VAL D'ISERE SKI AREA - the best (& worst!) runs
Skiing in Val d’Isere is pretty unbeatable (as I may have said before!!). The vast ski area covers Val d’Isere and Tignes and encompasses 300km of pistes linked by 71 lifts. You can ski from an elevation of 3450 down as far as 1550m. Val d’Isere Centre is located at an altitude of 1850m. There are two glaciers, one in Val d’Isere and one in Tignes making this a very snow sure area to come to - the season runs from late November to early May. It is possible to buy a single valley lift pass but I would highly recommend you spend an extra few euros to cover both. It is very easy to ski between the two resorts, and possible to do the entire circular loop (Val d’Isere, Tignes Val Claret, Tignes Le Lac and back to Val - or even pop down to Tignes Les Brevieres) on blue runs (although please do note that blue runs in the area can be trickier that those in other resorts) and in a day.
There are 3 different areas in Val d'Isere (Fornet, Solaise & Bellvarde), all linked together by modern high speed lifts and each with their own unique characteristics - check out what the STVI have to say about them here. And there is also a free bus service that runs between them all at resort level making it easy to start and stop your day anyway but still make it back to your accommodation without any hassle. Check out my blog post on "VAL D'ISERE SKI AREA - getting the lay of the land" here
Although Val d’Isere/Tignes have a reputation for not being the ideal resort for beginners there really is something for everyone with around 22 green runs, 64 blue runs, 40 red runs and 26 black runs (some of which are more like off-piste itineraries as they are never pisted) and nearly 25,000 acres of off-piste. There are cross country skiing tracks, 2 terrain parks (one in Tignes & one in Val d’Isere) & 2 glaciers (one in Tignes & one in Val d’Isere). It has a reputation for being on the trickier side for beginners, which is justified, but there has been great investment in recent years to regrade terrain and set up some wonderful magic carpet areas. With some insider knowledge it can be a joy for everyone - and if you learn to ski in Val d’Isere then anywhere else you go will be a doddle!
Being a high altitude resort (Val d'Isere village is at 1850m and the skiing goes up to 3450m) with 60% of pistes located higher than 2000m and fantastic snowmaking facilities when needed (see details here) Val d'Isere is a wonderful snowsure resort for amazing ski conditions over a very long winter season.
BEGINNERS - the nursery slope lifts in Val d’Isere are free and do not require you to have a lift pass. This includes a button lift (Savonnette) and a chairlift (Village). If you are just starting out don’t worry about buying a lift pass straightaway and take the lead from your instructor. After you have mastered these beginner slopes you will move on to the magic carpets at the top of the Solaise bubble lift (Poum, Pim & Pam). To access these you can purchase a Solaise only lift pass, which also gives access to a great green run (Madeleine) and a few blue runs - this is can be bought daily (no multiday options) and is a cheaper alternative for skiers just passing beyond the beginner stage.
The grading of runs appears to be different to that in other resorts and people who are skiing here for the first time are often taken by surprise. Grab a guide/instructor if you are unsure, even if just for the first day to get your bearings and find out some of the good & not so good routes for your ability.
Remember that there are nursery slopes (Savonette, Village, Poum & Pim Pam) before green runs and do not let your friends or family take you straight to the top of the Olympique lift because they like the look of the piste map up there!
INSIDER KNOWLEDGE is key to help avoid trickier sections, for example:
1) at the top of the Olympique lift there are steps that take you down the first section if the top bit seems daunting.
2) the Grand Pré green run is one of the best in resort (and always quiet) - highly recommended and you can access it via the Collet run which is labelled as a blue but is flatter than most of the greens in resort.
3) at the top of the Borsat lift you can take a little path around the steep first section
4) although there is a green run marked down into La Daille I would suggest that you don't attempt this unless you are a super comfortable green run to hesitant blue run skier.
5) remember that slopes can vary from day-to-day and even at different times of day - they can look very different from morning to late afternoon with changing snow conditions & the amount of people on the slopes.
