News from the snow
Les Contamines - Montjoie France
Les Contamines, or Les Contamines - Montjoie to give the resort its full official name, is a pretty and compact Savoyard village with a long history. The resort has remained relatively unspoilt by the march of time and the growth of winter tourism, with the local population still totalling around a thousand. The village is largely based around a single main street, based upon its eighteenth century baroque village church. The large local ski area is part of the huge Mont Blanc lift pass, which includes Chamonix, Megève, Courmayeur over in Italy, the resort's nearest neighbour St Gervais (ten minutes away on the bus), and half a dozen others. Les Contamines - Montjoie's own extensive ski area comprises 120km (75 miles) of trails, served by more than 24 lifts. What's more, the area has a strong reputation for good snow conditions, with powder lasting in good shape for days after a fall, and snow cover in general lasting when other lower ski centres on the Mont Blanc pass have none. The only aspect of the skiing that precludes perfection for some is that the main area is accessed by a regular ski bus from the resort centre.
Pretty and compact Savoyard village with a long history, extensive skiing and a good range of shops and restaurants. The nearest lift is 1km from the village. Part of the huge Mont Blanc lift pass.
The majority of skiers will, however, want to head up to the main area from day one, and to do that the ski bus is the best bet, unless you have transport. There are two gondolas accessing the slopes, the first, at Le Lay, is a kilometre from the village centre, but many stay on the bus another 500 metres or so to Le Pontet. Here a second gondola, generally less busy (a point especially worth bearing in mind when skiers are arriving from other areas due to lack of snow elsewhere), heads up to a point close to the top of the le Lay lift. There they both meet a third gondola, or a chair and drag in succession, which take you on up to the main mid mountain base at le Signal. There are also more beginners' slopes at the top of the first pair of gondolas.
Above Signal a network of chairs and drags fan out around the huge bowl providing 30+ largely red and black category runs with a few blues. Some lifts access the skiing over to the south facing Hauteluce area. Nearly all the terrain, including the blacks, can be mastered by intermediates. More demanding intermediate, as well as advanced skiers, will no doubt wish to make use of the Mont Blanc pass.
The local high mountain guides are highly regarded internationally. They can take you to off-piste powder on glaciers or on a spring ski touring excursion.
The local cross-country area at Notre Dame de la Gorge offers 23.5km (15 miles) of carefully maintained trails arranged in circuits, from easy to very difficult, and a 8km (five mile) circuit reserved for those wishing to use the skating technique. Facilities at the area include a cross country centre with changing rooms, waxing room and picnic room, as well as an Ecole du Ski Français office. There is also an international biathlon run (summer and winter).
The "Galipette" crèche is open daily from 8.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. and accepts children from one to seven years of age. The facility offers educational games, indoor games, outdoor games and day care. It works in association with the ski school's "Jardin d'Enfants" and reservations are strongly recommended to be sure of a place. The Ecole de ski Français Jardin d'Enfants accepts children from age two and a half years.
Every Sunday during the school holidays there is a get together at the Tourist Office with a free cuddly toy, and at the welcome drink children get a cup of hot chocolate. A special children's show is also held during the week.
La Trabla, in the hamlet of Le Lay is another traditional restaurant featuring a superb central open fire. Local specialities here include tartiflette (potato, cheese and cream dish), pierrade (strips of meat cooked at your table on hot stone), etc., as well as Italian food, fondue and raclettes.
Up on the ski slopes, La Bûche Croisée at 1,700 m (5,600 ft) is situated in an old Alpine farmhouse on the Buche Croisée piste. The restaurant has a warm friendly interior and original cuisine you won't find anywhere else. Croutes Savoyardes (egg, cream, ham and cheese on toast), assiette perboulette, regional dish of the day.
Even higher up, Chez Gaston, at 2,000 m (6,600 ft) on the Col du Joly, is right opposite Mont Blanc, in marmot country. Dishes to tempt you include Plateau Paysan (a selection of local hams and cheeses), or a Tourte Savoyarde pie.
If you want something more than eating, drinking or dancing then there's an ice rink and a cinema, or you can take a sleigh ride. A trip up to the Chalet Auberge de Colombaz at 1,500 m (4,900 ft) for a traditional Savoyard evening is a popular treat. Arrive by ski lift or horse drawn sleigh, enjoy a traditional Savoie meal and then toboggan back down.
Some snowboarders may be put off by the usual predominance of drag lifts, but in fact all the key areas can be reached by chair or gondola. Nightlife may also be rather quiet for some.