When you think of snowboarding in France, Meribel, Chamonix or Courchevel might come to mind. Saint Gervais was pretty unknown to me before I went but I managed to sneak in a spring snowboarding trip before the snow disappeared. Naturally I jumped at the chance to try somewhere different and I was not disappointed by Saint Gervais.
Saint Gervais, France
When I arrived in the town of Saint Gervais, I noticed that the town was considerably larger than I thought. I was just expecting a small town. Instead, I found that a lot of people lived here all year around, and it was well-established town – not just a lot of skiers in for the season. The town was started in the late 1800’s and looks like a typical spa town.
Saint Gervais lies at an altitude of about 2,700 ft., and it has several smaller towns nearby. It claims to be the third largest ski resort in France and one that also has fewer skiers. I found out that major tourist companies do not come here, so that helps to keep it less crowded than other resort areas nearby.
The town is also well-known for its natural hot springs spa, called les Thermes de Saint-Gervais les Bains. I made a mental note to remember it, thinking that it would be a good place to go after snowboarding all day. It would take out the tension and body aches I would be experiencing later (from my many falls!).
Like most ski towns, Saint Gervais offers a number of activities for people of all ages. If you want a great view and don’t mind taking to the air, you can go paragliding or ballooning. Snow sports include lots of skiing trails, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and skiing behind horses. Indoor activities include swimming and an ice skating rink. In the summer months, visitors can also go mountain biking, rafting, and climbing or hiking. There is also a casino in town.
When I got hungry, I went into town and was glad to find that there was quite a choice of restaurants, with something for every taste and budget. In peak season, I think it is probably a good idea to get a reservation ahead of time, or you may be waiting a while to get a seat but this isn’t an issue later in the season.
One restaurant I really liked was Sous Les Freddy’s. It is about halfway down the Vardasses and had a really good view from the terrace. Seeing the mountains from there was fantastic. The food was good, too. Two of the best-rated restaurants are the La Ferme de Cupelin and the Le Galeta.
As I was in France, naturally Pain au Chocolat and fresh baguettes were on the agenda. The Boulangerie du Centre in the centre of town really did not disappoint!
For more information on Saint Gervais click here.
Snowboarding Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc
Since I am a snowboarder, let me tell you about my experience on Mont Blanc. One of the advantages of going to Saint Gervais is that a Lift Pass from Evasion Mont Blanc will give you access to as many as six other ski resort areas. This includes an incredible 450km of distance in slopes. It also offers a vertical drop of more than 4500 ft. I’d recommend the Evasion pass if you’re going for a week but for a long weekend the Saint Gervais pass will be more than enough.
Snowboarders have options for freeriding or freestyle. About 70 percent of the slopes are intermediate level, and 13 percent are for advanced. More than half the slopes are good and wide, and you can easily get to some of the off-path areas. To get up the mountain, there are several ways to go, including two gondolas, 13 chairlifts, 20 drag lifts, and one tram. Skiers have access to as many as 107 ski lifts in the entire Evasion Mont Blanc ski area.
I also tried the slalom courses at Mont Joux (which was probably not the best idea). These were a little challenging and not too busy. An area for halfpipe is also there, as well as a terrain park. Heli-boarding is also available for those who wish to try something a little different. Jumps range from about the height of a table top to about 30-feet.
Snow is generally not a problem in the colder months. They have 20 cannons to help ensure that snowboarders have enough white stuff, and even more for skiers to ski on.
Getting to Saint Gervais
The nearest airport is in Geneva, which is 37 miles away from Saint-Gervais-les-Bains. You need to be aware that the airport has two sides to it – a French and a Swiss side. From the French side, you can take buses or trains to Saint Gervais. If you take a train, it will take you to Le Fayet, which is below Saint Gervais, and a mere two minutes away. From there, you simply need to take the Mont Blanc Tramway, will take you up to 7,800 feet, and will stop along the way to let you off at various trails.
I decided to rent a car instead, just to make it a little more convenient for me to get around. If you do this, you will want to be sure to get snow chains during winter for better traction. You also want to rent it from the French side of the airport. I ended up just using the car rental aggregator Auto Europe which shows all the available options from all the major rental companies in one place. I got a larger SUV that had a GPS unit in it. It also had snow tires, which I found helpful in the mountains rather than having to deal with snow chains.
Accommodation in Saint Gervais
There are a huge amount of accommodation options in and around Saint Gervais from hotels and bed & breakfasts to private rentals and Airbnbs. I opted for the quieter and more tranquil area of Le Bettex which is further up the mountain and overlooks Saint Gervais. The affordable two bedroom apartment can be found here. Ideally, you’ll need to visit the supermarket in town or eat in Saint Gervais itself as dining options are limited.