- 22 Resorts
- Consistent Snow
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- Resorts open before those of many other states
- Home to Vail, Beaver Creek, Copper Mountain
Val d’Isère has something for skiers and boarders of all levels. No, really. From Olympic and World Cup runs to a wealth of fantastic off-piste opportunities to several green runs high on the mountain, this world-class resort has earned its reputation as one of France’s top ski destinations. Freestylers can also get their kicks in the famous Oakley ValPark, which like the rest of the resort, offers something for green, blue, red, and black levels. Val d'Isere is linked to neighbouring Tignes; the two resorts combine to form the Espace Killy ski area.
The base of Val d'Isère sits at 1850 metres and from there, the pistes climb up to 3488 metres, at the Pointe du Montet and the Pissaillas glacier, just below at 3450 metres. Skiers have a choice of 150 kilometres of pistes for all levels, serviced by 90 lifts.
This is the home resort of legendary skier Jean-Claude Killy, which explains the name of the linked ski area, Espace Killy. Val d'Isère is one half and Tignes makes up the other. Some of the world's best skiers leave their tracks here and the resort has hosted Olympic and World Cup downhill competitions, as well as the Alpine Ski World Championships. Val d'Isère is the only resort in recent times to hold this triple honour.
This doesn't mean that the resort is reserved for advanced skiers and world champs, though. In fact, about 55 percent of its runs are either green or blue. The resort also has five beginner zones, two of which are large "ski tranquil" areas, criss-crossed with easy runs.
Of course, advanced skiers will find all the slope they need to push their skills to the limits, thanks to legendary runs like the incredibly steep La Face, used for the men's Olympic downhill. The most challenging run, La Forêt, cuts through the trees and is ideal for mogul fans.
The resort can be divided into three areas: Bellevarde, Le Fornet, and Le Solaise, with varying difficulty levels for each.
Val d'Isère offers some of France's most difficult runs. La Face, La Forêt, 3000, Piste S, and Le Tunnel are to be conquered by high-level skiers, but not all pistes are created equal.
La Forêt, as mentioned earlier, is both steep and bumpy, so avoid it if you have tired knees. La Face is indeed one of the steeper slopes, but the piste is wide and open, so there is plenty of room for winding you way down. There is no escape route though, so once you're on it, you're on it for good.
Some black runs can be closed depending on the weather. Epaule du Charvet closes when there is too much snow, because there is a real avalanche risk. 3000 and Le Tunnel are also open sporadically and can be extremely difficult when it gets tracked out.
Val d'Isère also offers some great, challenging red runs. The OK is one of the most famous, having been used for the World Cup. It's best to hit these and other pistes in the Bellevarde area in the morning, when there are smaller crowds. You can then work your way up to the Le Fornet, where snow is nearly always excellent, and to Le Solaise, which tends to be calmer after lunchtime.
For off-pisting, the Le Fornet area offers the best jumping off points. Beneath the Cascades lift, there is an open slope that usually stays fresh for a long time, thanks to the high altitude and lower traffic levels in the area.
Groomers and Family
Val d'Isère really is a family resort and they have lots to choose from in terms of easy and intermediate runs.
Beginners will enjoy not being stuck at the bottom of the resort, as is often the case. The Bellevarde and the Solaise areas both offer gentle "ski tranquil" zones, full of green runs. Solaise is the main area of Val d'Isère and can get pretty busy quickly, but if you want to start your day here, take the Datcha lift or Madeleine Express up to the green run of the same name, at 2600 metres.
At Solaise, the Datcha lift, the Madeleine Express, and the Glacier Express all run up to a good choice of blue slopes that are easy enough for low-level skiers with a little confidence. The long Piste L runs down to Val d'Isère 1850 and can be a good way to end the day.
At Bellevarde, the "ski tranquil" area includes five green runs, including the long Verte, which runs all the way down the mountain. The Olympique lift and the Funival lead up to a slightly steep section that precedes the green runs, but you can bypass this by getting successively the La Daille, Mont Blanc, and Borsat Express lifts. From the top of the Borsat Express, you can choose between three easy runs.
Boarders from around the world come to Val d'Isère for its varied terrain, but also for the open attitude to snowboard culture. Every single run is open to boarders.
The freestyle crowd likes the Oakley ValPark, in the Bellevarde area. To get here, take the Olympique lift or the La Daille cable car.
Once here, there are modules for all levels. An enlarged beginner zone offers a variety of modules so that you can learn to do tricks safely but there is also a black zone for expert freestylers. All in all, there are 25 different modules that include walls, rails, kicks, hips, and jumps as well as an all-level boarder cross and a half pipe. The ValPark aims to make freestyle skiing and boarding accessible to everyone who wants to try it, so they take special care to offer something for all levels.
Every year, the park makes improvements based on feedback from clients and the creative spark from its team of passionate shapers. It was here that some of the world's best freestyle athletes came to train for the X-Games Europe, held in neighbouring Tignes.
