News from the snow
One of France, Europe and the world's newer major resorts, Valmorel was built in 1976 after the mistakes of earlier French ski resort developments had been learned. It is the first ski centre you reach on entering the famous Tarentaise Valley and, provided you arrive on a good day, you should be inspired by a sense of calm, natural beauty on arrival. The resort opens out onto scenic pine forests, mountain pastures and the backdrop of the high Alps, the marketing slogan 'Valmorel La Belle' seems perfect. The architectural style is unique in France, inspired by ancient construction techniques in the Morel valley. There are no slopeside rectangular concrete apartment blocks, but instead large chalet style buildings, none of them more than three or four storeys high and all following the curves of the land beneath. Only wood, stone and paving stones are used and there are no visible electrical wires or cables either. Valmorel is divided in to various 'hameaux' (hamlets) - clusters of buildings on different levels. These are connected by footpaths, sometimes covered, and adorned with charming little squares and internal courtyards. Everything here has been created with a calm but active lifestyle in mind and to remain harmonious with the natural setting. It's a concept very similar to that taking the major North American ski areas by storm in the late 1990s, pioneered by Intrawest, most notably with their successful resort designs of Whistler-Blackcomb and Tremblant in Canada. Valmorel centres on The Bourg ('the small market town'). Almost all of the shops and services are located here in a pedestrianised area. The façades in pastel tones are decorated with trompe l'oeil frescos. The archways, porches and overhangs are reminiscent of the time when architecture was sophisticated.
Valmorel is not yet 40 years old, and very tastefully designed, gaining widespread admiration for having the advantages of a purpose-built resort without looking like one. The ski area is linked to that of St François Longchamp giving over 150km of terrain. An 'ideal family resort'
Known as the Grand Domaine area, it inevitably links to neighbouring resorts, in this case St François-Longchamp, as well as the smaller traditional villages of Doucy and Les Avanchers nearby. The two major resorts are at each extreme of the skiing area so there's a good sense of travelling to get from one to the other and its best to allow a full day to make the return trip. More than 300 snow guns help to ensure that the link stays complete throughout the season.
Naturally the ski area has been just as well designed as the village. Pistes run right down into the village itself. Beginners have an excellent purpose designed area, separate to the main skiing and allowing first timers to build up confidence before hitting the greens (very easy runs) out in to the great white yonder. There is even a slow chairlift so you can get used to going up, as well as down, in an unintimidating way - an idea common in North America but invariably ignored or forgotten elsewhere in Europe.
Intermediates will have the most to enjoy in Valmorel's skiing, with the vast majority of trails graded blue or red to suit their standard. You get an enjoyable sense of travelling by taking the half dozen series of lifts and runs across to St Francois Longchamp and with slopes facing in all directions it's possible to stay in the sunshine all day by moving around the mountain.
Expert skiers are most likely to head for reds and blacks of the Col du Mottet and the Massif de la Lauzière above Longchamp. Powder fans will find huge expanses within easy reach of the lift system. The smartest thing to do is to hire a guide who'll lead you on a long run down the Belleville Valley to St Jean below Les Menuires.
The ski school employs ninety instructors able to instruct in all major languages and all the snowsports including competition skiing, powder snow, snowboarding or 'surf' as the French prefer to call it, cross-country skiing, skwall, and telemark.
Group lessons have a single meeting point in front of the ESF (French ski school) building in the hamlet of Mottet. Courses of lessons are normally for two and a half hours per day, six days a week, commencing Sundays or Mondays.
There is even a special fun park and training area for children called Malatray at the cable car summit in the Pierrafort area. The three hectare park is especially designed for children aged six to 12 as well as beginners and with safety in mind. It incorporates a new drag lift and two slopes. There is also a sledging area at the centre of the resort.
The pedestrianised centre with reasonably priced, family friendly restaurants are also major assets for the family, the resort really just needs a swimming complex or some other off slope leisure attraction to make it world class. There is already a toboggan/tubing run, open to all, on the Cheval Blanc piste.
One of Valmorel's most popular excursions involves a snowshoe walk up to a mountain restaurant for a Savoyard meal followed by a return by lamplight.
Popular spots include bars like the Cafe Alpin, Ski Roc and the Perce Neige are usually the busiest in the resort. Later on there are cocktail bars. Late night dancing is offered at Les Nuits Blanches night club.
Radio Valmorel on 104.3 FM can keep you informed of entertainment opportunities, as well as weather forecasts and ski conditions.
Other evening activities include the cinema and evening snow shoe hikes and you can opt to spend an unusual night out by visiting the Kanata igloo village (15 minutes from the resort) by foot.
Beginners are recommended to head for the Biollène trail. Off the slopes, Valmorel's idea of creating a safe and relaxed family environment may not match every 'boarders idea of the ideal après scene, although there is action to be found in some bars.