I am back from one of the best trips I have ever taken and what a great snow filled experience I had !
After a very uneventful flight to Zurich and on to Geneva, I took a "shared" transfer to Val D'Isere. This turned to be a private transfer since the rest of the passengers did not show up so I had an opportunity to enjoy in scenic 3 hour ride through the beauty full French countryside and up through the valleys and mountain passes to Val D"Isere. The driver mentioned that there has not been fresh snow for couple of weeks but that there are some changes in the forecast and snow is on the way. As soon as I checked in my chalet, the skies turned gray and shortly after the most priced gift of ski Gods to skiers started materializing. Having to deal with effects of jet lag and anticipation of my first ski day, I spent most of the night watching through the window snow piling up - 5cm, 10cm, 15cm, sleep 1 hour, 25cm...
By the morning there had been new 40cm of snow in front of chalet. By the way chalet is located in La Fornet part of Val D'Isere which is essentaly at the far end of the town and is connected to the rest of the ski area via Fornet aerial tram. This is how it looked on the run out of the Foret run which is usually groomed and packed snow:
Powder day !!! The ride up was shared with few other powder enthusiasts:
Took few additional lifts up to the top of the Pissaillas ski area just to discover that conditions were actually very bad (it was still snowing pretty hard) with very low visibility. Lesson No.1 when skiing in the Alps: since most of the skiing is above tree line, it is very easy and dangerous straying of the marked "piste" and ending up somewhere on the bottom of a large cliff. Few very cautious runs of the Pyramides chair and back to the woods of Foret where I was hoping for better visibility. And this is what I found there:
Pretty much all of this just for me !? It is very steep run through the forest in waist deep powder. Spires performed well in these conditions, wish I had powder cords with me after spending 20 min. looking for my lost ski which released after a "minor" accident. Few exhausting runs through the forest while the snow kept falling and falling. In hindsight it was not a very smart decision skiing in this area after a major dump since it is very avalanche prone area and I was alone without wearing a beacon (one side note - lot of people wearing beacons, air bags and shovels, almost more than helmets. This should have told me to be more careful but my excitement took over - very bad, I know). Lesson No.2 - these keep piling up fast.
Back to the chalet after a very exciting and exhausting first day.
Endless powder fields, looking towards summer ski area on top of Pissaillas Glacier.No script would have had this better since it was a Saturday and it is a travel day for most tourists and all these goodies just for few of us. Time to practice some off piste powder skiing of course staying within a sight of marked run area. I must admit my powder skiing skills are very poor (not many times here in the midwest we have powder days like that and skiing Tahoe or Utah on day like this it gets tracked out in an eye blink - if I am lucky to be there day after major storm). Wish had something wider underfoot (110mm+) and better set of skills, but hey - no complaints here.
After spending half of the day playing in these powder fields I headed over to Val D'Isere and stumbled upon wonderful run which became one of my favorite runs -
lower 2/3 of Mattis run which leads down to the base of Laisinant Express:
Beautiful views down to the valley with Val D'Isere at the bottom.
Some chopped up snow since this is usually groomed area and crowds started appearing in the afternoon taking advantage of previous days snowfall. Spires liked this type of conditions the best of all. More exploring the area, some easy groomers of Glacier Express to work on carving technique (Spires not so good in this aspect but good enough to provide tons of fun). Called it a day and noticed that in two days of skiing I discovered less that 10% of ski area! This place is massive !!!
Skied back to chalet through Foret woods again, this time tree runs were all tracked out but still plenty of fresh lines to be found. This is how close to chalet I was able to ski - 30ft. short of ski-in.
Day 3 brought same condiotions after some 5cm of overnight snow, enough to refresh the hill. Made my way over to the central area of Val D'Isere (Solaise Express) and had some great piste runs while keeping my eye on the FACE. Of course I couldn't resist and headed over to the top of Bellevarde by taking very scenic ride on L'Olympique cable car.
Face Olypique de Bellevarde is one of the five classic downhill runs in the world and was host to FIS World Championship, Olympic downhill and annual mid December World Cup races.
View from the cable car down towards Val D'Isere.
View from 2/3 down the Face, good that these fences are there otherwise little distraction with the amazing view, wrong move and plunge to the bottom. I have to admit that adrenalin took over on this run and I didn't feel too intimidated, I would say rather excited to be on this run than overwhelmed with steepness and technical difficulty of the run itself. Since it is southeast facing run it gets icy on spots which requires special attention, I have seem quite a few wipe outs, fortunately it wasn't me.
That day I also discovered great runs off to La Daille side and one of my favorite groomed runs with great challenging options to the either side of groomed piste - off Manchet Express. In following days Arcelle and Marmottons runs were order of the day.
Some flat light and overcast days followed but that usually meant new snow on the mountain. Again, skiing in flat light conditions in the Alps is no fun at all. I was forced to make one day short and visit amazing Oxygen Aquasportif center for some body pampering.
By day six I made it to Tignes side and not because I was bored with Val D'Isere side, but because I felt going there to justify my buying the whole Espace Killy pass. Now, from the top of Toviere view opens up towards Tignes area (host of Xgames). Town itself is not very pretty - it mostly consist of mid rise building filled with vacationing tourists and usual selection of restaurants and ski shops. Took few runs off Grand Motte and then headed over to check out another famous runs off the Col des Ves, ungroomed bump fields on one side, steep groomer on the other and lots of still untracked lines in between.
View going up very slow Col des Ves chair but after enduring harsh winds while riding the chair the rewards are these vast powder fields and great and challenging terrain.
Back to LaDaille side to find this bliss:
I think that Elan Spires are made for this, I had great time riding those babies in this soft bumps, tracked out powder and in and out of trees. Hours and hours of fun.
And this is pretty much how the rest of the trip was going. And some random picks of favorite sights and places:
My fav restaurant L'Arolay.
Every morning's path to paradise.
On the way out of the mountains, another storm with healthy dose of snow was heading toward the Alps. Alps are experiencing great snow season and it is not too late to head over that way. It is not scary expensive, it is not that hard to get too (especially from the East Coast) and it is great experience that would last a lifetime.
Of course each ski day ended up with one (or two, or ...) of these:
Vin Chaude ! Cheers !!!
I would be happy to answer any questions if anybody is thinking going that way.
Edited by goranmilos - 1/21/13 at 11:07am