Resort Profile: Val d'Isere
3 Dec '12 at 13:27
One of the world's most famous ski resorts, Val d'Isère offers a vast skiing panorama made famous by the great French skier, Jean Claude Killy, after whom the ski area, Espace Killy, is now named. The resort has it all - a huge vertical stretching up to an altitude of year-round snow and skiing, with 90 lifts opening up seemingly endless terrain, including Olympic and annual World Cup downhills. In 2004 the resort won the rights to host the Alpine Ski World Championships, making it only the third resort in history to host all three events - and the only resort in the modern era to do so.
The resort is however, one of those that have materialised from nothing at the turn of the last century, when it was just a small hamlet at the valley head, served by a rough mule track. The farms about the area lay dormant for up to 8 months of the year because of the snow. It all changed in the early 1930s when Parisian industrialist Jacques Mouflier persuaded the local mayor to work to turn Val d'IsÃ¨re in to a ski resort. The rest, as they say, is history.
The local farmers trained as ski school instructors, a ski shop opened, the authorities brought running water and electricity to the village and six years later the first ski lift was installed. Today the resort, which then had just four hotels, can cater for over 28,000 overnight guests, staying in the resort centre or in one of the satellite accommodation complexes of Le Fornet or La Daille. Rapid development in the 1950s and 1960s led to the construction of some rather ugly concrete buildings, but in recent years the resort has worked hard to use local materials and architectural styles to make it far more attractive.
It really is a workers’ favourite for a season.
On the Piste
The Espace Killy has some great riding for all abilities. For those who are just starting out and want to build their confidence on the Val d’Isère side there is nowhere better than the rolling greens that Ski Tranquille offers. There are some great areas of blue slopes just beyond the Solaise, best accessed from Glacier Express and Madeleine Express. The Glacier itself is also a fantastic area of blues and reds and, due to the height (3488m), it boasts some of the best snow conditions in resort.
On the Bellevarde side, the O.K Orange has to be the favourite red, and one which you can really let the skis run. La Daille also offers some great tree skiing, although bear in mind it can get very icy down here. If you fancy a challenge there is no run more famous than the men’s Olympic downhill, la Face, an incredibly steep run leading into Val d’Isère 1850 - well worth doing even if it is just for the bragging rights in the pub. Arguably the hardest run in resort is Foret, a steep black through the trees, great if moguls are your thing, although bear in mind that once you get onto this run you are committed.
For those who love air time hitting the jumps there is a world renowned board/ski-park on the Bellevarde at the top of the Mont Blanc chair. This park offers something for everyone from the small green jumps to the massive blacks.
Getting off the beaten track in the Espace Killy is both easy and highly rewarding. The area has such a wide choice of off piste but can be incredibly dangerous. Safety is of paramount importance; never put your life on the line in search of that illusive perfect run- workers have died even on that perfect bluebird day. Always wear an avalanche transceiver and take a rucksack with shovel and probe, and know how to use them.
Henry’s Avalanche Talk in the Moris Pub highlights avalanche safety and how dangerous and unpredictable the elements can be.
There are too many great off-piste routes to name but here are five favorites on the Val d’Isère side (which shouldn't be tackled without a guide).
Vallée Perdue – A dramatic gulley with a cave to climb through about half way down, a very popular and well known route due to its location. Take a left off Verte, directly below the Tommeuses chair. There are numerous options to cut back on to the
Trifollet red - think about hopping on the Daille bubble after completion and celebrating with a drink at Le Folie Douce. Great tree skiing can also be found in this locality.
Tour de Charvet – A massive back country powder bowl, with a small empty chalet about halfway down offering an ideal location for a packed lunch. To get there take the Grand Pré chair go straight ahead and eventually take a left through the valley, long traverse through the valley to the Manchet Express.
Col Pers - Stunning back-country skiing with long run-out following the Isère river, with over 1250m of vertical descent, it is a phenomenal run. Take Montets T bar to top of Val d’Isère glacier and traverse far right of Roches.
Le Grand Vallon - Lower section of Col Pers. Take Fornet and then Signal and traverse right before selecting a pitch.
Super L – Short section of off-piste which is easily accessible - just watch out for the trees. Access from Germain Matis, just beyond the Datcha chair, and pick your line from anywhere along the side of the track. Exit onto Piste L.
Living in Resort
Val isn't as bad as some resorts, in that it's fairly compact and flat. If you're working for a tour operator you're always going to be fairly close to the action. It's a fair walk into town from Chatelard, but the only call that's likely to affect your social life is La Daille and even then you can walk back within 30 minutes (next to nothing with a few demis inside you!). Don’t live in Le Fornet however, as it is a 45 min walk.
There is an association called Vie Val d’Isère that gets you discounts as a seasonaire, around town, and the best value insurance. The card costs only 18€ and with it you get your carte neige- insurance for off-piste- which normally costs in the region of 50€. It also gives you reductions at many bars, ski shops, the cinema, Spa and Casino.
