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Les Contamines Trip Report Christmas 2012

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
With the missus having probs getting the time off work for Feb half term plus of course the expense and busyness we've settled in to a week at Christmas, week at Easter routine. I started doing DIY driver and self catered apartment trips before I met my wife and had kids but we've continued to do so since and this trip was no different. One thing we did do last trip and this one is to seek out smaller French resorts rather than the larger ones. The kids currently 7 and 5 are of an age where circa 100k piste will suffice. And it's nice to get to these places and see how they fair. After much research and pondering we ended up going to Les Contamines for this trip. The apartment was initially booked through the local tourist office. Your bog standard ~27m2 bunk beds and sofa bed French "shoebox". We were told to call a lady a few days before regarding key collection. I am sure I could have got by but it's always handy that my missus speaks decent French. The apartment was 422 Euros + local tourist tax. Deposit was 200 Euros, paid in cash, which is a reasonable amount compared to some. What made it a better value was the fact there was a swimming pool and underground parking included.

The trip started in strange fashion. We drove the whole way from Milton Keynes to the Folkestone Eurotunnel terminal without so much as a reduced speed limit. We did start out a bit later than normal (7pm) and the weather was kind but even so the two hour journey time was pretty impressive. Unfortunately but not expectedly there was no chance of a bump up and we were turned away for being more than 2 hours early. We had to retreat to the delights of Folkestone Services, where everything shut down at 10. Not that we wanted much apart from a cup of tea, we had some food for the journey. Anyhow, after a dull a couple of hours, the loading, tunnel trip and drive down to Les Contamines went uneventfully. We were in the vicinity somewhere around 9.30 in the morning. The Intermarche on the approach to St Gervais (tipped by a fellow Snowhead) was ideally placed on route. So we spent an hour in there stocking up on essentials such as meat and red wine! We were in resort about midday I reckon. All roads clear apart from the wee cul-de-sac where our apartment building was.

Apartment was nicely situated (as planned) about five minutes walk to the gondola up the mountain and the local shops. But also at the end of a short cul-de-sac and next to a stream. We were staying in Hameux de Lay which is a little offshoot of the main town of Les Contamines. We don't go out to eat, drink or shop so for us we went for the convenience of a walk to the lift, rather than the being in the main town - which looked pleasant though and is only a short hop on the navette. Our apartment was ground floor. Very easy to unload and load as there is a parking area next to the front door. The local housekeeper was a typical French housewife rattling on about every little thing in the apartment. But fortunately for me it's only the wife that had to listen Happy We just squeezed into the underground parking with our roofbox and the housekeepers husband helpfully pointed to a space were we wouldn't get caught out by the various pipes and overhangs! Very nice man. There was no wifi, free or payed for, available from the apartment, hence no live reports to Snowheads. The weather was closing in so we were happy to chill and unpack. The kids went out for a bit of a play in the snow and then we went and got lift passes. Family ticket for 6 days was 577 Euros (£468). When I looked it up a little before I thought the deal was just above 400. Maybe looking at an old price list somewhere. Looking now it shows it's just a 10% discount on the normal price that it would have been for 2 adults, 2 kids.

As ever the gang was a bit slow out on day 1. I try and force the issue but wife and kids are still a bit groggy from the pre-trip packing, excitement and the journey. But it wasn't long before we were in the upper regions of the ski area and having a good sample of what was on offer. The 7yo had some "new" second hand boots but apart from that there no hardware changes so everybody was soon "back on the bike" and in the swing of things. We did a good sampling of what the area had to offer and it was promising. The temperatures though were on the rise and any off piste adventure was off the cards at this early juncture. One big point of discussion when discussing the place here on Snowheads was the run down. Effectively from Etape at 1470 there is a single "track" down the mountain. It's graded red but some people warned off it's unpleasantness and suggested a download in the gondola was the order of the day. Now, let's put aside the logic of the why and just say that some of us have a bit of dislike of a sit in a gondola being the last move of the day. So it was with interest we made our way down the first day. I have to say I found the run no problem whatsoever.... aside from the sheer number of bloody people! It is snowcannoned and there is nothing in terms of narrowness or drop offs that would perturb me but at the end of the day all skiers that shun the idea of downloading are funnelled into this one fairly narrow piste down. Anyhow we did it each day without any major scrapes. I did have to "hurdle" a fallen body one day though and didn't quite make it!! Thankfully no injuries, we had a quick chinwag and wished each other well.

