Updated: Jul 9, 2018
Chamrousse is a little mountain town on the French / Swiss border not too far from the well-renowned ski resort Grenoble. It was used in the Olympics in the 70s for slalom and has some stunning alpine scenery, with the mountain smothered in thick green pine and white powder. If you're a ski fanatic and thinking "ooooh... I don't know of this place!" don't worry because I thought the same thing, and so do many others as Chamrousse is an absolute hidden gem to the French ski scene. It's a very small town with only a population of fewer than 500 people, meaning that the ques are tiny and the runs are long and less busy than you would normally expect of a larger and more popular resort like Le Plagne. There were hundreds of green and blue runs making it perfect for beginners or families too, but don't worry I my self-am pretty partial to a red or black run and I was not disappointed!
I've never been on a proper ski holiday where you just have fun, muck around and ski, even though I've been skiing and trained in slalom for most of my life. This means that I have little experience with French resorts so I cant go raving that Chamrousse is the best resort in France as I simply have nothing to compare it to. However my dad grew up in the mountains and even was a chalet host and boot boy in Chamonix in his youth, so his opinions are a little more valid than mine. Apparently, Chamrousse was a very small resort with very few pistes and runs (I THOUGHT IT WAS MASSIVE) however it wasn't a bad thing as the ques were very small, sometimes getting straight on the chairlift or strolling right up to the gondola without even waiting a second, which is amazing as some resorts have an hour or so wait.
Chamrousse has a very chilled atmosphere. The mountains have stunning views when the skies are clear and the sun is shining, which actually was quite a lot of the holiday. There were loads of young families, including some other Brits (let's face it you can spot us a mile off!) and lots of Belgian, German and of course French. There were also a lot of nomadic travellers and backpackers who mainly snowboarded from what I noticed. As soon as you entered the snow park it was all GoPros, dreadlocks and that not-so-gorgeous smell of weed, but I didn't mind that and rather enjoyed watching French hippies stoned off their dreads doing jumps and rails. Very amusing but not one for the kids!
Chamrousse's pistes are okay. I won't lie they are by no means perfect. They really aren't the best and occasionally weren't piste bashed, like at all, which was infuriating at times but made some quite good bumps and jumps you could jump over, especially if you ventured off into the tree line. The main problem for my family was that the entire resort was south facing, so in the morning it was simply pure ice, and then within a matter of minutes, it was like skiing through butter, super sticky and not so fun! This meant that if the conditions weren't the best and it was a little bit too sunny, unless you were up early hours you missed the gorgeous icy pistes you can bomb down on some slalom skis, and you definitely missed jumps you don't sink into when you land on your favourite twin tips. As soon as the sun came out you were stuck with skiing on toffee where even on red runs you were having to use your poles to push you along and get going. Don't get me wrong the pistes weren't bad, they just weren't by any means perfect or as looked after as they could have been and sticky snow is common to every south-facing resort. It may have just been because we went so late in the season and they were struggling for workers. The learner slope was amazing and where I learned to snowboard and where my dad got my little brother skiing, and the runs were absolutely beautiful, but I 100% wouldn't recommend some of the lower runs if you are an experienced skier who just wants to go fast and get some good carving in. If that sounds like you stay high up and on the red runs or use the Olympic run, be careful though and don't take kids (or adults!!) unless they can ski in parallel, are good at carving and controlling their speed and are very good at stopping. It's called an OLYMPIC run for a reason. Otherwise, you'll end up with a little one crying and throwing a tantrum, screaming that they're scared that you end up carrying down over your shoulder: skis, poles and all! God, mum is 40 I would have thought she'd know how to control her emotions by now eh?!
If you are an experienced skier or boarder, or at least very confident and not scared of steep slopes and sharp turns, I would definitely recommend getting the gondola up to Chamrousse 2000, turning right and following the ridge down because the views are absolutely phenomenal, perfect for a little Instagram shoot, especially if you go a metre or so off-piste into the powder. You can then take all red blue and black runs to the bottom of the mountain and do it again, which is great fun.
As mentioned previously, Chamrousse has a pretty decent snow park. It's big and has lots of rails, jumps, barrels, although as my friend Harvey exclaimed: "WHERES THE HALF PIPE?!" I wasn't too bothered by the snow park as I'm not exactly a park rat and prefer slalom style carving rather than jumps and rails, but I did go in the park with friends a few times (not just to have a laugh at stoners!) because I really want to get into it and learn to do a few tricks once I'm better at snowboarding. One of the things I noticed was that a few of the rails were super rusty so I avoided them like the plague as I serviced my skis just before the holiday and didn't want to destroy all the hard work, but generally the jumps were really good and there were some really high ones which I was some pretty gnarly 360s on! I have to say there were a lot of very talented people there, and some stunning skis and boards too!
For such a small resort there was a pretty decent selection of restaurants within walking distance of the apartments, however, it seemed that they were all owned by the same people as they all seemed to have the same waiters and waitresses and they just seemed to move around between them. Here are my favourites:
The White Deer was my personal favourite as I loved the decor, with lots of wood and fur. The food (mainly a selection of pizzas and Italian dishes) was actually delicious, but as mountain food often is, it was quite pricey in places depending on what you wanted.
