Val d'Isere ranks alongside St Moritz, Stowe and Cortina among the "most famous names of skiing." With a huge ski area, much of it at a high altitude, world class lift infrastructure and a vast array of apres ski activity and you have the archetypal world class mountain resort. Val d'Isere is connected to Tigne, a neighbouring resort, to form the Espace Killy. While it is possible to purchase individual tickets, the combined resort is often referred to as Val d'Isere.
- 1 Location
- 2 Pros
- 3 Cons
- 4 Contacts
- 5 Planning
- 6 Resort Facilities
- 7 Ride Guide
- 8 Other
- 9 Resources
Val d'Isere is located 140 km east of Chambery, on the French/Italian border. Travel time from Geneva is about three hours.
Espace Killy, the ski area of which Val d'Isere is part, is huge ... bigger than huge, it is enormous. Snow quality is generally good as temperatures remain low thanks to the altitude Excellent, easily accesible off piste Stunning scenery
Poor intervillage bus service between Tigne and Val d'Isere. The bus connecting the various bases in Val d-Isere is frequent and free.
In bad weather you are above the treeline and there is nowhere to hide.
At the end of the day there are few routes home from the plateaux of Solaise and Bellevarde. Those routes become icy and crowded, and at times downright scary.
Phone: 33 4 79 06 06 60
Postal: BP 228 F-73155 Val d'Isère Cedex, Savoie F 73155 France
Fly to Geneva and bus or train. Drive to Annecy, through Albertville to Bourg St Maurice and up the valley. Try and avoid weekends, particularly Saturday evening as traffic to the resorts in France can be absolutely horrendous although improvements for the Albertville olympics have helped a lot. Trains go to Bourg St Maurice (the end of the line) direct from Paris without changes, and there are buses up to the resort from there. Trains leave from the Gare de Lyon in Paris and the journey takes a tad over 4 hours.
The Europcar website claims that they have a depot in Val d'Isere for car hire, and this contributor has seen a Europcar sign. However, it is closed from Sunday to Saturday. There might be a window of opportunity to pick up a car there on the stroke of midnight on any Saturday, but I don't like your chances. There is a depot in Bourg St Maurice, about 40 minutes down the valley.
Val d'Isere has a huge range of accommodation, from chalets to apartments to luxury hotels. There are Club Meds in Val d'Isere anf Tignes.
Most accommodation in Val d'Isere is in or around the main village. However there are smaller satellite villages, with fewer facilities, in La Daille and Le Fornet. Manchet is up the road a bit from the cebtre as well. There are free buses connecting these villages, but if you want to be in the centre of the action double check the location of your accommodation.
Tignes also has several centres for accommodation.
For a really cheap stay look at UCPA which gives bunk style accommodation for a typically (but not always) young crowd.
Unlike US and Australian resorts there is no monopoly ski school. There are a number of ski schools of various sizes offering different experiences, from standard ski lessons to adventure guiding. The biggest is ESF (Ecole Ski de France) with over 600 instructors, but there are several schools with niche offerings. There is a list on the Val d'Isere website
Val d'Isere has several bases stretched out along the valley, from Le Fornet to La Daille. There is a free bus linking the bases called the Red Train. It operates frequently. There are also buses called the Blue and Green Trains which serve areas of the main centre of Val d'Isere. All these buses have frequent services, although I am not sure when the last ride is. Bus routes
There are several open air free carparks. There are also underground carparks available for a fee.
Activities include tandem paragliding, microlight flights, dog sledding (passenger only - no driving) ice driving, snowmobiling (very exxy for 20 minutes on a short track - no backcountry), cooking schools ...
Everything from hole in the wall pizza outlets to fine dining. Prices tend to be a little on the high side compared to equivalent standard dining in the lowlands.
Regional specialties are fondues and raclettes.
If you want to self cater thaere are 3 or 4 supermarkets (at least) scattered around.
Bars & Entertainment
To be honest there is not a huge amount of nightlife in Val d'Isere. After ski on the slopes at the top of Daille at La Folie Douce is huge, but you either have to wait for the Gondala to go down, or you ski the 4-5km back down a red slope after a few healthy beers ... hhmmmm your choice ;)
There are free beginner chairs at the Val d'Isere base. The plateaux of Solaise, Bellevarde and at Tignes have miles and miles of gentle terrain ideal for beginners and low intermediates, all easily accessible from chairs and cable cars. Although the trip down can look intimidating, downloading on chairs and in cablecars is common.
Are everywhere. Grooming can occasionally be haphazard, but a vast amount of grooming is done every night.
The manic North American powder obsession exists, but is not as virulent here. You can often get a bit of untracked or lightly tracked skiing a few metres from the piste, even quite late in the day. With a bit of traversing you can find freshies days after a dump.
Be careful - slope signage can be deficient. Make sure you know where you are going, and how you will exit. There are dips and hollows with no way out even on Solaise and Bellevarde, well in bounds. If you go out of bounds you may need a helicopter.
Out of Bounds
There are two Val d'Iseres. The trail map version, and everything else. Everything else is probably bigger than the trail map version. Europe does not have a concept of out of bounds. If you can see it and get access to it, go for it.
Much of the expert terrain in Val d'Isere is not found on a trail map - on the map there is very little expert terrain - but the terrain exists in scads. The strong European guiding culture means that it is best discovered with the assistance of professional guides and instructors. If you go alone make sure you have an exit plan. My instructor took small glee in pointing out a couple of dots across the valley and saying that their only options were a 5 hour hike in untracked snow or a heli rescue. Also, make sure that you are avalanche aware.
Just because there are previous tracks do not assume that they lead to a viable exit. There are a lot of paragliders around Val d'Isere, and you may be following one of them.
A track near the base of La Manchet.
Parks & Pipes
Beginner, intermediate and advanced parks. I didn't see a half pipe, but they may have one tucked a way in a corner somewhere.
Groomers flatten them. There is a bump field on the back way down from Bellevarde to Manchet, but that's about it.
Take any piste. Leave it. You will be in a powder zone.
Pistes are arbitrary strips through hectares of skiable terrain.
Terrain accessible off the La Manchet chair in the Solaise area is particularly easily accessible with short traverses. With a bit of traversing you can find powder for a couple of days after a dump.
This is a bit of a problem with Val d'Isere. Most of it is above the tree line, and there is nowhere to hide. In bad weather you are on exposed plateaux with bad light and howling gales. One option is the low lifts in the La Daille area, but that is fairly limited and is an area used for races and race training, which takes a big chunk out of the available terrain. It is also worth trying anothe valley. Sometimes Le Fornet is sheltered when Solaise is being hammered.
Val d'Isere and Tignes are located along the head of the valley of the Isere River and its tributaries. The Col d'Iseran, notorious for followers of the Tour de France, is located within the resort boundaries and you can ski down part of the race route. The resort itself is only a few kilometres from the Italian border.
A lot of the beginner and intermediate skiing is located on plateaux above the valleys. These are above the treeline and can be very exposed in bad weather. The valley sides are the home of the steeper expert runs and a lot of the famous off piste routes best accessed in the company of a guide.
There is also areas of "glacier" skiing in both Val d'Isere and Tignes.