In a snowy season, St Gervais is an excellent ski resort, which is rather ironic because if you stay in its centre, it doesn’t feel like a ski resort at all. As its full name suggests, St-Gervais-les-Bains is an elegant 19th century spa town with thermal baths, nice old buildings, a pretty riverside, a weekly market and a rather grand ice rink. But it also happens to have a cable car and a rack-and-pinion railway (a very St Gervais kind of ski lift) to give its guests access to two different ski areas.
The Evasion Mont Blanc or “EMB” ski area is to the South West of the town but can be reached from its centre via the cable car that whisks you up the mountain to Le Bettex, a ski-in, ski-out suburb. Beyond are the ski slopes coming down from Mont d’Arbois, Mont Joux and Mont Joly. Cross the ridge, and you can ski down to Combloux and Megeve. Alternatively keep heading southwards along its flanks and you will eventually reach St Nicholas de Veroce, and then, via a short bus ride, Les Contamines. In total, there are more than 200 runs and over 100 lifts, making this one of the largest ski areas in France. Most of it is oriented towards beginners and less confident intermediates, but there are some off-piste challenges for experts.
But that’s not all, because St Gervais residents can also head out of town eastwards on the old rack-and-pinion railway, called the Mont Blanc Tramway, which goes up the mountain to Prarion, the top of the Les Houches ski area in the Chamonix valley. There is 55kms of piste skiing here, separated into 27 runs. Most are gentle blues and reds meandering through the trees, but the black ‘La Verte des Houches’ is used for World Cup races and is more testing. Experts in good snow conditions with a guide can also ski off-piste back to St Gervais from Prarion, although the more usual way to return is via the tramway.
None of this is covered by the EMB ski pass, however. Instead you have to buy either a local Les Houches pass for the day, or the pricey Mont Blanc Unlimited (MBU) pass which covers all the Evasion Mont Blanc ski area and the Les Houches ski area, plus the rest of Chamonix, and even Courmayeur and Verbier as well – a truly mind-boggling amount of skiing.
Regardless of how much skiing you do, St Gervais makes a very pleasant base. It has a wide variety of restaurants and accommodation to suit most budgets. In general prices are lower than they are in either Megeve or Chamonix. And St Gervais is easy to get to: it’s only about an hour away from Geneva.
There is, however, a serious downside to skiing in St Gervais. There are few slopes above 2000m in the Evasion Mont Blanc ski area, and none at all in Les Houches. So snow reliability can be a problem.
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St Gervais Pros & Cons
+ Pleasant spa town
+ Access to the large Evasion Mont Blanc ski area
+ Additional link to Les Houches’ treelined runs
+ Good value accommodation
+ Easy to get to – good for weekends
+ Good base for exploring all the Mont Blanc Unlimited resorts.
– Low altitude / not snowsure
– Not enough steep runs for experts
– The EMB pass does not cover the Mont Blanc Tramway/ Les Houches ski area.