- Highest Point: 3,450m
- Descent: 1,665m
- No. lifts: 49
- Lift Pass: 1 Day - €57 / 6 Days - €285
Val d’Isère is one of the world’s most iconic ski resorts. The lovely villages are packed full of 5-star hotels, designer bars, and rich kids borrowing daddies Amex card for the week. Located in the Savoie region, Val d'Isère and Tignes form one ski area, the Espace Killy. Seamlessly linked by lifts covering a huge 24,000 acres, the area beats the pants off North America’s largest resort Whistler, with its paltry 8,000 acres. The majority of the area sits above 2000m, giving it a very long and snow-sure season. The Pissaillas glacier is open in the summer but it’s such a tiny area and a trek to get to that it’s best to get your summer shred on in Tignes.
The resort consists of the main town (where the nightlife is) plus two satellite villages, La Daille and Le Fornet, which are linked by regular free buses. La Daille is a good base to access the ski area, and offers more affordable accommodation. The buses to the centre run well into the evening, but if you do stumble out of Dick's Tea Bar at 4am, it's about a 20 minute walk – depending on the snow and number of Jagerbombs consumed! On down days there’s an aquatic centre with 2 swimming pools, Jacuzzi and sauna, and affordable massages to combat midweek jelly legs.
The Parks - 3/5
For a long time, the thought of having a terrain park in Val d’Isère was enough to set off a load of expletives from the locals. But thankfully attitudes have moved on. The Oakley Valpark is located under the Mont Blanc chairlift, and is expanding every season. Last season they bought eight new snow-machines just for the park, and there are plans afoot to replace the draglift with a chair to increase those lap times and provide some much-needed rest for the overworked thighs. The park is divided into four ability zones, so you’ll not have any difficulty finding something for your level and shouldn’t accidentally find yourself launching off the 18m pro kicker. There’s also a boardercross course in the same vicinity and plenty of small jibs and boxes for beginners.
"There are 150km of pistes in Val d'Isère and another 150km over in Tignes. The lift system is also fast and well connected"
The Powder - 4/5
The Espace Killy has a great reputation for off-piste terrain and as such attracts a lot of people. This means that after a dump it can get tracked pretty quickly. Having said that, the area is huge and so there is always a clean pitch to be found if you know where to look. However, be aware that the steep, long slopes that are amazing to ride also make the area prone to avalanches. So buddy up and if you don't know what you’re doing, go with someone who does. There are a number of companies providing off-piste guides, which are often more reasonably priced than you'd think. For experts, the Couloir des Pisteurs is epic: accessed via a 20-minute hike, it features a tight board’s width entrance into a skinny, well packed couloir protected from the wind.
When the light is flat there is lots of fun to be had in Le Fornet through the trees; simply grab the free bus to the cable car and explore the forest right below the lift – just watch out for the odd cliff that is too big to drop! There is also an amazing run through a hidden valley canyon to the bottom of La Daille to the skier’s left of the Semanmille Lift, but it’s a favourite with guides so is best tackled early, before hundreds of punters have scraped the narrow gully down to ice!
The Pistes - 4/5
As you would expect from such a pricey resort, the pistes are well kept, with loads of snow cannons ensuring that even if it hasn't snowed for a while the runs are still skiable. Although you can buy a Val d'Isère-only lift pass, unless you're a beginner it's well worth upgrading to one that covers the whole of the Espace Killy. There are 150km of pistes in Val d'Isère and another 150km over in Tignes, so there’s plenty to explore. The lift system is also fast and well connected, meaning you spend your time riding rather than sitting on lifts. The 6-seater Fontain Froide chair improved things further still, transporting up to 3,000 skiers per hour at peak times.
Check out the famous downhill run from the top of the funicular all the way to La Daille for some seriously fast turns, or for some sun-drenched and wide open groomers take the Solaise express and explore the lifts above.
The piste classification is questionable, with a lot of the blues feeling like reds. This means when they mark it as a black they definitely mean it! However, there are two well-signed ‘Ski Tranquille’ areas up high that are suitable for beginners, who can then get the lifts back down at the end of the day.
How To Get There
The easiest way to get to Val D'Isere is to fly to Geneva Airport - it's not the closest, but it has by far the most transfer options.
The Parties - 4/5
The town is full of good-looking people spending daddy’s money, but don’t let this put you off. There are plenty of bars to choose from and the place deserves its party reputation. The Mountain Echo is a free weekly magazine that you can pick up in most of the bars with listings for live music, events and special deals.
"If you're up for being sprayed with champagne while dancing on a table then head for the Folie Douce"
Between 3-5pm, if you're up for being sprayed with champagne while dancing on a table then head for the Folie Douce. This is a crazy outdoor daytime ‘nightclub’ on the slopes – although be aware that the drink prices are extortionate. In town there are loads of bars. The Morris Pub is good for live music and has a sun terrace in spring. Hidden away opposite the ESF office is the Blue Note, which is a small friendly bar packed with seasonaires.
If you want to watch sport then head to the Pacific bar – it's a bit of a dive but has loads of screens, reasonably priced beer and also cider on tap. Le Petit Danois is a low-ceilinged hangout packed with hot scandis, and later on the Saloon Bar gets busy with sweaty teenagers fuelled by their lethal jugs of Long Island ice tea. And if you're still able, there are four nightclubs to choose from, with Dick's Tea Bar being the favourite with the Brits.