and you always need a little madness,” Luc Reversade, founder of the project, told Mpora.
“I just happen to think that it’s always better to have a little more madness than wisdom!”
Fitting words from the man responsible for so many vin chaud-fuelled after-parties. Given the popularity of his venture, he’s certainly not alone in these views.
For Luc though, the story of La Folie Douce can be traced back a lot further than the opening of the original Val D’Isere branch in 2007.
1969 is the year emblazoned on the crest of the company, and this was the year he first took to Val D’Isere, initially opening a hotel, then a restaurant, before finally acquiring the mountain spot that would become La Folie Douce.
“I see us being similar to Ibiza in terms of having the ability to see changes in demand and adapting our concept to better cater customers…”
The ultimate concept? A development of previous project ‘La Buvette du Lapin’, an outside bar built in 2000 and inspired by trips to beach bars in Ibiza and Florida.
“I always enjoyed working in such a warm and welcome mountain community,” continued Luc. “I didn’t necessarily anticipate creating a party spot, but a place accessible and entertaining for all generations to celebrate the mountains.
“[La Buvette du Lapin] was an exciting time for us because it marked a huge change in the way we envision the tourist skiing experience.
“Ski lift technology had made getting up the mountain so quick that instead of spending the whole day skiing, people were getting tired and wanted another way to enjoy the mountains.
“We didn’t seek out to create a party, but rather an alternative to the standard skiing experience.
“I see us being similar to Ibiza in terms of having the ability to see changes in demand and adapting our concept to better cater to our customers’ needs.”
An interesting insight from the man behind the madness. His project certainly is one that caters for an ever-growing audience in an ever-changing market.
The eccentric atmosphere of La Folie Douce is one that still divides certain opinions though, despite rave reviews from the majority of travellers, so it’s no wonder the project received mixed reactions when it was still just a concept.
“Some people didn’t understand that our customers’ needs were changing,” recalls Luc. “They didn’t understand that they wanted a complete mountain experience and not just an intense ski week as they had in the past.
“They didn’t understand why we wanted to grow the way we did, which can complicate things.
“It’s especially difficult to move forward without the right kind of support, but when you believe in your project, nothing can really hold you back.”
Any previous problems with the growth of the business have certainly now subsided. Five French hubs are already in operation for the season ahead, and with a site set for Switzerland in the next few years, La Folie Douce will soon be going international as well.
The party spot has become a right of passage for snow revellers looking for a good time in the Alps.
With the fire breathing, sax-trance, champagne madness on offer, it’s become a frequent setting for those ‘remember that time’ moments that are talked about months after leaving the mountains.
“One of our crazier days occurred when the new Pope was elected. Everyone performed in costumes and it was great to live that moment with everyone…”
Organizing such a memorable experience in such an unpragmatic location does not come without a few problems however.
The creator continued: “It takes a specific kind of person to be able to work under snowfall at 2400m, and we make sure that our castings in Paris and London bring forward those special individuals.
“Our performers spend months preparing with choreographers, trainers, costume designers and others to be 100 percent ready to go when the season starts.
“We don’t really have an off-season. About 20 people work year round on each Folie Douce, spending their summer getting everything ready. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes.”
Of course, owning a place with such a specific sense of character must come with a few half-decent anecdotes as well.
We’ve heard stories ranging from a drunken millionaire stripping off and throwing his Rolex into the crowd to people dislocating limbs while attempting ‘the wheelbarrow’ in a dance off.
So we couldn’t talk to the man behind Folie Douce without asking what his favourite moments have been – and oddly enough, his chosen stories involved both gay marriage and the Pope. Albeit in unrelated scenarios.
“One of our crazier days occurred when the new Pope was elected last winter. We wanted to share in the celebration of this experience, just with our Folie Douce twist on it.
“Everyone dressed up and performed in their costumes and it was great to live that moment with everyone up on the mountain.
“On another occasion a few years ago, a storm blew in and we had nothing but snow for a full week.
“With no way to perform and entertain, our Artistic Director and Val d’Isère local Kely Starlight simply decided to get married to one of our clients. We had to call the mayor’s office, the pisteurs, and everyone from town to assist the ceremony and ended up all walking down the pistes to La Daille at the end of the day.
“It was crazy! But that’s just another example of how forward thinking we are: gay marriage before everyone else!
“The ‘closing’, our end the season party, is my favourite and our most memorable event though,” continued the Frenchman.
“It’s just a magical time where our team, our customers and our seasonnaires gather to celebrate an incredible season spent together. It’s a really emotional time for us, to share this moment with the people that make this concept work.”
“We have an amazing opportunity to create unforgettable experiences for thousand of people…”
And at the end of the day, that’s the method behind the madness. Bringing a different edge to a day up the mountains, and bringing people together in the process.
“I just love the proximity we have to our clients,” Luc concluded. “We have an amazing opportunity to create unforgettable experiences for thousands of people from around the world, and it’s a wonderful gift to share.
“I’m just excited to be able to continue bringing that ambiance and that atmosphere across mountain towns that never existed before.”
Certainly, the mayhem mogul’s project certainly shows no signs of slowing down in the near future.
It’s France today, Switzerland tomorrow, and who knows where next for the now famously rowdy mountain venue.
One thing is for sure though, the reputation of Folie Douce will continue to grow, the stories will continue to travel and wherever they set up camp, there will be an army of fans flocking to greet the ‘sweet madness’.