Val d’Isère resort guide
One of the most popular resorts in the Alps, Val d’Isère is a lively little town to please all kinds of skier, with lots to do, plenty of fine dining on offer, a fantastic ski area including the slopes in Tignes.
Val d’Isère is one half of the renowned Espace Killy ski area, which is arguably the greatest ski area in the world. Together with Tignes, the ski area has a huge variety of terrain. With an array of both on and off piste, Val benefits from some of the best snow conditions in Europe.
The village itself dates back to 1664, giving the resort far more character than most other high altitude resorts. Val has always had a reputation as a great place to party but over the past decade, it has seen a steady improvement in the quality of accommodation, shops and restaurants to make it a little more refined. It can now claim a luxury offering to compete with the world’s best while balancing this with a more down to earth feel than Courchevel 1850 or Mégève. While the resort is relatively large, it has eschewed excessive high-rise developments and efforts to make parts of it car-free. That means, once you have passed the less than beautiful apartment blocks of La Daille, the village itself is attractive and vibrant.
Resort facts and figures
Resort altitude: 1850m
Highest point: 3480m
Vertical drop: 1930m
Ski areas: Espace Killy, combining Tignes and Val d’Isère
Pistes: 300km (of which 57% beginner/intermediate, 25% advanced, 18% expert)
Best for: Advanced and expert skiers, although there is also plenty to keep beginners and intermediates entertained. Quite a lot of the blue runs are on the upper slopes.
At 1850m (6,000 feet) Val d’Isère is among the highest resorts in Europe. However there is more to Val than that:
- 1850m is the lowest point and the skiing is all above this altitude, meaning that the average height of the ski area is considerably higher than other resorts where the accommodation is above 1800m.
- Many of the slopes are north facing, protecting them from the sun that blights south facing ski areas in March and April. The Grande Motte and Pissaillas glaciers have great skiing right to the end of the season.
- Whilst benefiting from the same Atlantic depressions as other French resorts, Val often receives heavy snowfall from the Mediterranean low pressures which dump their snow on the Italian Alps. Once in a while, a local weather phenomenon known as the Retour d’Est results in heavy snow in Val while nearby resorts can only read the weather reports in disbelief.
While it can be extremely cold, particularly in December and January, this combination of factors, not to mention extensive artificial snowmaking and glacial terrain, means that Val has one of the best snow records in Europe. Great ski conditions from early December to early May are assured. In fact, the World Cup Ski circuit holds the Criterium de la Première Neige event in Val every December to test the quality of the “first snow”.
Considerable investment over the last few years means that the Espace Killy has one of the best lift systems in the world with over 96 lifts of which the vast majority are high speed. They serve over 300km of pistes and 25,000 skiable acres (compared to Whistler Blackcomb’s 8,000). The variety is equally huge and everyone from total beginners to the most expert skiers will find endless terrain to entertain.
All three of Val’s ski areas, Bellvarde, Solaise and Le Fornet have wide, cruising blue runs higher up and more challenging runs for strong skiers lower down. Beginners will find slow skiing zones and easy runs at the top of Solaise and Bellevarde. There are 7 lifts which are completely free of charge (Village/Rogoney), plus 3 drag lifts in the Solaise area and 2 in la Daille. For intermediate and advanced skiers seeking long red runs, Tignes has a huge amount to offer. Getting there couldn’t be easier, as the Espace Killy integrates the two resorts seamlessly. The off piste terrain is vast and taking a guide is the only way to really do it justice.
Ski schools compete hard for business in Val and as a result it is well served by a multitude of excellent ski schools. Private and group lessons, as well as guiding, are provided by English speaking instructors and it is hard to underestimate how much good coaching can improve your holiday. We recommend Oxygene and Progression in particular.
Eating on the mountain has improved in recent years but it can be ‘hit and miss’. The Fruitière is a perennial favourite and Le Fornet area boasts some of our favourite lunch stops with Edelweiss a highlight. For après-ski, the Folie Douce is nothing short of spectacular and can rival even St Anton on a warm day.
Val d’Isère Village
The village is bustling with bars, shops and restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets.
The policy of leaving the streets covered in snow undoubtedly adds atmosphere and reduces the salt pollution of the Isère river. Rubber “granny gripper” style crampons are a good idea when wandering through the village to avoid a tumble. Val is restricting vehicular access to make wandering the central streets more of a pleasure and the Vieux Village is the oldest part and is a delight of tiny streets and original chalets.
Historically the nightlife, epitomised by Dick’s Tea Bar, has been high on raucousness and low on sophistication but this has changed considerably and we think it now offers a great balance of fun and quality. Eating out is improving every year but quality varies from one season to the next so it is always a good idea to get the most up to date advice from our resort team. The lamb shank at the Lodge is always reliable, La Grande Ourse is another favourite and 1789 may look unimpressive but the ‘cote de boeuf’ cooked on the fire is quite delicious. The range of bars and nightspots is just as wide ranging and Café Face, La Doudounne’s Le Chalet and the bar of Le Blizzard come recommended.
Our purpose designed children’s club is run exclusively for our guests.
Val has plenty to offer non-skiers and part time skiers. The Leisure Centre, which opened in December 2009, is a fabulous new facility, offering swimming, squash, cardio training, a sports hall, climbing wall and a range of fitness classes as well as jacuzzi, steam and sauna facilities. The ice driving circuit is the world’s most thrilling driving lesson and dog sledding, ice skating, paragliding snowshoeing, ice climbing and snowmobiling are just a few of the other activities on offer.
Val d’Isère insider tips
- Avoid travelling to or from Val on a Saturday. The transfer from Geneva or Lyon is already quite long at 2½ to 2¾ hours and Val sits at the end of the Tarentaise region meaning that traffic can be heavy
- The hotels are upping their game and Val now has four five star properties including The Christiania. Ski the famous black run, La Face, venue for the Men’s Downhill at the 1992 Olympics and the 2009 World Championships, but do so early in the day when the snow is groomed and you are fresh. Do not attempt it as the last run of your day unless you are extremely competent and fit
- Beginners and intermediates should consider taking the lift down at the end of the day. The runs home from Solaise, Bellevarde and Fornet are all challenging and injuries frequently happen on the “last run”
- March and April are glorious in the Espace Killy and as the weather warms up and other resorts are knee deep in slush, Val can offer light, fluffy powder and fresh, crisp groomed runs
- Tignes offers some great lunch stops. Try L’Armailly in the charming village of Brevières or the Arbina in Tignes Le Lac
- Be sure to visit Maison Chevallot, Val’s bakery which has a nationwide reputation. The bread and pastries are simply the best we have ever tasted
- The Espace Killy has a growing freestyle scene and the European X Games are a spectacular attraction in Tignes in March but Val’s own Oakley snow park, among Europe’s best, offers an impressive showcase of local talent all season long
Browse our portfolio of exclusive chalets and ski hotels in Val d’Isère