My 2nd ski trip with my now 15 year-old nephew (The Kid), this year we visited Val D'Isere / Tignes to celebrate Chinese New Year.
Day One - 1 /27 D.C. to Geneva
Left work straight to airport, 7-hour direct flight from D.C. to Geneva. Arrived to Geneva at 7:30 am, and waited ~2 hours for my nephews flight at 9:40 am.
The Kid was very excited to see me and gave me a big hug. We ate lunch at the airport food court before catching 12 noon shuttle to Val D’Isere.
We did not need to get off bus to clear immigration and customs when we crossed French border. How strange!
During our 4-hour bus ride to Val, we passed many small towns, and finally we were on the curvey winey road slowly ascending. We arrived to Val around 4 pm.
Priority no. 1 of the day: picked up ski gears for The Kid.
It was a slow day at the rental shop (Snowberry), so the guy did the boot fitting was able to spend more time with us. He tried out 2 different pairs of boots before deciding. As for skis, rental shop guy suggested Salmon x-drive 154 cm on piste skis for him. The guy was very patient and he took the time to explain the relationship b/w DIN setting, length of the skis, skier levels. Learned something new everyday!
For me, I brought my 143 cm Dynastar Exclusive skis, I planned to rent few days (for demo) and used my own skis for few days. Turned out this was a stupid decision, details more to come below.
By the time we got our gears, the lift ticket office was already closed. So we went back to our hotel, shower and went out to this restaurant (L'Avancher) famous for Raclette for dinner.
Raclette cheese on the plate.
Our hotel in Val D'Isere
From our hotel room, we can see the famous "La Face" run. Some nights, lights were turned on.
It does not look steep, but it is steep!
Day Two 1/28 - Happy Chinese New Year everyone!
Picked up 8-day lift pass at the office before 9 am. Was on the Olympique Telecabine (gondola) little after 9 am. This gondola serves the Bellvarde area.
1st run of the day: Mont Blanc (Green), I found it a bit tricky because it had a double fall line and I was nervous. Afraid that if I didn’t turn soon enough, I would fall off the cliff.
Snow condition wise, it reminded me of the east coast compact snow, trail surface a bit "hard". Val hadn't had any snow for ~2 weeks.
We did 3 more different runs: Vert, Genepy, Grand Pre (all green) and Club de Sports (blue) before I noticed something went very wrong…… my skis refused to turn, it felt sticky and it just “hanged on” to the snow, even when I tried to side slip, it did not slide. I suspected it was the wrong wax (i had it tuned and waxed in the U.S. before this trip). I told The Kid, I needed to change skis. So we went back to the same ski rental shop (Snowberry), the woman recommended 149 cm Atomic Vantage. She also examined my own skis and thought nothing wrong w/ wax.
The entire process took about half hour, we went back to Olympique Telecabine (gondola), picked another green run (3 J and Vert lower part) to La Daille base. With the new skis, it was a bit better. Still at times, I felt my skis was “overpowering” me, it turned before my body reacted to the turns.
Vert lower part was a narrow cat walk, parts were bit steep, which I found were bit challenging, I had small anxiety attacks throughout this run because of the narrowness and steepness. This means: I plowed most of the way down.
Now the most interesting part of the day. We picked a blue run (Santon) to descend down to the base. Santon was a narrow natural half pipe with cliffs on both sides. (In summer, this is a river.) It became narrower and the centre part was icier as we descended down. Few people got stuck and fell. I think this had a negative impact on me. In the last ⅓ of the descend, I fell and could not get up. People just skillfully skied passed me. I think by the time I finally got up, I was paralysed with fear. I tried to side slip, but I was sliding down at a speed faster than I was comfortable with. I changed to plan B, I took off my skis and tried to walk down, not possible either because it was so icy. So, plan C, I sat my butt down, put the skis and poles on my lap, and slide down. It worked even though my jacket collected lots of snow by the time I made to the bottom.
The Kid was patiently waiting for me in the bottom. It was about 3 pm? He suggested we called it a day. I said, but I want to end the day with a good run, not a bad run like that… So we went to the main base. We took this Village chair lift (free), and skied down this green run for the newbies. Then, we saw the disc tow next to the village chair. We tried that also. That was the first time I successfully managed a disc tow without falling. Finally, I felt a bit better.
