Going off-piste in Val D'Isere

Camilla Swift shares her favourite ski slopes in the French resort

12 October 2013

9:00 AM

12 October 2013

9:00 AM

First things first. Yes, Val d’Isère does have a reputation for being expensive — and it is, especially if you’re planning on eating out and embracing the après ski every night. But no matter what anyone says, you can’t argue with the fact that the skiing is fantastic. Combined with its neighbour, Tignes, there’s a total of 330km of piste to explore, with plenty of steep red and blue runs that are perfect for intermediate and advanced skiers.

One of the most frequent complaints about skiing in Val is getting home at the end of the day. Almost every route down to the main town is a challenge, even if you are fairly competent at descending mountains with a couple of planks strapped to your feet. For beginners, the very thought of descending the notoriously icy ‘La Face’ at the end of a full day’s skiing, on legs exhausted from tackling moguls (and perhaps wobbling a bit from the vin chaud at lunch) is enough to strike fear into the bravest heart. But you can just take the lift back into town. You certainly won’t be the only one.

More advanced skiers should bear in mind that not all the fun is to be had within the markers. In addition to the huge pisted area, there’s also an incredible amount of off-piste. Staying in one of the most snow-sure resorts in the Alps does have its downsides, though. If you’re serious about going off-piste, make sure you get yourself a guide who knows the slopes. There are numerous avalanches every year due to the sheer amount of snow, and sometimes deaths.

Still keen to find some virgin powder? Just make sure you get out early. That extra half hour in bed after a night in Dick’s Tea Bar might seem appealing, but you can be sure that another alpine explorer will have beaten you to it.

And it’s not just the skiing that will get the adrenalin pumping. Even some of the lifts are an attraction to thrill-seekers. No trip would be complete without a ride on the Leissières Express – an ‘up and over’ chairlift with a steep rise as you approach the top of the pinnacle ridge, and a stomach-churning drop on the downward section.

There’s also good food aplenty, both in the town and on the mountain. Every Monday the market sells delicious local cheeses and meats, while regulars sing the praises of the pâtisserie at Maison Chevallot. In town, you can find a huge selection of restaurants, from Michelin-starred (L’Atelier d’Edmond, La Becca, and La Table de l’Ours) to more reasonably priced local favourites. The same goes for accommodation. Yes, Scott Dunn’s ‘Eagle’s Nest’ chalet does pride itself on being the first alpine chalet to have an indoor swimming pool. But the savvy can find less grand (and cheaper) options, with self-catered apartments in the centre of town that don’t cost a bomb. Plus, if you do end up staying a bit further out of town, the free bus service, Le Train Rouge, will make the journey almost painless.

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Show comments
  • Sean Grainger

    Where do we tell you ours?

  • Sanctimony

    I treasure memories of Val d’Isere when you could park your car outside your favourite bar or patisserie, when there was not a surfeit of Russian oligarchs spraying Krug and Dom Perignon over their fellow diners and the slopes were not packed out and as hard as boiler plate… Le Fornet was a small Alpine village, not the metropolis it has become…. it has all changed and not for the better.

  • La Face is always a bit of a challenge at the end of the day! I find
    that rather than take the lift, ski-ing down OK / Orange, which are
    cracking runs into La Daille is a great alternative. There’s a fabulous bar
    at the bottom with a huge deck and the bus trip (or chauffeur if you’re
    with Le Chardon) is a far more appealing return route.