Part of the gigantic Espace Killy ski area that also includes Tignes, Val d’Isere is one of the most expansive and impressive stops on the World Cup as far as ski terrain goes. Hosting the men’s giant slalom and slalom Dec. 14 and 15 and women’s downhill Dec. 21 and giant slalom Dec. 22, you’re guaranteed great turns of your own here and as one might expect in France, exquisite eats around every corner.
Lying in France’s southeastern Savoie Rhone-Alpes region just a snowball’s throw away from Italy, Espace Killy (named after the region’s most successful ski racer, Jean-Claude Killy), is home to a sprawling 300 kilometers of slopes—including two glaciers—served by 90 lifts.
Most of the terrain is well above tree line and although there are beginner and intermediate runs, much of Val d’Isere is notoriously steep. Plus, the region gets a significant amount of sun and blue skies, so if you dare to venture down one of craggy chutes on a clear powder day, you can’t help but feel you are starring in a high elevation ski video.
What’s more, the village, in spite of dating back nearly 400 years, is popping with dance clubs and après ski bars, so there’s no reason to feel like anything less than a hero.
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Val d’Isere’s Bellevarde slope is one of the longest and most technical on the men’s giant slalom tour, plummeting down the face next to Val D’s Olympique gondola that originates in the resort’s main village hub, making for a massive crowd and exciting spectacle. It also helps that the Val D races are free for spectators, meaning that nearly the entire resort makes a point to stop and watch, and the crowd is thick with colorful costumes and crazy hats.
Although one wouldn’t immediately peg the French as avid ski racing fans, given that Val d’Isere hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1992 and has been hosting World Cups since 1968, there is an unmistakable pride permeating the festivities. Ted Ligety and Austrian Marcel Hirscher have traded off dominance of the GS course the last couple years while France’s own Alexis Pinturault is the defending slalom champ.
The women’s races take place down the road in the village of La Daille—accessible by ski trails or funicular from the top of the Bellevarde, or simply by turning off the main road about two miles before you reach Val d’Isere. Lindsey Vonn has won a whopping seven races in Val d’Isere—two at the harrowing 2009 World Championships and five on the La Daille course. Because the region is abundant with cheese farms, one of her victories brought her the grand prize of a milk cow, which typically—along with the farmer who cares for it—can be found among the ringing bells in the finish area. The Dec. 22 giant slalom will be a true free-for-all, since Val D—a mainstay speed venue for the ladies—hasn’t hosted a women’s World Cup GS since 2002.