I also liked Le Chalet, which had a little bit of everything on the menu. I had a burger and chips and when I say chips, I mean a whole mountain of them. It was crazy! My dad had a rare blue steak, which I had some of, and it was actually beautiful meat, which surprised me as I'd expected it to have been frozen and reheated.
We didn't actually get to go here in the end as some members of our party were quite fussy, but having done research before we went I really wanted to go to Restaurant Les Terrasses Uriage. It only takes a glance at the menu and any photos of the dishes to fall completely in love with the intricate French platters available to order. It's even been described on TripAdvisor as truly perfect: "Service perfect, delicate food perfect, ambience perfect." If I ever return to Chamrousse I will definitely make an effort to go there for dinner.
Chamrousse also has a darling little selection of bars you can pick from. Le Bachat is the biggest bar, nicely decorated inside with a good selection of drinks and snacks, including smoked venison sausage which I would definitely recommend to anyone visiting. The only downside with Le Bachat was the people running it. Don't get me wrong, they were polite and kind and I hold no prejudices, but they seemed to be very much a group of punk rockers and nomads who rocked up, managed to get a job there for the season and seemed to give few cares about professionalism, playing their heavy punk very loud over the sound system, with some not so PG music videos on the projector screen, which wasn't fair when there were children around. This put quite a few people we spoke to off returning and one couple said they were considering complaining. It was okay for couples or teens who just wanted a drink and game of pool, but overall Le Bachat as it didn't seem overly family friendly or chilled out, which is what we needed as a family after a long day of skiing.
The other bar is Le K-DOX which was more like the world's smallest wanna-be-club and I didn't hate it for that! It definitely had a club atmosphere, with a DJ booth, dance floor and large bar, but seemed to just serve drinks and rarely use those amenities, and it was way too small to actually serve as a club. One night there was a Cuban Party which was a laugh, but overall, it was a very normal bar which served a good selection of beers. My favourite memory of Le K-DOX was the group of very drunk Germans who were dancing on the decking outside of Le K-DOX, every time I saw them, even when they were skiing, they were completely and utterly pissed). Anyway, they were all there dancing and shouting in a mix of slurred German and English, holding drinks in their hands, cigars in their mouths and sallopettes sagging off their bums. My dad turns to my family friend Henry and says to him "Hen, I will pay you ten euro if you go and teach those Germans to floss!". For those of you who don't know what flossing is, one: where have you been so far in 2018? and two: it's a dance made famous by kids on the internet that everyone except me can seem to do. So sure enough, Hen runs out there and tries to teach them this silly little dance. They were too pissed. It was very funny. One fell over and spilt his drinks. Yes, he had more than one in his hand. While flossing.
One thing I can praise Chamrousse for is the apartments, I wasn't disappointed at all. The kitchenette was clean and had a variety of cooking utensils, the sofa bed (where I slept) was very comfortable, the TV worked (although we didn't use it) and the apartment could be sectioned off using sliding wall panels to create separate bedroom areas, which was great for a larger family especially at night. The only downsides were that there wasn't any WiFi in the apartment blocks, only a very temperamental connection in the bars and the corridors were very dark, it was quite weird and hurt your eyes as you went out the door into the snow. The ski lockers were out of use too so we kept boards, boots, poles and skis in the car and roof box as it felt like a very safe resort and we were comfortable leaving them there.
The ski and snowboard lessons were phenomenal too. Almost all the instructors spoke good English and ran both British and French ski schools for children and adults on the mountain and on the learner slopes. There were several times I helped little ones on and off the lift, reassuring them in broken French, as there were so many children learning and they needed help on the lifts. It seemed a really popular school. It wasn't too expensive so I booked a private snowboard lesson to get the grip of snowboarding and get a little better, I found the biggest challenge was using the button lift and pushing past the pain barrier as my ankles and stomach absolutely killed while boarding. Shout out to Morgan, my very attractive instructor who helped me get the grip of it so fast!
It's obvious that a lot of money was due to be pumped into the resort in the early 2000s before the recession hit, as so many things seem a little incomplete or not as good as they could have been. If someone were to put another few million investments into the resort doing up the bars and getting the pistes better, the resort really could become as big and popular as the likes of La Plagne. However, I love some of the clumsy mistakes and cut corners (like the gutter that pushes melting snow directly onto you as you leave the apartment block!) and I think that's what is what makes the resort.
As my dad so well put, Chamrousse is a resort for families, Sunday skiers and local adrenaline junkies who can drive up for a weekend at the snow park, but it isn't at all for experienced skiers or boarders who want the full-blown resort experience, parties, ques, powder and all. But for small families, especially if you have teens who want to go to the snow park or go off on their own, or youngsters who need to learn a little bit more before you take them up the mountain, Chamrousse is absolutely perfect, and it isn't too expensive either. Book now for next season to avoid disappointment!