Chamrousse is not a resort name you’ll necessarily have heard of before. Surrounded as it is by larger, more famous neighbours, this little station du ski often gets overlooked – especially by holidaying Brits.
With the locals however, it’s a different story. Chamrousse attracts a dedicated crowd who make the 45 minute journey up from Grenoble several times a week. Its proximity to the city makes Chamrousse the perfect place to ride if you fancy combining your snowboarding or skiing trip with a city break, and there’s plenty in Grenoble itself that make the town worth exploring.
Staying in a bigger city is also a great way to do a trip if you’re on a budget. Food and drink are nearly always cheaper down the mountain and websites like Air BnB mean that accommodation is a snip compared to what you’d usually pay in a ski resort.
If you’re after a shred experience that’s a little bit different, or a little more authentically French, you’d do well to take a closer look at this hidden gem.
With just 90 kilometres of pistes, Chamrousse is never going be able to compete with France’s super-resorts – the Portes du Soleils, Paradiskis or Trois Vallées of this world.
However the pistes it does have are well-designed and impressively varied, with enough to keep intermediate-to-advanced snowboarders and skiers entertained for a week.
If it’s long, leg-burning descents you’re after, “start with the Olympic downhill – either the men’s or the women’s – from the top of Casserousse,” says Bruno Rivoire, a French former pro (and director of Harakiri Productions) who’s lived in Grenoble for years and rides Chamrousse regularly.
The run is named for the 1968 winter games, which were held in Grenoble.
The pistes are well-designed and impressively varied
Nothing is super steep in Chamrousse, but “the start of the Olympic downhill is pretty rad,” according to Bruno. His favourite though is the run “underneath the telecabine de la croix. It used to be a chairlift and the terrain underneath is really cool with a lot of jumps and side hits in the middle of an open forest.”
For intermediates there are some cool runs – and nice bits of off piste – around the telesiege des amoureux (“the lover’s chairlift) while beginners will find some easy greens and blues to learn on around the Roche Beranger area.
Officially Chamrousse has three separate parks, but in reality they’re just three sub-sections of the one big freestyle area, which you’ll find between the Berangere and Bachat Bouloud chairlifts.
However like many small resorts, Chamrousse takes pride in its park and the shapers are impressively creative.
The features here are fun-sized rather than monster booters. According to Bruno, the park gets “a 9 out of 10 for fun, but probably more like a 5 out of 10 for pro stuff.” Alternatively there’s the “shred line,” says Bruno “with tons of rails, bonks, hips, corners and a bowl.”
It’s the more unusual features that make Chamrousse’s park special and if you visit around the time of the Intercrew event, you’ll get to ride one of the most creative park setups in the Alps. The shapers always save their best ideas for this annual get together.
Previous seasons have seen “strange evolutive” features – massive skate-like bowls, rails between kickers and (according to Bruno) “Victor de le Rue doing switch backside rodeo 720s dressed as Pikachu.”
Chamrousse may not be massive, but its lifts offer access to a decent amount of challenging off-piste terrain. The weekend warrior crowd up from Grenoble don’t tend to venture too far off piste either, so you won’t have to fight like Chamonix to get fresh tracks.
The whole of Chamrousse is littered with lines through the widely-spaced trees that are amazing fun with a bit of fresh on them
“Again the run under the gondola is great when it’s snowing,” says Bruno. The trees mean you can see what you’re doing and the side hits turn it into a powdery playground.
In fact the whole of Chamrousse is littered with lines through the widely-spaced trees that are amazing fun with a bit of fresh on them. Best of all, you can spot a lot of the best bits off the lift as you go up.
If you want open powder fields, Bruno’s tip is the “croissant face, the south face, of the Casserousse.” There are also a number of couloirs off the “north face of the Casserousse. “The couloir de pisteurs is steep but a very safe couloir,” says Bruno.
Up on the mountain, the best place to refuel is the restaurant at the peak of the resort, if only for the stunning views you get over Grenoble to the Massifs du Chartreuse and Vercours beyond.
You’ll quite often see pedestrians making the trip up the telecabine de la croix just to enjoy the view with a coffee or a vin chaud.
Each of the base stations are home to a handful of restaurants serving the usual French alpine fare, and there are Panini and sandwich places too if you just fancy a quick snack.
Unsurprisingly, the quality and variety of food on offer are far superior down in Grenoble. There are standard tourist trap restaurants in the Place de Grenette which are best avoided.
Head round the corner to the l’Epecurien in the Place aux Herbes if it’s traditional French food you want. There’s an excellent Italian place called Ciao a Te on Rue de la Paix in the centre of town and there are some nice brasseries around the Jardin des Plantes , including l’Etage.
If its sandwiches or kebabs you want, Batman on Boulevard Gambetta, just down from the central Place Victor Hugo is amazing. So good in fact that you don’t even have to be drunk to enjoy it.
If you do want a few drinks, there are a plethora of options. The Bukana Pub attracts an international student-y crowd, as does the Couche Tard on Place Aux Herbes. The pick of the bars though has to be Freres BerThom on Place Notre Dame. Its friendly beer cellar atmosphere and extensive selection of strong Belgian and international beers are second to none.
For music and dancing the night away, head to l’Amperage on Cours Berriat, a warehouse like space where you can catch everything from Senegalese bands to drum n bass nights. It’s a tram ride away from the town centre, but its well worth it.
PLACES TO STAY
If you want to stay in the resort itself, your best off booking through the office de tourisme (chamrousse.com/accommodation) which will offer you a whole range of options, from self-catered flats and chalets to bed and breakfasts and full service hotels.
Our recommendation though would be to rent yourself a room, or better still, a whole apartment, down in Grenoble via Air BnB or a similar service. The centre is full of charming French buildings and has plenty of options.
“It’s worth looking around the university quarters of Gieres and Saint Martin d’Heres”
It’s also worth looking around the university quarters, Gieres and Saint Martin d’Heres. They’re on the right side of the city for Chamrousse, but they’re also an easy tram ride away from the centre.
You won’t even need to rent a car – the number 6010 Transisere Bus runs from the city up to Chamrousse every hour or so, making pick-ups at various points (including the University Quarter) as it goes. It takes just over an hour to get there costing €4.60 each way. Check transiere.fr for the timetable.
Chamrousse is just 75 minutes drive from Grenoble Airport. British Airways flies to Grenoble twice a week from London Gatwick, with fares starting from just £45 pp each way, based on a return fare.