mont blanc tour Hidden in the valley in Les Contamines
Concealed beneath Mont Blanc in an Alpine valley, Les Contamines Montjoie is a small ski resort that barely registers on the British ski scene. And that’s part of the appeal.
Established in 1760, its timber and stone architecture reflects the settlement’s early days as a traditional Savoie farming parish. One of the Alp’s oldest ski areas, the first tourists carved their turns here in the early 1900s.
An hour’s drive from Geneva airport, it’s a doddle to reach and the town’s unpretentious accommodation can work out at half the price of that in more exclusive French resorts. But overshadowed by its bigger and better known neighbours of Chamonix and Megeve, Les Contamines receives limited attention from the UK ski market.
Home to a welcoming, tight knit community, English is spoken infrequently here, which gave me the opportunity to resurrect my rusty French: “Deux croissants et deux sandwiches au fromage,” I managed each morning at the patisserie, buying breakfasts to eat on the chairlifts and picnic lunches to munch in the mountains.
On Tuesday I swapped the patisserie for the local market, which filled the town square with stalls selling cured meats, gooey mountain cheeses and piping hot tartiflette, spooned from an enormous pan.
Stretching along a 4km road,
the town bustles with grocery shops, relaxed restaurants and good value ski stores. Along this snaking high street a free shuttle bus ferries skiers to and from the chairlifts; or if you’ve got a car it’s a five minute drive.
“Ring the cow bell!” my boyfriend Tom called after me as I skidded through the snow park, avoiding the scariest looking obstacles but having a go at the smallest jumps. At the finish line I pointed my ski pole skywards to ding the huge cow bell swinging above my head.
I often feel too intimidated to brave the snow parks in other resorts but here the laid back atmosphere and lack of onlookers gave me the confidence I needed to have a go. Three attempts later and I’d successfully slid across my first ‘box’.
The pistes were remarkably uncrowded and we spent our week speeding around near empty slopes. White summits watched over us from all directions and, from the resort’s highest point the top of the Aiguille Croche chairlift (2,483m) we looked out over an endless world of meringue like mountains, while the lower slopes descended into a forested gorge of sweet smelling pines.
French families and mature skiers wearing worn out salopettes make up the typical Les Contamines crowd. First timers can find their feet in the free beginners’ area while intermediates enjoy the wide blues and not too challenging reds. Experienced skiers zigzag down the blacks or scatter themselves off piste. As a snowboarder, Tom was pleased to discover that flats and long shushes were few.
A week’s ski pass is around 45 euros cheaper than nearby Chamonix and, although the ski area is modest 120km of pistes in total we found plenty to keep us entertained. If you’re hungry for more terrain, upgrade to the ‘Mont Blanc’ (rather than the Les Contamines only) pass for access to nine nearby resorts.
The one thing Les Contamines doesn’t have is a wild aprs scene the town’s caf style bars are more like family friendly creperies than hard core drinking holes. Our aprs ski ritual involved sinking a pint by the frozen lake at 1,470m, before supping vin chaud back in town at Ty Briezh a cosy pub, which serves delicious burgers with reblochon cheese.