Val d’Isère: not so intimidating after all

Graham, Scott Dunn’s Sales and Marketing Director, was lucky enough to spend a few days in Val d’Isère before Christmas. With rumours of poor skiing conditions, Graham had an unexpected, brilliant time.

15 January 2015


Blue cruisers. Blue skies. And definitely no blue fingers. That’s my kind of skiing. ‘Extreme’ I am not. Having never skied for more than a couple of consecutive days (snatched while studying at university in Canada), I’ve never really perfected my technique. I twist too much. Pole planting becomes pole waving. And my preference for turning to the right causes me to drift across the slopes rather than going down them (which misses the point of skiing, right?). So yes, I seek out easy skiing like moths seek flames.

Which is why Scott Dunn’s flagship resort of Val d’Isère rather intimidated me. Set at the bottom of a steep-sided valley, with chair lifts and cable cars ascending into the heavens, Val does not exactly open its arms and say ‘welcome’ to the beginner or nervy intermediate. Indeed, one of the few ways back down to the resort is on the infamous ‘Face’, the black run used for the men’s downhill in the Albertville Olympics. 

As Scott Dunn’s new Sales & Marketing Director, I went on a flying ‘familiarisation’ visit to check out our chalets last January (tough job). The kind people at Oxygene ski school offered me a guided tour of the mountain during a couple of spare hours; but the weather had closed in and visibility was nil. A churned-up, mogully run back to the base at La Daille did little convince me that this was ever going to be my kind of resort.

I returned to Val again this December, this time to host a press trip. Reports of poor snow conditions did little to repair the fears I had about skiing there (especially with a group of journalists to impress!). Steep, mogully runs are bad enough; steep, mogully, icey runs are a no-no.

On arrival, however, things looked up. Val’s considerable investment in snow-making had paid off and the machines had been busy covering the slopes. Whilst it was all a bit brown in the valley, a big dump early in November also meant there was enough of the white stuff up top. Unlike many other resorts in the French Alps, plenty of terrain was open and – to my delight – a lot of it was marked ‘Blue’.

The weather Gods also played their part and offered up a glorious blue sky day. Bitterly cold it might have been (minus double digits!); but, thanks to the clever folks at Helly Hansen, who had kitted me out head to toe in the latest thermal technology, I barely noticed. Oxygene kindly stepped in again to provide me with an incredibly patient instructor, Fabrice, to take me round the mountain and teach me a thing or two along the way (poor guy; where to start?).

What followed was, quite simply, one of the best day’s skiing I’d ever had in my life. Fabrice somehow managed to find wonderful blue run after wonderful blue run to take me on: we covered more terrain than I ever thought possible, without ever skiing the same run twice. The Leissieres Express chair lift was an unexpected thrill – who knew chairlifts could go down as well as up, offering the sensation of a rollercoaster? But my absolute favourite run was from the Cascade Express on the Glacier de Pissaillas – wide, with soft groomed snow and incredible views across to Tignes. All the time, Fabrice was nipping and tucking my technique: ‘Shoulders forward, Graham!; ‘On your edges, Graham’; ‘BEND YOUR KNEES!’.

Before I knew it, lunchtime came around and we headed to the Tete de Solaise restaurant at the top of the Solaise lift. I went expecting the usual burger-and-chips carb-fest. Instead, we enjoyed course after course of the most delectable fair –  fish carpaccio, sesame-sealed tuna, mussels and – to my and my companions’ delight – a beautiful selection platter of chocolate desserts, all washed down by surprisingly delicious Savoie wine. 

I could have carried on skiing after lunch. But I didn’t. Back down in the Valley, a warm chalet with a hot tub beckoned. And happily, the Solaise telecabine was ready to take me there. Yes, I could now turn a bit better; and I was even holding my poles in the correct position. But, as far as I was concerned, the Face could wait for another day. 

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