Last week we were in Val D'Isere with Esprit. We booked with Esprit following a very successful trip with them to Courchevel last year. Prices went up there so we were forced into going with their more affordable option in Val D'Isere! How fortunate!
The chartered flights with Jet 2 was painless enough, although Geneva airport really need to do something about the cattle shed they force customers on chartered flights through. There's simply not enough space and the bussing between different parts of the airport is a bit of a let down on the return leg of the journey.
A three hour transfer from Geneva to Val D'Isere held its own entertainment value as the driver of the coach had clearly only ever driven automatics before and couldn't quite get to grips with a manual gear change. Funny for some of us, but I'm pretty sure I heard a few whimpers from other passengers who weren't quite so sure of his abilities to navigate us safely up the switchback mountain roads to Val D'Isere. The drive up is very scenic and offers some amazing vistas of the surrounding area.
Following a couple of stops to drop clients staying at other hotels, we arrived at our destination mid-afternoon on Sunday. A great time to arrive in resort as you have the afternoon to get bearings and chill out after the early rise.
We were staying in the Chalet Hotel Ducs de Savoie. It's a mysterious place, tucked away behind the main street and there's a lack of information as to exactly where it is. It's up a small lane beneath le Savoie Hotel and next to the Sherpa store. The lane is used for delivery to le Savoie and for collecting the kids and taking them to ski school or on excursions.
Not the most attractive of entrances, but it keeps the noise of the main street at bay.
The hotel is a bit tatty round the edges, but it is clean, rooms are a good size and bathrooms are ok. Reports I had seen on tripadvisor of it falling apart are unfounded. Everything works - apart from the WiFi sometimes and once you get by the entrance lane, it really is in a great spot. Nice and central with great access to all of the shops, bars, cafés and only a short walk to the slopes. A great big fat bonus is that the free buses that run all day throughout the resort stop directly next to the lane so If you can't be bothered with the stroll to the slopes, the bus will do the job for you and have you there in half the time.
This is the view from our bedroom on the first night as the sun went down. The view out of the other side of the hotel wasn't as good.
Anyway, onto the important bit - the skiing.
First thing on Monday, once the wee one was suited and booted and delivered to the excellent childcare team, the other half was off to her lesson, I went for my first foray into L'Espace Killy. I had been encouraged to make the Face the first thing I skied by another snowhead before our trip but had promised myself a wee warm up red run first. So, I jumped on L'Olympique lift and headed up the hill. It gives a great opportunity to give the Face Olympique a good look.
There was no-one on it! Out at the top station, skis on, turn left and the first run of my holiday was indeed the Face. Now, I had heard a lot about the face and how terrible it can be in poor condition. I must have struck gold! The snow was great, groomed, no ice, and there was only about 5 or 6 others on the whole way down.
Yep, there's a couple of steep pitches, but with snow like this, turns were easy - and I'm no expert - and on the final pitch you get a great opportunity to let the skis run and put down some nice big carves back down to the gondola station again. I have skied harder red runs (obviously that can change with snow condition) and this surprised me especially going on the reputation for Val D'Isere undergrading their runs.
I took a couple of pics of The Face later in the week from the gondola to show a bit more of the slope.
The final pitch
And later in the day once the slushy bumps have formed
With the Face out of the way, I was feeling happy to have been there and done it and I could now concentrate on the rest of my skiing. I headed back to the hotel to remove a layer and replace the helmet with a hat as it was simply too hot out there! Not even 9.30am and it must have been almost 10ºC in the sun.
Spent the rest of the day blasting blues and reds with the free hosting service laid on by Esprit. A great way to get out and discover how to get around the resort. Also where to find Folie Douce. €10 for a Jar of Spaghetti Bolognese and bottle of water… no complaints about high prices from me!
There was only 3 of us left by 2pm but it was great and we got to blast down some relatively easy and some more challenging red runs that really got the ski legs working again. The reds down into La Daille are great!
I then went for a quick look around the Fornet side of stuff in the afternoon and headed back to the hotel for some rest and food as I had some guiding with Alpine Experience booked for the Tuesday morning.
