News from the snow
Val d'Isère France
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'Isère 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.
Val D'Isère ranks alongside St Moritz, Stowe and Cortina in the "famous names of skiing" category and is one of the very few in the world to stage World Cup, World Chamionship and Olympic competitions.. However it is also in the world top ten for 'ski area size' as well as name-fame, sharing the huge Espace Killy with neighbouring Tignes. Add to that world class lift infrastructure and a vast array of apres ski activity and you have the archetypal world-class resort. 'Val' is very popular with the British, and has spawned purpose-built developments at out-of-town La Daille (1785m) , which boasts an ultra-modern funnicular, and le Fornet (1930m). Most of the men's downhill events were staged here for the '92 Albertville Olympics and the European leg of the World Cup season generally starts here in the first half of December.
Choose the Solaise bumps run above the resort or the Olympic Men's Downhill from Bellevarde (a good first choice as it gets the sun early and accessed by the high speed underground 'Funival' funicular). Later on take off in to the powder fields (remember a Guide...). Otherwise the descents from the Pissaillas glacier or the Tour de Charvet basin runs are equally recommended.
Intermediate level skiers are equally spoiled, if not more so, with numerous long, fast, wide trails heading off in all directions through the six skiing sectors of the Espace Killy.
Beginners again have all they need to progress rapidly, including free lifts in the resort's nursery slopes area and a choice of over 500 ski school instructors to help them on their way. Novices only risk is of being daunted by the huge terrain around them. First steps up the mountain are normally taken on the Solaise plateau, immediately above the resort.
The lift system has been designed so that it's possible to move around the Espace Killy without having to drop back in to the resort, so study that map carefully!
The area set aside for snow kindergartens around Val d'Isère's slopes - 2000 hectares - is greater than the entire skiable terrain of many lesser resorts. A full range of special children's programs then extends right up to 18 years, including a 'try everything for sliding on snow' special for over 14s, which takes in Telemark, mogul skiing and snowboarding, as well as current trend snow sports. Off the slopes there's a Games Arcade for teenagers.
International tastes are catered for by Bananas, serving Mexican, Ruitor for more unusual Scandinavian menus and Chez Paolo or Casa Scara for Italian Cuisine (Val d'Isère is right on the Italian border after all).
Cultural events are staged throughout the season, including concerts at the resort's church whilst festivals are ataged at the Centre Henri Oreiller. The 'red train' a series of over 20 shuttle buses circling the various key sections of Val d'Isère runs until midnight.
The Snowpark is one of the world's largest at 35,000 square metres and include two boardercross courses, a half pipe, quarter pipes, bumps, big air, tables and all with music. There's even a chalet for repairs.
Boarders looking to improve their technique have a huge choice of public and independent tuition options, including the Billabong Snowboard School which specialises in off-piste. Year round boarding is possible on the neighbouring glacier at Tignes with summer 'boarding on Val's own glacier in mid-summer.
You can even go to the trampolining school, on a snowboard, in the summer.