I’d never been to Val d’Isere before, and many people seem to hold it in a slightly negative light and hail it as an expensive rich kids hangout… but with my sister Helen already waiting in Geneva airport, we were going – expensive or not.
On the flight over I realized I was a bit apprehensive about this trip, not because of Val d’Isere’s reputation – I like to go places and make up my own mind – but because this wasn’t just Helen’s first attempt at snowboarding, it was one of her first real holidays out of the UK!
I needn’t have worried though. As we came out through the last tunnel into the Val d’Isere valley at night, it was like being faced with the very stereotype of a idyllic and snow-covered Alpine village! It set the tone for what would be an excellent week.
Val d’Isere really has something for everyone – excellent runs and lifts, off-piste and snow parks, along with some beautiful scenery, a good vibe in the town, and busy Apres-ski. It, along with the neighbouring village Tignes, make up the Espace Killy ski area, a massive playground for anyone looking for fun in the snow.
I’d organised our transfer with “Ben’s Bus” to Val d’Isere, and it was going to take three hours, so it would be nearer midnight when we actually arrived at the hotel-come-chalet, Hotel La Gelinotte, one of Ski Power’s many chalets.
My original plan was to stay at the connected resort of Tignes 2100, but to be honest I’d heard a lot about Val, and wanted to see it for myself.
It took a moment to find the chalet – the directions were fine, but there was so much snow it was difficult to see where the road actually turned off. It ended up being quite obvious, and we spent a while laughing at our incompetence as Helen’s choice of footwear meant she couldn’t actually get up the hill for sliding down!!
When we finally arrived we were greeted warmly by some friendly and attractive chalet girls, who had kept us food, and the small bar was still open. So although I was tired, I was pretty happy with my choice of accommodation.
The following day we sorted and confirmed Helen’s snowboarding lessons with Oxygene Ski School, and got her kit fitted and hired from Snowberry.
I have to say I was taken with Val d’Isere from the start, the views are spectacular and there’s a real vibe in the town.
Getting around is easy to with the free buses running up and down the short valley.
Helen’s first day on a snowboard with me as an enthusiastic head-coach didn’t exactly go to plan – I’d pre-warned her before the holiday that learning was tough, and her legs would be in agony for the first few days, not to mention the fact she’d probably get a few bruises, but I don’t think she quite expected it to be as painful as it was.
The following day with Helen in lessons I went for a blast around the mountains myself, and what a day! Fresh snow, beautiful scenery, and the off-piste options were fantastic.
The chalet at night was very social, and we quickly got to know the chalet staff and other residents.
As I was on my own, a few of the chalet staff, James and Danny, invited me along with them to board, and promised to take me to the “Hidden Valley”, off-piste and to Tignes. It was a fantastically tiring day, with off-piste black runs pushing me well beyond my comfort level.
The hidden valley was ace – at one point I thought I was being set up as I had to sledge into a gully with the promise there was a hole to crawl out off at the bottom!
And I also witnessed one of the guests, Christian, straight-lining on his board down the well-known black run which leads into Tignes – I wimped out of that!
The Apres-ski and nightlife was, as you can imagine, excellent as well – go the The Morris Pub and try the Morris Burger, its a beast.
We had a few good nights out – chiefly Australia Day!
As the the chalet and resort managers, Gary and Simone, were both Auzzies, and there where also a quite a few seasonaires and guests from New Zealand, there was no shortage of expertise when the BBQ was fired up out on the chalet balcony! And a devoted team of drinkers shaped and molded the snow into an outdoor ice bar – I don’t think Ice-bars are a traditional Australian past-time though.
Later that night we went out and visited quite a few bars and clubs – V-spot, The Saloon, and Dicks Tea Bar – all well known haunts for good times.
During the night out I fell in with Venla from Finland, and later her friend Serita from NZ. After being pushed in the snow a few times, and Venla warning me she could kick my ass all over the jumps in Val-Park… I was invited along to snowboard with them the next day.
I don’t know what I expected, but I had a sinking feeling I was in for yet another tough day as they both set off like bullets down the piste, with Serita leading the way, and me struggling to keep up!
As we headed for Tignes I received a text from Helen, saying she was having an excellent morning with one of the chalet ski-hosts, James, who’d taken her up and was helping her link her turns at the end of what was a hard week.
I was delighted for her, but more concerned with Venla and Serita who were discussing the park and going on the air-bag – I like the park and want to get better at doing the jumps but I’m still rubbish at it, and I’ll confess I did wonder if I could possibly wimp out of the air-bag despite Serita’s promises that it was “impossible” to hurt yourself.
Venla said she wasn’t going to do it, seeing my chance I said I’d only do it if she did… unfortunately, she then decided she would… so I was doing it too!
It was actually a lot of fun, and I was gutted that I didn’t hit it faster like Serita had told me, next time though.
All-in-all, Val d’Isere is an awesome place, I loved it.
Is it expensive? Yes, but so are most ski resorts. All told for myself with flights, chalet, transfer and ski pass, it was no more than any of the other “big” resorts – approx £800.
However, one afternoon I did pay €17 for lunch, consisting mostly of a small bowl of carbonara in the famous La Folie Douce – it’s heaving come Apres-ski time! So just remember if you’re on a budget, take a packed lunch up the hill with you!
I’ve been told Tignes is an excellent place to stay, and cheaper, but to be honest Val d’Isere does have a certain charm which I really liked.
Val d’Isere – if I enjoy everywhere half as much, it’s going to be an amazing few months snowboarding.
Val d’Isere – http://www.valdisere.com/gb/index.php
Tignes – http://www.tignes.net/en
Ski Power – http://www.skipower.co.uk/
Oxygene Ski & Snowboarding School – http://www.oxygene-ski.com/
EasyJet – http://www.easyjet.com/EN
Ben’s Bus / No Fuss Bus – http://www.bensbus.co.uk/
La Folie Douce – Cafe, Bar and on-piste Club – http://www.lafoliedouce.com/
Morris Pub – http://morispub.mountainpub.com/
Dicks Tea Bar – http://dicksteabar.com/val-disere.html