Breakfast if often included in the price of the hotel, especially if you book a package deal. Many hotels even offer copious breakfast buffets complete with eggs, sausages, and cheeses since the clientele is so international.
Le Petit Danois, just behind the La Daille bus station, touts itself as the resort's number one party bar, but it's also a good place to find a full breakfast selection, including full and half English breakfasts, and even vegetarian versions, which is something pretty rare in France. Plan to spend €12.50 for the full breakfast, €8.50 for the others.
For a quicker option, you can always grab a quick café au lait and croissant or baguette and butter at one of the many resort cafés. Try La Sana, which is in the centre of the resort, just across from the ESF ski school, at the corner of rue Noël Machet and the rue du Parc des Sports.
Head to La Tête de Solaise, atop the namesake summit, for lunch with a view of the surrounding mountains. The restaurant was recently renovated in a retro mountain style and is actually three different eateries: a self-service cafeteria, a sit-down restaurant, and a pizzeria.
At the base village, a good bet is La Corniche, just behind the church. They serve a wide variety of typical French fare, which is well prepared. Specialities include several varieties of fondue as well as unique dishes like venison with red currants and seafood marmite. Main dishes run from €20-28.
La Table de l'Ours, located in the Barmes de l'Ours hotel, serves fine cuisine that has earned chef Anthony Maubert a Michelin star. The atmosphere could be described as cosy mountain chic, with a blazing fireplace, white linens, and understated refinement. Try some of the traditional mountain fare with a decidedly upscale twist, like the tartiflette enhanced with truffle-stuffed pork belly and lamb morsels. Fixed price menus range from €85€-€185 and can include up to 12 courses.
La Grande Ourse also offers fine dining, with dishes like saffron and lobster claw pasta, Sisteron lamb with stuffed vegetables, and whole roasted bass with gnocchi gratin. The restaurant goes all the way back to 1936, when it was the one of the top places in the resort to grab a sandwich and cup of hot wine. Since the 1970s, it has been serving fine French cuisine, in a warm atmosphere accentuated with time-worn wood beams and a fire that adds a touch of charm. You'll find La Grande Ourse next to La Savonnette drag lift, near the Le Brussels hotel.
The Ormelune restaurant, in the hotel of the same name, goes for a more off-beat style, with polka dot and striped chairs and flashy tableware. On the menu, you'll find quality meat dishes and pasta, as well as handful of varied salads to start. Main dishes range from €18-22.
Head back to Le Petit Danois, where you will find wraps and salads for around €10 plus burgers and pub grub for a few extra euros.
Après / Nightlife
Val d'Isère is known for its nightlife, so get après ski started at La Rosée Blanche, which is just at the foot of the La Daille. It's a quiet option, where you can sip Val's best vin chaud and watch the last skiers make their way down the mountain.
Otherwise, the M Bar at the Tsanteleina Hotel sets the mood with lounge music, champagne cocktails, and dimmed lighting. The bar also has free wifi, in case you want to take a little time to connect with loved ones back home to recount your exploits on the pistes.
To finish the night on a hot note, there's Dick's Tea Bar, which has been a staple of Val d'Isère nightlife for 30 years. It came under new management in 2010-2011 and underwent renovations. Now guests party in a cool Nordic atmosphere, bathed in blue, turquoise, and violet light. International DJs regularly rock the dance floor, so check their website for the programme.
While many resorts claim to have "something for everyone," Val d'Isère really does. From great off pisting opportunities to exciting beginner areas and a world renowned snow park, this top resort offers a variety of great skiing, eating, and partying opportunities.
In terms of skiing, the Glacier de Pissaillas is an interesting stop, as even beginner skiers can do it. Green, blue, and red pistes run along the glacier and the chance to ski so high without being a great skier makes the detour worth it.
On the slopes, you may want to check out the on-mountain restaurant La Folie Douce, though more for the lively atmosphere and a round of drinks. The food is simply over-priced for what it is. It is located at the top of the La Daille gondola lift, but often you can find it by following the music. On good weather days, the terrace turns into an open-air afternoon dance club. If you are staying at Tignes, though, just be sure to leave in time to catch the last lift back at 5 pm. Otherwise, you'll have a very long bus ride back from the bottom of the pistes.
Val d'Isère also packs its winter calendar full with high-level sporting events. Every December the First Ski Criterium offers guests two weekends of downhill ski world cup competition, one for men and the other for women.
ValPark Week, the White Battle and Altigliss, all held in March, put the spotlight on freestyle ski and boarding. During ValPark Week, around 50 expert freestylers offer guests an impressive free show. The White Battle pits three-member teams against each other in a freestyle board and ski competition at the foot of the La Face slope. The Altigliss Challenge brings students in from Europes's best ski schools to compete in giant slalom, boarder cross, big air, and parallel slalom events.
Isabelle van Stratum