(sorry no photo this day. It was an overwhelming day with the wrong skis and the Santon run).
Day Three - 1/29 blue bird day
What a beautiful day it was! Blue sky with a bit of sun peeking out. We headed out to the Solaise Telecabine (gondola just built the past year?). I really liked this area because the trails were wider and had nice pitches, snow condition was decent, trails were freshly groomed. In general, I like this area better than the Bellvarde area (access from Olympique Telecabine) that we explored on Day Two. I had my confidence back after skiing few runs off this area.
2nd day of using the same skis Atomic Vantage. I adapted to the skis a bit better than yesterday, but still at times, I felt my skis were outperformed me….
During one of the chair lift rides in Solaise, The Kid spotted a rope tow, asked me what it was and how to use it. So I was happy to show him (thanks @Marznc). This rope tow reminded me of the rope tow in Alta.
Highlight of the day - Leissieres chair. Dang! This was some impressive chair. 1) It crossed the ridge between 2 ski areas 2) this chair was for upload and download (since there was no trail between the 2 areas). I’d pretty confident to say, once you’ve ridden this chair, there is very few chair in the world will impress you further.
This is the graphic illustration of the chair - it serves 2 different ski areas, crossing the ridge (highest point).
Photo below: I was about to "cross" the highest point of the ridge
Photo below: right after passing the highest point, descended down to the ski area - Pissaillas
I wasn't doing a great job of catching the vertical in descend for this chair. But the vertical was huge, I could hear people in front me screaming after they passed the highest point and descended down.
Interesting fact: when there was lots of snow, after crossing the highest point, some people actually jump off the chair and skied off piste.
Since this chair is for upload and download, you see people coming back.....
If you are naughty, you can throw snowballs to people as they are approaching you....
After that impressive chair ride, we took the Mangard (blue) run towards La Fornet base for lunch. Even though this run had some steep parts, and parts with chunky snow in a narrow trees-lined trail, I managed it with a flying color. This was definitely a confident booster run. For that reason, I like this run!
We made a lunch reservation at this Michelin 2-star restaurant. Sweet deal: 29 euro for a 3-course lunch at the bistro (1st floor).
After lunch, we headed out to the glacier part in Val D'Isere by another gondola.
I took this photo from our lunch place, this is the gondola station to the glacier in La Fornet.
We arrive to the Glacier in Val D'Isere !
Another angle of the Glacier in Val D'Isere
We did minimum exploring in the glacier area because it was late in the day (passed 3 pm).
We decided to start heading back to the main village base. To do that, it took some efforts in navigation and it was not as straightforward as you thought!
Basically, we skied down couple runs, bypassed the rope tow, got on the magic carpet then finally the Solaise gondola to head back to the village main base.
The magic carpet was newly built with double “conveyor belt”. This is the only way to access the Solaise Telecabine (gondola) if you are returning from the glacier area. I think the reason they built this was, the distance was too short for a chair lift.
Anyway, The Kid was amused to see this magic carpet serves everyone, i.e. both newbies and expert skiers. For me, I have never seen so many advanced skiers on a magic carpet!
Thought of the day:
The French way of doing things can be a bit convoluted and chaotic at times. But behind the chaos, there is usually a good reason to it. So you just have to go with the flow and it will be ok! e.g. this magic carpet thing. You just need to get on it, so you can be on your way to the base!
We still opted to finish the day with the village chair and disc tow ride. I think this became our routine now.
Tomorrow will be the 1st day of his 5 half day ski school. I can sense his excitement in the evening.
Day Four - 1/30 Flat light day
Today was bit overcast. I dropped off the kid at ski school.
Photo: The Kid's 1st day of ski school
I spent the rest of the morning to check out skis shops in town and also switched out my rental skis. The guy at the shop suggested Salomon Kiana 151 cm and he also thought the Atomic Vantage was a bit above my level. (no wonder I struggled w/ Vantage at times.). I happily obliged to his suggestion.