Tuesday… What a day that turned out to be! Good, bad, and plain ugly.
Having checked in with AE on the Monday evening, all I had to do was turn up and go and ski. I was in a group of 6 including myself (off piste experience, but never skied with a guide before), a girl who hadn't skied off piste for a couple of years, Matt from the US who was a good skier but likewise, hadn't been with an alpine guide before and a couple of others who had been regulars with AE and our guide for many years. Following the briefest of hellos we set of the the Fornet cable car, then up to the glacier. Now our guide doesn't hang about. He skied at a good quick pace and this was evident before we even got to the off piste route.
After a very shot boot pack, we had to side step very slowly and carefully down this slope. It was icy and rocky and no place for a fall.
I was immediately after the guide and we had no problems, but someone in the group behind us had a ski come off. At this point, our guide skied off and left Matt and Sally on the hill behind him. I waited for Sally and Matt and we followed on a long traverse to the point where we put our skins on.
Matt with our guide's wife behind. She was a really really nice person, chilled out and cool to ski with.
After our skin, we had a very brief stop to get skis on and take in water. It was very very warm so this was welcome. We then set off down Col Pers. After telling us to follow his tracks, our guide set off, followed by the rest of the group. This left me going 4th. This shot is of our guide's wife coming down after me.
It was great.
We pressed on down the next pitch and all met up at the bottom of it.
So, we continued on and skied some great pitches, Sally's skiing improved as we went on and we got to the bottom(ish) of the final pitch. In the photo below, our line was from the valley up to the right, emerging left centre and down the steep pitch under the cornice. Good skiing but instead off finishing off the hill, we traversed out to get to the start of the Gorges Malpasset.
Sally and Matt after skiing the Col Pers behind.
The gorge was where a man had died the week before after falling through the snow and drowning under the ice. Our guide was very good here and waited for the entire group before taking it easy down the gorge. There were a few sizeable holes but we couldn't work out how the skier had managed to get so off line that he ended up in the river. Stuff happens on mountains that can't always be explained though.
So, we all came out of the Gorge completely unharmed and safe and on the whole, had a great day. Everyone finished the route on a high and skiing generally improved through the route.
Then, MY HOLIDAY FELL APART.
Skiing the hard compacted snow heading down to the bridge across the Isere on the way down to Fornet, my back just popped. No warning, just went.
I struggled down to the bus stop, said my goodbyes and retired to the hotel where I remained - save a slow walk to get some pain killers - until the next morning when a girl from Ski physio came out and did some manipulation etc.
The family all went out for their lessons and I stuck around the hotel for the next day or so then managed to get out and take very slow walks with my camera to see our wee one getting her afternoon lessons. It was great to see the kids enjoying the snow and learning the very basics of this sport we all love. Brought a smile to my gloomy face.
I did manage to get skiing again later in the week, (thanks to a lot of physio exercises and ibuprofen and paracetamol), 2 hours of greens/blues on the Friday, including a brief venture across to see the X Games set up in Tignes, and around the same of the blues/reds at the top of Solaise and Fornet with my lovely wife on Saturday. Her skiing is improving all the time and I can't wait for the day that we can all get up the hill as a skiing family and enjoy more interesting places together.
X Games set up
We also paid a further visit to Folie Douce, great party atmosphere getting going early afternoon.
All in all, an enjoyable holiday, interspersed with a few annoyances, which also include my ears not coping very well with the last couple of flights we've been on. But we will be back, probably next season and I'll get across to see more of Tignes side of things.
I said last season that Courchevel Rocks…. this season, Val D'Isere rocks even more!
Esprit were as good as last year and we have no reservation in recommending them to anyone looking for a family ski holiday where the kids come first.
A few more photos.
Lots of Paragliders on show
The owner of this car may get it back soon!
Mountain bikers having fun
Fornet cable car
Melting snow (it was around 10 deg. C most days in the sun)
And the important bit... Enjoying our first ever family ski together :D on the 2nd last day.
More photos available [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/petermacdonald/sets/72157629625858105/show/]here[/url]