France is one of the best skiing destinations in Europe and there are lots of resorts to choose from. Depending on your level, your tastes and your budget, choosing the perfect ski resort in France can be a challenge. My very favourite destination for French skiing holidays isn’t one of the most famous ski places in France but it has a lot going for it… Let me tell you where to find the best ski resort in France.
Where to Find the Best Ski Resort in France
In terms of tourism development, there are several “generations” of ski resorts in France. Skiing as a leisure activity emerged in the early 20th century and the first generation resorts were essentially villages nestled in the mountains with access to large slopes just above the tree line. Later on, ski resorts were developed “ex-nihilo” in higher altitude and the “ski-in, ski-out” fashion began in the 1970s and 1980s. Finally, the trend came full circle and the preference was again for village-style resorts.
Les Contamines-Montjoie, in Haute-Savoie, is one of my favourite places to ski in France. My maternal grandparents settled there in 1947 to allow my grandfather to recover from tuberculosis in altitude. They built a house, got local jobs and raised their three daughters. My grandmother was a ski instructor for a while and my grandfather helped create the ski lift company. So, I guess you could say this article might be a little biased? I’ll say yes, but there are some very good reasons to ski in Les Contamines.
Why Choose les Contamines Montjoie?
Les Contamines, or Les Contas, as the locals and other fans call it, is a small village in the Haute Savoie area. Total population is around 1200 and of course increases with the ski season.
Les Contamines is a first-generation ski resort near Chamonix. Skiing in France as a leisure activity started in Megève, a world-famous and expensive resort only 20 km away. The capital of alpinism, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc is also close by, a 45 mins drive away. So it’s fair to say that Les Contamines is at the heart of all skiing and mountaineering activities.
Apart from having some of the best skiing in the Alps, Les Contamines is an alpine village, with a past and present rural life. This means there is still very much a village life, with the locals operating businesses dedicated to the ski season. We are far away from the high-rises of Tignes or Les Arcs, and it’s a more laid-back atmosphere. With its historic Baroque churches (Sainte-Trinite and Notre Dame de la Gorge), the village has a pleasant mountain feel with cosy chalets and a central village square. Whilst nightlife isn’t a huge thing in Les Contamines, there are a few bars and restaurants for the apres-ski. Overall, it’s a fantastic choice for French Alps ski holidays.
Altitude & Climate of Les Contamines
The village of Les Contamines is at 1,164m altitude and the resort is mostly above the tree line, up to 2,500m high. As far as skiing in a French ski resort, you get a hybrid experience, with large, well exposed snow fields, as well as narrower slopes within the trees… Les Contamines’ position as a “head of valley” also means snow is pretty much guaranteed during the winter season. Having visited the village pretty much every year since birth, I only remember very few occasions where the snow season was poor. Snowfalls are scarcer than a few years ago but these days, they continue to occur as early as October and continue well into March and April.
The resort also has good “snow-making” capability. Therefore, Les Contamines skiing is pretty reliable…
Mont Blanc Panorama
The biggest drawcard of Les Contamines is definitely its position facing the Mont-Blanc. Yes, the highest peak in Europe is right there in front of you. In fact, Les Contamines is so close to the Mont Blanc and its surrounding peaks, you can’t actually see it from the village. You have to go up into the resort to see the Mont-Blanc and its surrounding peaks: Mont-Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit.
On a sunny day, this is the most beautiful sight in the world… This combination of good snow and beautiful scenery is what makes Les Contamines the best skiing in France…
How to get to Les Contamines Montjoie
Access to Les Contamines is easy. Of course, it’s a mountain village and the end of a valley, so you have to get there… The closest train station is St Gervais Le Fayet, less than 15km away. If you arrive by train, there is a bus that will take you to Les Contamines, making various stops in the village. Typically, trains will come from Paris, Lyon, Annecy and Chambery.
If you are flying into the area, the closest airport is Geneva, in neighbouring Switzerland, only an hour away. This makes Les Contamines a great option if you are looking for ski resort near Geneva. There is a bus from Geneva, with a connection in Sallanches. If you are driving, expect a mountain road to the village, but not too difficult.
Accommodation in Les Contamines Montjoie
There are plenty of ski chalets to rent in Les Contamines, as well as apartments and hotels, however it gets busy during French school holidays. In terms of the best location, this depends on whether you want to be close to the village with easy access to shops and restaurants. If you prefer to be within walking distance of the ski lifts, the area of Le Lay has plenty of apartments available.
There is a free shuttle bus that operates throughout the day, so even if you don’t stay close to the ski lifts, it’s quite easy to get around.
