On Friday 20th December 2013 at 9:00am, I had an appointment with Olivier Béguin, the director of the Ski School in Les Contamines. Olivier taught my daughters how to ski. Now my grandchildren are taking lessons! All six of them are excellent skiers and train to compete. Their idols: the local champions here in Les Contamines!
Our first impression of Les Contamines was through the ESF before discovering the simple charm of the local residents.
It was snowing today but tomorrow the forecast is good. The Telemark World Cup promises to be a great success.
What are the origins of the local ski school?
The ski lifts in Les Contamines have not always existed! Gaston Chevallier created the first drag lift, the téléski des Loyers, in 1937. And so the adventure began!
At the beginning there were four schools: the Ski Club Alpin Parisien (SCAP), the Club Alpin Français (CAF) and two local schools (one run by Placide Mollard, the other by Jean Ronchail). The two local schools then merged.
Between 1946 and 1966 several different local men headed the ski school: Jean Ronchail,
Robert Simon, Jean Bochatey, Régis Rey and Pierre Mermoud. In 1972 Bernard Chevallier was elected as Director. He also became president of the Ski Instructors Union and President of the French Ski Federation.
These surnames are well known in Les Contamines, families still present and active in the village today.
I found Olivier on the ESF premises.
A few words about your career:
I’m originally from the Chablais region and have worked as a professional mountain guide and ski instructor for the past 40 years. Aspirant guide in 1972, I began my first season as a mountain guide in 1973.
In 1985 I succeeded Bernard Chevalier at the head of the ESF in Les Contamines. I also became President of the Val Montjoie Mountain Guides Company.
Currently Director of the Ski School, I also chair the Bureau des Guides in Les Contamines.
My profession as a mountain guide takes me around the world, from South America to Morocco.
How many ski instructors are there at the ESF in Les Contamines?
There are forty permanent instructors and eighty in season including a number of trainees. Many of them have two professions. Some are also professional mountain guides, others are carpenters, electricians, farmers, businessmen or engineers etc.
What is the particularity of the ESF in Les Contamines?
Most of the ESF instructors reside year-round in Les Contamines or the Val Montjoie, unlike the
instructors in the Tarentaise resorts who often reside far from resort.
In France there are 250 ESF French Ski Schools and a total of 17,000 instructors but the ESF in Les Contamines is unique.
Olivier, can you run through a typical working day in high season?
Admin in the morning followed by interpersonal relations with National Education and local
The François Bonlieu stadium was inaugurated in March 2011 during the 31st edition of the Etoile d’Or, an important event that took place in Les Contamines.
At l’Etape, Damien Chatelard, Technical Director of the ESF, is responsible for organizing the lessons. He assigns the lessons and manages the daily rota after which he prepares the stadium and sets up the slalom course before opening the race of the day.
What are the different disciplines taught at the ESF in Les Contamines?
We teach all level, from infants in the snow garden up to race preparation. The disciplines are as follows: Downhill, Snowboard, Free Ride, Telemark, Ski Touring and all Nordic
The ESF in les Contamines is always present on the major events that take place in resort: French Championships, World Cup events etc.
What happens off-season?
One must prepare for the next season! This essentially involves administrative work and numerous meetings.
After chatting for an hour and a half, someone came to get Olivier. There was a delivery problem.
Just before leaving, he showed me the plans of a superb building, a new project for the extension of the ESF offices at L’Etape.
I return each year to the Contamines and have done so for the past 40 years.
Let yourself be guided by an ESF instructor, on or off piste!
Open your eyes wide and like me you’ll be overwhelmed by the beauty of the site.
One thing’s for sure…….you’ll be back!