It is a steep sided valley - the nice gentle pistes are at the top of the mountain and the home runs are harder work. Unless you are a fairly solid intermediate I would suggest it is best to get lift down at the end of the day - this is not cheating just a surefire way of making sure you enjoy your day and don’t spend the last hour cursing and/or crying.
INTERMEDIATE & ADVANCED will find a plethora of pistes to enjoy and even for experienced/advanced skiers there is no shortage of challenges to keep you on your toes.
OFF-PISTE - with 24,700 acres of off-piste skiing there is plenty to explore. A lot of it is easily accessible from the lifts, and therefore gets tracked out pretty quickly on a bluebird powder day. But there are also plenty of more hidden stashes and enough to keep even the keenest and fittest tourers happy. If/when venturing off-piste please make sure you have the relevant safety equipment (transceiver, shovel & probe at a minimum) and know how to use it. Hire an instructor/guide to find the best and safest places to ski and avoid any wrong turns/unintentional cliff drops.
For specifics don't miss out on these for...
1) the Foret piste into Le Fornet
2) Piste “S” from the top of Solaise.
1) find your way to the top of the Aiguille Percee chair in Tignes (where you can also get a lovely pic at the “Eye of the Needle” hole in the rock) and you can then ski all the way down to Tignes Les Brevieres without having to stop (although you may want to admire the view and have a cheeky breather) or take another lift. That is an incredible 1200m altitude difference (2750m to 1550m) and can be done on blacks, reds or blues depending what tickles your fancy that day (be aware that the blues do have a slightly red tinge to them in places).
2) find your way to the top of the Grande Motte cable car (around 3500m) and ski the whole way down to Val Claret (2100m) - that's a 1400m descent, mostly on red runs.
The Val d’Isere glacier tends to be quieter than other areas of resort.
Lunchtime - 12 noon to 2pm is definitely the quietest time to ski.
CHALLENGES - why not try to ski from one end of the resort to the other in a single day. Starting in Le Fornet, up the top of the Pissaillas glacier, all the way across the Solaise area, up the Olympique, across to Tignes Val Claret and up to the top of the Grande Motte, then across to the Aiguille Percee and down to Tignes les Brevieres before heading towards Tignes le Lac and down into La Daille. Phew - not for the faint hearted!
MY FAVOURITE RUNS - for me these are my go-tos on a day off to blow the cobwebs away.
OK-Orange (red) from the top of the Bellevarde mountain into La Daille. You can veer off on to the Raye (stade) piste (just below the top of the La Daille bubble), also an absolute winner.
Plan (red) from top of Solaise, turning on to the A (black) piste which turns into Combe Martin (black) to the bottom.
Fontaine Froide (red) from the top of Olympique.
Grand Pre - (green) the most glorious green piste to really boost confidence for people in the early stages of their ski journey and a perfect place to perfect carving.
Le Face (black) - but only before 11am, after that it is best avoided and by 4pm I would do anything NOT to ski it!
In Tignes I love the Double M (red) piste from the top of the Lanches chairlift in Val Claret.
Being a high altitude resort most of the skiing is above the tree line. However, on a snowy day when the visibility is bad it is worth heading into the trees at the Le Fornet or La Daille ends of town.
RUNS TO BE WARY OF - I say you should be wary of these mainly because they are often graded as green or blue and can be a bit of a shock to more nervous intermediate skiers, especially on tired legs at the end of the day.
Verte (green) - for green run skiers this piste is fine from the top down to the Marmottes lift. From there down to the Folie Douce is OK. From the Folie Douce into La Daille it can be very hit/miss and you need to have your wits about you to follow the signposts through the trees!
Mangard (blue) into Le Fornet - very narrow & often extremely icy!
Piste L (blue) into Laisinant - another narrow one, which is very steep at the top.
Epaule de Charvet (black) - sometimes pisted, sometimes not and you'll never know which one you'll get until you're right in the thick of it!
So that's the Val d'Isere ski area.
Now you let me know your thoughts & experiences of skiing in this magical resort!