My house is available through AirBnb for holiday rentals. It’s in a good location roughly halfway between the ski lifts and the village. The house has three bedrooms, one bathroom and a large lounge area with a fireplace. It’s ideal for a family or a small group of friends. This house was my saviour during the pandemic…
Les Contamines Ski Resort
The altitude ski resort has a mileage of 120km and 48 runs, perfectly respectable for a small village. It has expanded since I was a child, but more through the addition of runs parallel to existing ones than purely extending the domain. Over time, the biggest changes I’ve seen have been around the upgrade of ski lifts…
The breakdown of runs is as follows:
There are some 25 ski lifts (both chair lifts and drag lifts). The majority are recent 4-seat and 6-seat chair lifts and if you have to, you can easily get around on chair lifts only. The last “old-style” 3-seat chair lift at Roselette was upgraded to a 6-seat in the summer of 2020.
The ski resort of Les Contamines actually connects to the valley of Hauteluce, in the neighbouring Savoie. There are some great runs on that side, with beautiful views of the Beaufortain mountain chain.
Les Contamines is part of the broader Evasion Mont Blanc Ski Domain and you can purchase a special pass for more resorts: St Gervais, St Nicolas de Véroce, Megève and Combloux are part of this scheme, however, you would need to drive to each. A physical connection to St Nicolas de Véroce and Les Saisies has been talked about for years but hasn’t happened yet. The ski pass rates cover Les Contamines and Hauteluce.
Les Contamines is one of the best intermediate ski resorts. There are a few seriously challenging runs as well although some of them are not always open. The runs on offer for beginners and first-time skiers are more limited, although the selection has improved in the last few years. If you are learning to ski, once you have the basics, you should be able to use most of the intermediate runs (blue). My husband learned to ski in Les Contamines as an adult and very quickly moved from beginners slopes to intermediate ones.
I’d say you would need at least two full days if you wanted to cover all the runs. The variation in orientation and sunlight, depending on the season, means you can choose which runs are better for the morning or the afternoon. Also, there are no less than 14 alpine restaurants in the ski resort so you have plenty of choice for your lunch.
Les Contamines also has a nordic ski area.
Ski Lessons in Les Contamines
Les Contamines has a strong tradition of teaching how to ski. A large proportion of the instructors are locals and a good number of them do speak English. The dean of the instructors is over 80 years old and still teaching! As this is one of the best ski resorts in France for families, you can also enrol children in week-long courses.
Selecting the best ski resorts for beginners in France can be daunting but in my opinion, taking a few lessons to get you started can be incredibly helpful. Even as an experienced skier, I like to take a private lesson from time to time. It helps me manage the changes in ski technology and refine my technique.
Restaurants in Les Contamines
To survive a winter in the mountains, you need hearty food and Les Contamines has plenty of it! Local specialties most often involve melted cheese: you must try raclette and fondue when skiing in the Alps… It’s rich food but a fun experience too!
For a traditional raclette or fondue, I can recommend the Carnotzet Restaurant and La Table d’Hotes Savoie, both on the main road that runs through the village (Route de Notre Dame de la Gorge). Although not typically Savoyard, the Ty Breizh is a Breton bar on the same road and I love their crepes. It’s also a great place for a drink…
In terms of the best ski resorts for non-skiers, there is plenty to enjoy in the food department.
Activities and Events in Les Contamines
Les Contamines used to be a little sleepy, and nothing much happened apart from skiing in winter. I remember “hanging out” on the village square in the evenings with friends during school holidays… Later on, we discovered the now-mythical nightclub “La Trabla”. These days, activities for all ages are available, including outside of school holidays and there is a pretty busy events calendar throughout the year. This makes for great snow winter holidays for non-skiers too.
Here are few highlights of the main events for the 2020-2021 winter season.
What to Pack for a Ski Trip to Les Contamines
In order to plan the perfect holidays in the French Alps, there are a few basics to pack. Below is a list of things I always have with me.
|Women's Ski Jacket||Alphelia Lifaloft Ski Jacket||Helly Hansen||Buy on Amazon|
|Drift Snowboard & Ski Helmet||Polycarbonate||Wildhorn||Buy on Amazon|
|Snow Goggles||Airbrake XL||Oakley||Buy on Amazon|
|Mercury Ski Gloves||100% waterproof||Black Diamond||Buy on Amazon|
|Merino wool women's ski socks||Over the Calf||Icebreaker||Buy on Amazon|
Best Places to Ski in France
Surviving a Pandemic
French Alps Panorama
Les Contamines-Montjoie France
I can confidently say that Les Contamines is one of the best snow-sure resorts in France. It’s also a great destination for summer in the Alps. I spent many summer holidays in the Alps and it’s a perfect way to discover new mountain activities. If you do know Les Contamines already, do you agree it’s one of the best ski resorts in France? Tell me in the comments below!
Save the best ski resort in France on Pinterest!
LesterLost is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.