Guest post by written by Rob Crabtree of Ski Club of Great Britain
So you’re planning a winter ski holiday and itching to make those first few turns. If you’ve decided on France, you’ve made a great decision. But with so many great resorts to choose from, the question is where to go?
I’ve skied in many of the larger French resorts before and they’re great; lots of varied terrain, fast lifts, excellent accommodation and, on the whole, more snow than you can throw a stick at. For me, this has been the only route to go down to guarantee a great week skiing and, with ski juggernauts such as The 3 Valleys and Espace Killy all within easy reach, it can be very easy to miss some of the lesser known resorts. As such, I’ve never been brave enough to break the mould and try something different, so when I was given the chance to visit a little known resort, just around the corner from the old stalwarts, I was pretty excited.
Only 2.5 hours from Grenoble, under the watchful eye of the Mont Blanc, the beautiful and unspoilt alpine ski resort of Les Contamines Montjoie shows that you really don’t need hundreds of miles of piste to be a great winter holiday destination. Centred around a traditional Haute-Savoie village, the resort caters well for skiers of all abilities. Boasting over 120km of piste in the local area and over 450km in the ‘Evasion Mont Blanc’ area means even the most advanced skier won’t be disappointed. With beginner slopes at all levels, this is a great resort for families and means learners aren’t necessarily banished to the bottom of the resort. As well as alpine piste, there are extensive cross-country trails and walking paths.
For such as small resort, I was surprised to experience such an efficient lift system, with a mixture of newer high-speed detachable and fixed chairlifts. With the majority of terrain north and east facing, the mountain is spared much of the day’s direct sun and the snow conditions were excellent. Due to its close proximity to Mont Blanc, the local weather also works in its favour with temperatures regularly 2 or 3 degrees cooler than other resorts. On the day we arrived it was in the process of snowing 50cm of lovely fresh powder and when the clouds cleared for our first days skiing, it was a beautiful bluebird day.
The views of Mont Blanc and the surrounding valleys were stunning and offered the perfect backdrop to a morning of cruising smooth wide-open runs. When it came to lunchtime, we weren’t stuck for somewhere good to eat and headed to one of a number of traditional mountain refuge-style restaurants serving wonderful Savoyard food. La Buche Croisee looks like a fairly unassuming place from the outside, but once through the low door, diners are seated on multiple levels enjoying a great atmosphere and a generous helping of home-cooked food.
One thing you won’t find here are any tour operators. Accommodation in the village is mostly privately owned apartments and, although there are a handful of small hotels and B&Bs, like the beautiful Chalet Chovettaz where we were staying, the majority of visitors either stay in their own chalet or one booked through the local tourist office. The advantage of this is that the village has stayed very much unspoilt with a welcomed lack of high-rise buildings. This does however mean everything is quite spread out and, although there is a free shuttle bus, having a car in resort was an advantage. What you lack in convenience however you very much gain in peace and quiet. When the last lift has closed the only thing you’re likely to hear is the gentle running water from the river ‘Bon Nant’.
Après ski wasn’t all feet up and roaring log fires though as we had a go at what Les Contamines has to offer after dark. Now I’m usually one for skiing hard and fast all day and then sinking into a comfy chair for a couple of Vin Chaud. However it was back into full ski gear and out into the dark for a ‘quick’ trek up to a mountain restaurant for dinner. Having seen people snow shoeing before I was rather sceptical about whether i would actually enjoy it. But…it was great. A couple of hours walking up hill through deep untouched fields of snow certainly built up an appetite. Most of the group quickly removed jackets, gloves and hats in an attempt to cool down. It was minus 6 but we were boiling! If you’re looking for something even more strenuous however, Ice climbing at night is really fantastic. Picture the scene…a beautiful snowy valley with a stream gently running past, light snow falling and a natural wall of ice, floodlit for our enjoyment. The local guide provided the necessary kit; crampons, axes, harness and ropes and away we went. Great fun and a wonderful experience!
I’ll be honest; I was surprised at just how much I loved the place. For such a small and unassuming resort, it has plenty to offer even the most particular guest; great skiing, warm hospitality and fantastic food. With tree-lined runs for low light days and high wide-open runs for blue bird days, quite piste and no lift queues, fantastic scenery and authentic alpine charm, Les Contamines really is a great place to spend a few days on skis. If skiing isn’t for you, then there are extensive walking paths, snow-shoeing trails and some great ‘alternative’ après.
All of this within a few hours of Grenoble and all without breaking the bank. Currently the great unknown, but for how long?
Have you visited Les Contamines? How did you find it? Tell us in the comments below