At a resort height of 1850m, Val d'Isere is part of the Espace Killy region alongside the resort of Tignes. As a whole, the Espace Killy has a total piste distance of more than 300km and two glaciers.
Val d'Isere's early and late snow records are among the best in Europe, making up a huge part of the resort's appeal to skiers across the continent and beyond. It's little wonder this French mountain village has won the hearts of so many.
One of the other things that draws skiers and others to Val d'Isere is the beauty of the traditional village around which the resort has grown up. It's rare to find a French resort of any size with that old-fashioned feel, and perhaps one of the reasons Val d'Isere manages is that its position as host of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, making the slopes here very prestigious. If it’s the resort feel you’re looking for, though, don't worry – ski-in ski-out accommodation is available throughout, in chalet, hotel, and apartment form.
The resort itself is made up of three main areas; La Daille, the resort's unnamed centre (which in itself is made up of smaller, named neighbourhoods), and Le Fornet. La Daille is located at the entrance to the resort, near the end of the Olympic downhill runs. After passing through La Daille you will enter into Val d'Isere's central areas, including the picturesque neighbourhoods of Le Cret, Le Legettaz, Le Josery, Le Chatelard, and the exclusive Bellevarde Cliffs (or Millionaires' Row as the locals call it) and then, beyond the church, is the beautiful Le Fornet.
La Daille is chiefly made up of self-catered apartments with one or two catered chalets & hotels mixed in, where Le Fornet is nigh-exclusively comprised of beautiful traditional chalets. More variety is found in the central area which contains a good mix of apartments, chalets and hotels.
Many resorts don't differentiate between sections so strongly, but Val d'Isere's areas are a fascinating and beguiling mix of styles and slopes. It's also worth bearing in mind the number of clubs and bars in the centre of town as well as the relaxing and convenient ski down to La Daille that caps off an afternoon at the Folie Douce, Val d'Isere's top apres bar. Le Fornet, by contrast, has an unbeatable advantage for dedicated skiers – immediate cable car access.
Don't be too concerned about getting from point to point, though; the bus service in town runs well into the night and will never leave you waiting for long. There really isn't a bad part of town to stay in.
Click to enlarge
* Locations are for guidance use only.
While the home of an Alpine World Cup is – deservedly – considered more in terms of intermediate and advanced slopes, Val d'Isere has a number of green and blue runs – and, better, the lifts for the nursery slopes are free of charge, so no beginner needs to buy a full week's lift pass just to find out whether they have the makings of a better skier. It's completely possible for a dedicated visitor to return year on year, improving their abilities on the slopes, and enjoying a new skiing experience every time.
The ski schools of Val d'Isere are very welcoming and are up for almost any challenge. However, fledgling skiers should be aware that while the nursery slopes are easy to access, many of the runs that you will progress onto are some height above the resort itself. Some of the runs which would return you to the town center are substantially more difficult – most notably “the Face”, one of the resort's justly-feared black runs.
We therefore often recommend that beginners either ski to La Daille before boarding a bus into town or head to Le Fornet or Laisinant, which are serviced by easy winding runs that will soon bring you back to town via a convenient bus stop.
Intermediate skiers will delight in great numbers of both blue and red runs, enough that a week's determined skiing won't even require many repetitions of routes. Particularly recommended for experienced intermediates are the Germain Mattis and the OK/Orange, which form a nice bridge between intermediate and advanced skiing.
If those seem more of a challenge than you're ready for, however, the Diebold run and Piste 'L', both blue, are excellent, enjoyable to traverse, and sure to raise your confidence in your own skills. Beyond those specific recommendations, an intermediate skier in Val d'Isere is encouraged to explore, swap recommendations with others in the various apres bars and lodges, and generally test themselves as appropriate.
As well as countless opportunities to enjoy the powdery slopes off-piste, Val d'Isere offers several black runs suited to the very best. La Face or, to give it its full name, La Face de Bellevarde is the queen of these, however, and it should be – it's also the Olympic run, and as it takes you right into the heart of town, it makes a wonderful capstone to a day's skiing for any advanced practitioner.
Still, it's far from the only available black run, and one thing's for sure – you will not be bored while you're here!
Both Val d'Isere and the other major resort in the Espace Killy, Tignes, have modern and highly respected snow parks. For the snowboarder who wants more, however, the off-piste is some of the best in Europe much loved by snowboard aficionados and there are even several areas perfect for honing your jibbing skills if you're one of those who doesn't so much have a board as a jib stick.
Fun is assured for all skill levels of snowboarder; the resort has a reputation for hooking visitors and seeing one of the highest rates of return among the snowboarding community.
Given its fantastic snow record, a trip to Val d'Isere gives you every chance of getting a week's worth of powder skiing. With good conditions, the off-piste skiing in Val d'Isere is phenomenal! Le Fornet is the best base of operations for those who like it steep and deep between the trees. There is also a lot of easily accessible off-piste to be had, so you can get your powder fix without having to hike.
There really is everything here a ski lover could want.
The resort can't be said to fall down on apres-ski. This picturesque traditional French village has some sublime gourmet restaurants and wonderful shops to browse, to say nothing of the clubs and bars out on the piste.
Whatever your tastes, budget, or the size of your group, Val d'Isere has somewhere that will cater to you, from the students spending the last of their year's loan for a holiday blowout to the captains of the industry looking for a celebration to remember after signing the deal of their lives.
Queen of the apres-ski scene in Val d'Isere is La Folie Douce, a mountain bar and restaurant that is part of an amazing chain with outlets only in the greatest ski resorts worldwide. Their website will keep you up to date on the chef's recommendations and any special events they're hosting, but don't make the mistake of thinking that a chef's recommendations, openly posted, mean this is anything less than a party joint – because this is partying in the approved French fashion, and the best food is matched by the best champagne and the best atmosphere, with dancers on hand to keep the party going.
You can challenge yourself to return to the resort on ski or ride down in comfort in the lift.
It doesn't stop there, though; there's always a party in full swing, and not much less famous than La Folie Douce is Dick's Tea Bar, a standout for the English skier and rightly infamous – for all the best reasons. Ski all day, party all night – whatever you prefer, Val d'Isere has you covered.
The Health Spa and well-equipped sports center give plenty of options to those who want to enjoy themselves while their partner's taking to the slopes & luxuriate in the hammam (Turkish steam bath). Alternatively, enjoy taking a skidoo trip or spend your time exploring the mountain at a more sedate pace by snowshoe.
Or you can get a completely different perspective on the resort from the air, taking an aerofoil to see the mountain from a seeing-is-believing perspective above it. Whatever you like to spend your leisure hours doing, you're almost guaranteed the chance in this beautiful resort setting.