Bars and Clubs
Val d’Isère boasts a whole host of lively bars for all your après-ski needs. Val is reputed to have some of the best nightlife in the Alps, so check out some of the following places:
The Pacific Bar is a great bar for sport lovers with the large plasmas and many drinks offers for seasonaires. The Moris Pub is nice and big and always buzzing, this popular bar sees live music most nights of the week from various local bands – the favourite being Mullit – and offers a great atmosphere.
Le Petit Danois is a lively Scandinavian bar with hot staff and nice breakfasts. Bananas, which is set at the foot of the slopes, is a Tex Mex bar that is a great stop for some après-ski action. The Saloon Bar is good for apres-ski and late night messiness before you head over to Dicks.
Bar Alexandra, which is run by Phil the Kiwi is a friendly place to head for a beer and they also do pretty ace food. Café Face is a stylish cavern bar that offers you pretty competitive beer prices, this is certainly the place to head for an early beverage.
And of course, the famous Dicks T-bar is in Val d'Isère. The original alpine nightclub with international DJs and famous artists including Chesney Hawkes! Even provides a hangover cure in the form of an all you can eat, Full English from 9-12.30. 100% English crowd and overly priced drinks.
If you have had enough of Dicks then why not head over to The Graal? This cheesy French night club on the edge of town is sure to entertain you in one way or another.
And, last but not least is Blue Note. This is the seasonaire’s choice of bar with fabulous staff and great music.
On those occasions when your need to get away from the kitchen, you can still get good value for money about the resort with some of these.
Le Lodge - good value pizza
Le Canyon - Traditional French dishes
Billabong Cafe - American diner style
The Melting Pot - great curry night!
Perdrix Blanche - Excellent but on the pricey end
Tocard - the best way to finish a night out is with a Tocard burger- including fillings such as hash browns, this is a fantastic hangover buster joint.
There are some fantastic mountain restaurants in Val d’Isère if you have an unlimited budget, most of which have fantastic mountain views on a good day. If you are hosting your guests out there, here is a list of some of the better ones:
Folie Douce -Arguably the most famous is La Folie Douce (top of Daille bubble). Chill out on the white sofas, with views over Mont Blanc listening to the tunes pumping. Folie Duce is an expensive self service restaurant; the Plat du jour is usually the dish to go for. This place gets even better at around 4.00pm and as an excellent Apres Ski bar with live music, feel free to dance on the tables. The champagne is flowing and the only place that I have witnessed bag pipes being played along side house music, brilliant. If you are a seasonnaire I promise you will visit this place a few times in the season.
La Fruitière - Next to la Folie Douce, a much more civilized location serving similar fare to Folie Douce at twice the price can only be described as a civilized mad hatters tea party if that was ever possible. Worth visiting just to experience a great place to visit if you have something to celebrate, or if you have tips to burn!
Tête Du Solaise - A reasonably priced self service restaurant located at the top of the Solaise Express chair with some great views back into Val d’Isère 1850. Try to arrive early or late in the peak weeks to get a table and avoid the queues.
Looking for something a little cheaper is a great excuse to make the day trip over to Tignes head over to Bagus bar on the Rue de la Poste next to the Palafour chair. There is a set menu for around 12 euros for a drink and a large dish or pizza and drink. The Calzone Montonarde, a small beer and the sun terrace, looking back up at the Trolles black you have just completed makes a great combination. Le Coffee in Val Claret, just below the Tufs chair offers fast food on a budget with a really cool vibe.
People come to Val to be seen on the mountain not off it! Jean-Claude Killy remains a famous son. Damon Hill has been sighted, as has Zoe Ball-Cook, Fatboy Slim, Bono and the Edge, Gerard Depardieu, Helene Christianson, and many other luvvies. It's home of the beautiful people.
Although Val is on the large side for a ski resort, you will still want to escape on occasion. For a skiing day out, try Ste Foy. Just 30 minutes away this rustic resort has reams of off-piste potential.
Bourg St Maurice is not the most exciting town, but is large enough to provide a distraction. Towards the end of the season, consider a trip to La Rosière and over the Col du Petit St Bernard into Italy.
English Medical Centre 04 79 06 13 70
For when things go wrong! Dr Griffiths has run the English medical Centre for the last 10 years. If you have done a season in Val d’Isere before you might know him as he's the one who gives the ‘Do as I say not as I do’ health talks at the start of the season to all of the tour operator staff. It covers all aspects from what to do in an emergency in France (dial 112), to how to stay healthy and avoid a dose of something unpleasant. He is also the man to send your clients to (or go yourself, if unlucky) when injured on the mountain. The French ambulances deliver to his Surgery back door so request the English Medical Centre or end up at the French one…!
Located as far up the Tarentaise valley as you can get, Val d'Isère is consequently at least an extra hour of transfer time on top of the Three Valley resorts. Private transfers are an increasingly popular way to get up the mountain as they are well over an hour quicker than the coach. However throughout the season you will do well to beat any of the following times - Bourg 30min, Chambèry 2.5hrs, Lyon 3hrs and Geneva 3hrs. There are many new roads and a motorway in progress which will speed the journey from Geneva.
Thanks to Anne Smellie for updating the page.