It’s Sunday evening after an epic weekend and an apt time to be writing this post: we’ve had amazing powder, the best we’ve had all season, the sun came out today and with all the obvious slopes tracked out, I was wishing I had arranged to go with a guide off-piste.
Because while the ski area is lovely and the pistes some of the best anywhere, there is so much more out there if you get a yearning to venture off the beaten track. Les Contamines, they say, is where Chamonix guides come to ski on their day off. Presumably because it has wonderful backcountry and often fewer people.
And that is why I’m slightly in two minds about writing this: it’s nice to share what I love about this place but at the same time, it is tempting to keep it quiet so it stays peaceful and untracked. Sssh, really, it’s not that good here…
If you do go, it is always recommended to take a guide. Testimony to the (serious) mountain playground we have on our doorstep here, the Contamines guides office is one of the oldest ones in existence anywhere, established in 1850. Only Chamonix’s is older.
Today more than 20 guides and mountain leaders work for the bureau to lead you off-piste skiing, ski touring, climbing winter and summer, snowshoeing or simply hiking. Most live in the valley, and a number of new guides have joined their ranks in recent years, including two from local families: Mathias Dunand and Clément Jacquemoud.
You don’t have to be expert, just equipped with a sense of adventure. Talk to the guides: they will have plenty of ideas about where to go.
In the meantime, here’s my personal ski touring top 5 around Les Contamines… only sshh, please keep it to yourselves… 😉
1. Rochers des Enclaves
A beautiful day out in the Beaufortain and great if you’re new to ski-touring. Glorious 360˚ views and a lovely ski down past the Girotte lake and dam. For more on this tour, here’s my blog post from when I went on it last February.
2. Col de Fenêtre & Col de la Cicle
Another Contamines classic tour that starts at the top ski area (so you don’t have to climb so far), takes in one or both cols, and ends with a gentle ski through the Balme valley and down the Roman road to Notre Dame de la Gorge.
3. Lacs Jovet
If you’ve ever been to these lakes in the summer, imagine this magical Alpine wilderness under a thick blanket of sparkling snow…
4. Col des Chasseurs
A more challenging tour, with steep skiing and tricky access, which I was also lucky to be able to do, on a bluebird day last March.
5. Domes de Miage
I can never get enough of looking at the Domes from our terrace, and I can’t quite imagine being able to climb up it and ski down, but I would love to… They say it is at least as amazing as the Vallée Blanche but less well-known and less frequented because it is not lift-accessed.
The Contamines guides office operates year-round offering ski touring and freeride, snowshoeing and walking, mountaineering, rock climbing, ice-climbing, parapenting, canyoning and via ferrata, in groups or individually. For more information please see www.guides-contamines.com or stop in at the bureau next to the Tourist Office (shared with the ESF).