Second day we had some drag lift issues. Our daughter, aged 5 got lifted off the ground twice. Once, and most scarily on Grevettaz. We'd sort of accidently drifted on to the run going down to the base of the lift. Half way up there is 55 degree section. We had a look at it and went eek. Unfortunately there was no other lift to take. The base of the lift is a dead end. The kids have done plenty of drags but this was just a really don't want to fall off look to this one. So we gave them a pep talk and off we went. My son went first with me following, then daugher, then mum. My son all but made it but was distracted by someone else falling off and came off himself. Fortunately he was just on to the crest and so didn't slide down. However, basically my daughter doesn't weigh enough and got hoisted up in the air as the hill steepened. Being a trooper she tried desperately to hold on for a few metres, this only giving further for her to slide. Mum behind unfortunately had had a slight delay getting on and so there was a bigger gap than ideal. But she didn't manage to get off herself and block the little ones path. It was quite scary for all concerned but thankfully she was fine. Me and the lad sideslipped back down and we all went back further and linked up with the piste and back to the base of the lift. My wife had a conversation with the lift attendant basically saying she (our daughter) couldn't get up by herself. The liftee wouldn't allow her to ride on mums knee and do a duo, so called for a snowmobile. The three of us had to go back up the drag and the little one got a thrilling ride with a hunky pisteur. Apparently this is not an uncommon occurence. Looking at the piste map there are warning triangles noted against 5 drags in total in the ski area. However, even then later in the day we went on one that didn't have that warning (Plan on the Hautelace sector) and she got strung up on that one aswell. That section wasn't so steep or icy though and so no slide. Anyway, we vowed to give all drags a miss after that. The major restriction that places on you would be access to the Veleray peak via the drag of the same name but that was shut the whole time we were there.

Third day (Christmas Day) we split into pairs. Me with son in the morning, mum with daughter and then switching over after an al fresco lunch. It was warm, a couple of degrees above freezing even at altitude. It was just a futher day of mainly piste exploration with an eye for what might be doable if an when precipitation occured. It rained in the evening at village level so it augured well as I knew temps were due to fall a bit from the weather report posted at the gondola. Sure enough day 4 was just a superb powder day. We skied together as a group and just had a blast all day. Slightly surprisingly we found the Hautelace sector provided some excellent medium gradient, powder fields between the piste. A lot of it untracked. The whole day was just great and we kept going until the lifts shut.

Day 5 it was snowing in the village to begin with turning fairly soon to rain. The freeze level was forecast to settle at 1400m. Above 1800m it was a complete white out. As ever we like to force ourselves out in these conditions but particularly with two small children in tow it was difficult to find much rythmn and really get skiing. Nonetheless it was fun at times and a good character building stuff at others. After going up Nant Rouge once and skiing down the Coins to return up on the Tierces lift we skied over into the Hautlace sector and down Plans. We decided we head all the way down to Belleville, which is through the trees at the bottom and generally not a bad gig. There is a small "hut" with toilet which I am not sure whether it's an official picnic or not but certainly there is a bench and a table. We were all pretty wet and our gloves especially couldn't cope. My wife was literally ringing water out of hers. Getting our jackets and gloves back on to go out again was not pleasant. Worst still after getting the cable back up and getting straight onto the Col chair the bloody thing stopped for about 10 minutes halfway up. As there were few skiers around it must have been a mechanical problem. We were feeling really crap by now and visibility when we got off and the wind in her faces made warming up with some skiing quite difficult. We bailed out a bit earlier than normal. Talking of mechanical problems we did seem to have several hitches during the week, easily more than I've experienced anywhere else. Maybe we just got unlucky that week but still worth noting. It's not the most modern or slick ski are from that point of view.

