On a recent mission for my first article for Les Contamines Webzine I crossed paths with Lionel Chambel, head engineer at the SECMH ( ski lift company in Les Contamines Montjoie & Hauteluce), whose harsh but exciting job is to permanently maintain the ski lifts, prevent technical incidents and reduce break-down times to a minimum. Having very rarely been blocked on the lift system in les Contamines, I reckoned there had to be a good reason why?
The first drag lift was built in the village in 1937. Now there are 24 ski lifts in Les Contamines, including 12 drag-lifts, 8 chair-lifts and 4 cable-cars. The oldest still in use today dates back to 1976.
To prepare these facilities, a team of employees at the SECMH, headed by Lionel Chambel, have been busy throughout the year. Some say that Lionel only has two positions on his snowmobile,0 or 1! I recently had the opportunity to find out!
Our meeting was organized on the first weekend the resort opened. On my arrival, Lionel received a call on his talkie-walkie. He told me that a failure had occurred on the Nant Rouge chair-lift, installed the previous year. Lionel immediately left on his snowmobile to repair the failure… So no interview for me that day and no lunch for him!
I then put my pen, paper and laptop away and hit the slopes for a heavenly days skiing with fresh powder snow and plenty of sunshine!
Lionel Chambel, aged 44, assists the Operations Manager Jean-François Mermoud and is responsible for a team of ten permanent employees, reinforced during the season by nearly 75 ski lifts operators. After taking professional exams and working for the lift company POMA, he joined the team in Les Contamines 23 years ago. Despite the harsh and difficult conditions due to the cold in winter and the heights, Lionel remains passionate about his job.
Off-season, Lionel and his team are responsible for the maintenance of the ski lifts. Unlike many other winter sports resorts, Les Contamines has opted to maintain employment locally thus avoiding systematic subcontracting. In December they train the seasonal staff (one third new and two-thirds repeat contracts), simulate accidents and train for vertical evacuation as a last resort.
Once the resort opens, six people are on permanent standby. They are the “rapid action force” capable of intervening in a few minutes on all the lifts in the area. This team is trained to safely repair all possible mechanical, electrical or electronic failures. The day is dedicated to breakdowns and the evening, after 5pm, to eventual repairs. It is their responsibility to make sure that everything works the following morning!
Browse Franck’s remarkable series of pictures to find out more about Lionel Chambel and his team.
For Lionel, the most important thing is to respect the mountains. According to the ISO 14000 certification, everything is recycled and nothing is left on the ski area. Metal is resold, waste is sorted and a large fleet of spare parts are stocked for future use.
I hope you enjoy these facilities and I address a big thank you to all those without whom we would be unable to make the most of the ski area in Les Contamines.