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Les Contamines UCPA: Don't Avoid!

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Following on from my moan at Alpine Elements here's a more positive review:

I went to the UCPA in Les Contamines for two weeks in March this season just gone. I went on a beginner's off piste course immediately followed by a beginner's ski touring course. Each week was about £750 all-in: as in everything except for travel. Scoff, kit hire, lift pass the lot. In short I had a cracking time and would recommend it to anyone: especially teenagers/uni students away on their own or in a small group for the first time.

Les Contamines is what I call a "proper town" i.e. it existed before the ski resort and has just adapted to tourism as opposed to somewhere like Tignes which is all hideous sixties concrete. It's pretty, has a nice church which smells of damp and is easyish to reach from Geneva (two reasonably cheap buses). To get there I took the train from St Anton up and over the mountains through Switzerland which was an experience in itself: rail travel through the Alps is delightful, there's no other way to put it even though it makes me sound like a maiden aunt.

The UCPA itself is on the slightly less fashionable side of the river through town and is a fairly unimpressive concrete block next to the car park. There is a bus stop at the bottom of the road which takes you to the bottom lift station nearby, as well as along the valley to the other base lift station and the nordic ski track (if that's your thing?!). It's warm, the rooms are adequate, the staff are friendly BUT it's the food that's the best. The canteen does three meals a day and there is loads of it, veggie options etc too. It's so good and one of the sous-chefs (yes, sou-chefs in a hostel!) would see me coming and practise his English by introducing the menu to me. Unbelievable: but the rest of the staff were as professional too. They have a full ski workshop downstairs and even a climbing wall if you're somehow not tired from the day. The reception staff spoke very good English, nothing was too much trouble and were also v pretty as virtually all French women seem to be. The ski instructor was a tiny bloke called Pierrot and of course was a superb skier. Nothing was too much bother for him either and he took us all over the mountain. He knew where all the best stashes were so when everywhere else was nuked during French half-term we were getting powder, if not first tracks.

The hire kit was decent, Ortovox transceivers and Rossignol skis. Not sure about the boots as I had my own.

On another note during half-term there were a whole load of French kids there: they have to sign in and out and report during the day but the general attitude was sensible rather than the UK clipboard-and-hard-hat HSE method. To be served at the bar you had to put money on a card which I assume wouldn't allow alcohol to children but then again it's France and they can behave around booze unlike the UK.

In the future I'm just going to go to the UCPA instead of a chalet: you can share rooms and in LC they were cramped but really no worse than most chalet rooms anyway.

In short: want a cheap, guided ski holiday with plenty of food and booze and aren't fussy about sharing with strangers? Go to a UCPA then!
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
I discovered UCPA this season and did Chamonix and Flaine. Both were great. I can not say how much good value is UCPA... Things vary between resorts but overall both were awesome. The higher end of the skis was way better than regular hire shops. In Chamonix, it includes the Mer de Glace trip and Aiguille du Midi which costs quite a bit of money.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Thanks for that, interesting: I'm lurking on their site at the moment and waiting for the new dates. What are "the Mer de Glace trip and Aiguille du Midi", are those day tours or something? Which course did you do? I have fourteen weeks' skiing now, most of it guided and four weeks of which was off-piste so not sure if I'm up to Chamonix yet.
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@justabod, not used them myself but they get a lot of good press on Snowheads.

I've skied Les Contamines and it's a great little area.

How was the ski touring week? I presume you just did day tours? Did you work off the lift system?
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@justabod, I've done 3 off piste and one on piste week with UCPA, all great! I've been eyeing their touring weeks, might try to fit one in next winter.

The best centres were Val Thorens and Sere Chevalier, Chamonix was ok and Val d'Isere was pretty rough - rumour has it it was sold and therefore they hadn't renovated it as planned.

But impossible to beat for value, and their summer trips look good too.
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@Layne, the weather was a bit 'end-of-season' and although we had a bluebird powder day each week we also had rain and cloud. As a result the big day tour we were supposed to do was binned but we managed two smaller ones. It was an intro course so it was more important to learn how to use the kit, transition effectively and get used to the physical requirement of skiing uphill. Worth doing along with an avi course to then get some day tours in yourself.
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
@Tom Doc, I messaged UCPA and they say it's still open: what was the rumour again? I only ask as I'm keen to go next season.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@justabod, I've done a weeks intro with ISM many many years ago. My kids are getting to an age where a bit of ski touring might be fun. And wondering if UCPA might be an option.
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justabod wrote:
Thanks for that, interesting: I'm lurking on their site at the moment and waiting for the new dates. What are "the Mer de Glace trip and Aiguille du Midi", are those day tours or something? Which course did you do? I have fourteen weeks' skiing now, most of it guided and four weeks of which was off-piste so not sure if I'm up to Chamonix yet.


They are both non-skiing attractions in Chamonix, you visit the Mer de Glace (a glacier area) taking a historical train up the mountain. Really charming. Aguille du Midi is a mountain and you take a cable car up to 3800m high. Up there you can see some historical info and have Mont Blanc as close as you can get (without flying). I did both in the my day-off (Wed). It wasn't planned really but I was glad I have done both, I was so knackered from the lessons.

You should be more than fine to Chamonix, my very first trip was to Chamonix I had great fun (and spoiled forever never finding another resort that I like so much despite the transport hassle) - I found many blues in Chamonix steeper and more challenging then reds in many resorts but that is not to say it is all very difficult. But it does have extreme stuff and very challenging piste and off-piste but you can basically choose whatever you prefer. I probably got about 8-9 weeks in total, so much less than you.

I signed for Piste Fulltime Advanced but after the assesment runs in the first day, they moved me up to Expert level - it was particularly funny cause I thought I did a poo-poo run and was moved down to intermediate but to start my group went straight off-piste and I was like 'what the heck' is happening since I never had been really offpiste. It was 50% piste 50% offpiste and the most challenging week of skiing I ever had. I nearly asked to go back to advanced since I really like piste technique but at the end, I decided to stay and ended up learning a lot (not without a lot of struggle trying to keep up with everyone else)
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 Ski the Net with snowHeads
Ski the Net with snowHeads
justabod wrote:
@Tom Doc, I messaged UCPA and they say it's still open: what was the rumour again? I only ask as I'm keen to go next season.


We heard it had been sold for development, and instead of renovating it they were going to build a new one somewhere else in the area. We were there in Jan '18 though, and it doesn't look like anything has happened yet. It is definitely overdue renovation.
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@Layne, hello mate sorry to forget to reply for so long. I'd say that competent off-piste skiing teenagers would be fine, I've done two weeks more touring since then and the UCPA course was very basic. The instructor took us up a forest path and a couple of alpine meadows as the snow was bad and the weather too. It's a string to your bow in accessing the mountains otherwise it's all bootpacking.
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