Anyway onto day 6 (Friday) the weather was much more pleasant. A bit cold if I recall but again some decent powder snow to be had. Again Hautelace was favoured. Our daughter suffered a revisit of her fever that she'd had back home, probably as a result of yesterdays inclement weather and so in the afternoon she skied a bit with mum and bailed out. Meanwhile me and my son skied first off piste at the back of the Signal top station, which was really good fun, with some deep troughs of snow to plunge into and then up Tierces a couple of times skiing largely directly underneath back down. It was heavily skied out by now but we had some really fun. Quite steep at the top but lots of cut up powder, followed by some jumps in the halfpipe and the racing down the shallower lower slopes finding little risers to get some air. We kept going to the final lift. Great day.

Our daughter was still feeling a bit crappy even after an early finish, a nice hot shower and some good nosh so we made the decision to not ski on the Saturday (day 7). It was disappointing because I think it would have been a half decent day. But as we had a long drive after if we did ski we couldn't take the risk of turning a minor illness into something more serious. The up side to this was it made packing up and bailing out a fair bit easier and stress free than normal. Saturday we drove to my in-laws in southern Germany for a few days including new year celebrations. We then headed back up via Heidelburg for a days sightseeing, through Luxembourg and Belgium. We stayed just inside the Belgium border at an excellently placed Best Western Hotel Arlux, Rue de Lorraine, Arlon. Restaurant quite good, rooms standard and able to book for 4 which is good. We then visited Dinant, which I would not recommend, on the way back to the tunnel and home.

Looking on reflection in detail at the ski area of Les Contamines I would say it's an area more experienced skiers would get more out of. There is plenty of challenging piste skiing and plenty of accessible off piste, aswell as the aforementioned steep drag lifts to encounter. You can split the area into the Contamines side and Hauteluce side over the ridge straight ahead as you are heading up into the main bowl of the Contamines side. There is a another small "bowl" of skiing one the Contamines side off to the left served by a drag and a chair lift. The Contamines side has the stiffer skiing although Hauteluce provides a nice playground for less steep off piste adventures. That is perhaps with the exception of skirting round to the far left as you are looking down into the Hauteluce sector. We didn't ski there but I saw some folks out that way later in the week. Whilst the off piste opportunities are fairly plentiful I didn't get the impression there were any major routes away from the lift served area. But maybe that is pure ignorance on my part. Size wise it's a decent size "small" resort. If you get around at a decent lick you are going to be skiing many of the same runs daily. Perhaps with just variations on a theme. In my middle years ahem and with skiing with my young children, I've started to enjoy the advantages of familiarity so it's not an issue for me. Certainly Les Contamines holds better prospects for a return visit than La Norma where we went last Easter. Not that I didn't enjoy La Norma, you can read my trip report on here. It's just that Les Contamines has a bit more size and scope. It's a shame Veleray was closed all week as I suspect that opens up some nice off piste but maybe next time.

Would I recommend Les Contamines to others. For sure if you want to a resort of this size and you need something fairly challenging it would work well for you. There are better places to be in bad weather, the lift system is a bit glitchy and the run back to town will force many to download via the lift. But eh, if that wasn't the case it would probably be unreasonably popular.

