News from the snow
Isola 2000 France
One of the most southerly resorts in Europe and certainly in France, Isola was established in 1971 by English investors. Located on the Italian border, at the edge of the Mercantour Park, most of the original station is one long snaking building, making it possible to access most accommodation, shops, eateries and other facilities without going outside. The name Isola means both 'island' "sloping land" in two language derivations, whilst 2000 is the usually snowsure height in metres at this latitude. Isola also benefits from Mediterranean climate and a relaxed Italian attitude to life. The resort is a popular weekend destination for residents of the Cote d'Azur who fill the narrow, winding roads up on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings and back on Sunday evenings - best avoided if possible. The Chastillon plateau where Isola is located was a key strategic point in World War II and there are many military remains lying under the snow there today. The modern border which put Isola on the French side was established at the end of the war. An Englishman P Boumphrey had the idea of establishing the ski resort there in the late 1960s as many other third generation French ski stations were being built. He got the support of the local community, particularly the area's mayor who was looking for ways to stop the exodus of local people with the declining availability of work on the land.
Isola claims to have a good snow and sunshine record but if so they're not helped by a depressingly ugly concrete shopping mall/accommodation block as its centre piece. The resort has built more pleasant developments in recent years and endeavoured to improve the original building, linking it all together with a funicular lift.
Beginners benefit from an excellent gentle plateau that stretches for almost five kilometres (three miles) alongside the main resort complex. Both sunshine and snowfall are guaranteed by the resort, which has held the French snowfall record on several occasions. Due to the high altitude, most of the terrain is above the treeline and on sunny slopes.
The main route up is via the gondola to Tete de Pelevos directly above the resort. This naturally tends to be the busiest. Some of the toughest runs including black pistes in the Mene and St Sauveur areas are usually quieter. Some of the best intermediate skiing in the Genisserie sector is accessed by one of two high speed quads at the resort.
For the most advanced skiers and boarders, of-piste skiing is offered from February by the ski school. Although heli-skiing isn't possible in France, the proximity to Italy means it is also possible to heliski, accessings slopes with at least 1400m verticals, over there with the ski school and its guide-instructors right through into May when conditions are good.
Twice a week, during the French school holidays night skiing is organised on the Belvédère slope, free of charge.
For children aged between four and six, the Pious-Pious offers special ski school classes. Half day and full day sessions are available.
For older children The Country Kids welcomes those aged between six and 12 during the winter school holidays. They will take part in organized activities such as manual work, games and for the bravest ones the traditional bivouac which takes place on Friday nights at the Grizzly chalet (guaranteed cheese fondue).
Slopeside Le Cow Club is famous for its pizza and its mountain fayre, including warm tarts. The Vieux Chalet, up on the mountain, also serves pizza but has signature dishes including raclette and local Camembert based specialities served in the evening.
For boarders the Back to Back Club has its own substantial centre, located under the medical centre, with sports room, table tennis table, table football, internet access, library and video games.
The two night clubs are La Tanière and Cuba Loca.
Isola has a special place in French snowboarding as the country's first snowboard club, the Back to Back Club, was established here. Affiliated to the AFS (French Snowboard Association), officially recognized by the ministry of Youth and Sports, the Back to Back Club offers a special Snowboard Passport which gives both slope insurance and preferential rates for lift tickets.
The Clubhouse contains chill out area, a maintenance workshop, the loan of ARVA devices for off-piste safety, videos broadcasting, a picture library and a library as well as a free Internet access. The Club also has a testing centre for equipment in partnership with the snowboard industry.