Here are the pics:

A couple of views of the other side of the valley and Mont Blanc







Some nice powder skiing in the Hauteluce sector:










Do the hokey cokey:




Here's what it looks like after a big thaw and refreeze!!:




Coming up the Signal cable car and looking back down towards the Etape mid-station and Les Contamines




The little darlings:




Touch your lips:



The early morning stretching routine:



Dinner for one:



The little ones in front of the Hauteluce sector and valley:



View of the Hauteluce runs from the top of Aiguille Croche the high point of Les Contamines at 2487m



Lazy skier:



Why do I always look like a tramp whatever I wear:
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Nice report, Layne. Yes, if you have it to yourself, the red run down to base is no problem. wink

Shame the Veleray sector was closed, but not surprising, especially so early in the season. It's not uncommon - the runs are steep and the aspect means the snow tends not to stick around. Sympathies for your daughter, what with being lifted off her feet on the drags and not feeling too good - she does sound like a little trooper. You haven't mentioned lift queues. Does that mean there weren't any worth mentioning?
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A very interesting report Layne. My lot loved Les Contamines but were older than your two when we first went there. Its really good to have the hands up about drag lifts and youngsters being lifted off the ground, I remember a few such incidents with mine!
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Quote:
Shame the Veleray sector was closed, but not surprising, especially so early in the season.

Yep, no surprise and we would have made little use of it on this trip. But I bet it opens up some nice terrain later on for those that can handle a stiff drag Smile

Quote:
You haven't mentioned lift queues. Does that mean there weren't any worth mentioning?

A little at Col, Tierces and Roselette. Though the lift folks try to get people to fill the seats. One contributing reason I suspect is people avoiding the drag lifts. The breakdowns caused a few glitches also. But I wouldn't say lift queues were significant.

CaravanSkier, hopefully it came across that we did like it a lot despite the small number of downsides Very Happy
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Quote:

But I bet it opens up some nice terrain later on for those that can handle a stiff drag

yes it does, the best lift-served in the area for advanced skiers.
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So belatedly here is the "official" video of the trip. It's really a friends and family video but hopefully quite entertaining and fun for any idle passers by. If you like rock music you should like the tunes. If nothing else it may give you a glimpse of what Les Contamines has to offer. Also you can see the variety of weather that we encountered.


http://youtube.com/v/wGkVvAhkC1Q
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Layne, a great souvenir of your holiday - good to see LC as I haven't made it over there this season. The video stopped at around 8.18 and wouldn't go again.

I love the little red girlie in the snow, waving. Looks like you all had a ball. snowHead
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pam w, yes it's great to have the some of the memories on film. And I am glad we went to Les Contamines. It has a lot going for it and I hope to get back there one day. Not quite sure why the video stopped as I've played it through on youtube myself OK. Returning to one of our old haunts, Les Coched in Paradiski, the coming week. Let's up we have a similar sort of week as this trip.
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Layne, A great little report there Smile As a future owner of a place in LC, I am pleased your report saw LC in a positive light... Having kept a close eye on things in LC for most of the season, the Veleray sector has been pretty much closed full stop. I believe it is very avalanche prone, and given the constant snow falls this season, and high winds, it is understandable...

God knows how they ever plan to put a connection to Megeve/SG in over that ridge...(if it ever happens that is) Shocked

I agree that the run down is a must do as I too dislike the last run of the day ending in a gondola down... It really isn't too bad, just as you say, busy... The only issue is ensuring everyone goes straight on and not doubling back to the the gorge, as my friend did, and ended up having to walk all the way up to the main gondola, via the road Very Happy

Anyway... Really pleased you loved LC, and hope you make it back there... If you do... Give me a shout Wink
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AlpineAddict, I suspect that that link, and the praz sur Arly/Megeve link, won't happen. But from the top of the Veleray lift you do look straight down into Megeve - looks physically feasible. When there's not too much snow for Veleray there is sometimes too little - was once there with my son. He opted to do the Veleray sector and I took a different, easier, route to a pre-arranged rendezvous. when I got there I had to wait some time for him as he'd had to walk the last half mile or so on muddy grass. Laughing

There's a new lift (Bellastat) being built in Les Saisies this summer - I am finding it difficult to envisage just where it will be, but it seems to be heading in the LC direction. But I have read nothing anywhere about a potential link. A link to Megeve has been discussed for many, many, years but the valley between Praz sur arly and Megeve (Combe de Véry) has a high ecological classification which will probably (and should probably) prevent the building of lifts across it.
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