I took this photo while strolling in town. Water from the faucets was all frozen!
I picked up The Kid from ski school at 12 noon and headed out to the mid mountain for lunch. We ate at this place (near the Borsat chair lift) couple times. Food was ok, but the location was convenient.
In the middle of our lunch, snow started to come down.
Since it started to snow, we decided to play safe (to avoid potential whiteout), we stick with the place we know: Bellvarde area. We did few runs and noticed the flat light. I was a bit scared and my Oakley Prizm Rose goggle did not perform to my expectation. We then moved to the lower part of the mountain, visibility did not improve too much, we started to head back to the village main base by 4 pm.
Again, we finished the day with the village chair run.
I skied only half day today. My skiing today was not as good as yesterday. Probably I was a bit timid in the beginning w/ my new skis. I felt OK after couple runs. Anyway, Kiana worked better for me, it performed at my level.
Day Six - 1/31 Cloudy snowy flat light day
It snowed non stop for 24 hours (since yesterday).
I dropped off The Kid for ski school in the morning and then went back to hotel for a nap. Felt much better afterwards! I picked up The Kid at 12 noon and then we headed out to Tignes because we made a lunch reservation at this restaurant at 1:30 pm.
Tignes has 3 base areas. We could not find this restaurant at Tignes main base, realized the restaurant was located at a different base, and we needed to take a bus to get there. An older local Frenchman was kind enough to show us the way to the bus stop. During that short walk, he saw how we struggled to carry our skis and poles. He said: “you are not carrying your skis like a real skier, this is how you should do it. “ Then he showed us how to do it. He was very cute. I learned something new everyday!
The bus ride was 15 mins.? It was good because we got to check out Tignes and contemplating the idea of staying here next time.
Based on what I saw, Tignes base is more contemporary, versus Val D'Isere has more traditional feel. Trails at Tignes were more “consistent” to the ratings, vs. Val were not. For that reason, I felt more comfortable and confident skiing at Tignes, because I know what I am expecting and there’d be less suprises.
The restaurant we went was known for it's beef dishes. The Kid had steak tartar, and I just had a soup. After our late lunch, we figured skiing back to Val D'Isere would take some cris cross and might take a bit longer time to get back. We started moving quickly!
I was again impressed by the lift systems here. This lift in Tignes has double loading: 2 quad chair side by side, every other chair to a location in Tignes and every another to Val D'Isere. So you really need to be sure you wait on the right side. We also saw this one lift tower handles both the gondola and chair lift. Amazing!!!
The rest of the afternoon continued to snow, with flat light. Usually, the runs were pretty bumped up by afternoons. But with the flat light, I could not really see any bumps, so I just dealt with the bumps as they came. I became stress-free in flat lights! (I usually become nervous when I see bumps)
It was snowing quite hard and I had to keep wiping snow off my goggles, I wish my goggles could have the "windshield wipers" like my car.
This afternoon's snow condition in the mid mountain and base reminded me of WB's wet snow. By the time we got back to village base, I was soaking wet through and through. We still finish our day with the routine, ski the village lift chair as our last run of the day.
Day Six 2/1 Blue bird powder day.
After 36 hours of snow, Val D'Isere got ~1 feet of snow. I started skiing this morning as soon I dropped off the kid at ski school. I took Solaise Telecabine (gondola) to the Solaise side and then off to the glacier for some powder skiing.
First stop: Le Lounge off Solaise Telecabine.
Photo: External view of Le Lounge. To the right is Solaise Telecabine (gondola).
What you see as you walk in...
Like many typical Chinese tourist, I spent too much time taking pictures inside public restrooms. Because I can't help it! This place was too impressive, even the bathroom!
This is the view from the Ladies' room. It has a huge window overlooking the mountain.
This was the 1st day I saw so many people went off piste, and heli skiing. Without The Kid as my “human GPS”, I had to stop often to look at my cheat sheet (the kid made me) and the trail map to make sure I was heading to the right trails and right lifts.
The snow condition was beyond amazing, reminded me of Alta and Sunshine snow conditions. Surly, Val D'Isere grows on you and now I am quite fond of here.
I supposed to meet the kid at 11:45 am for lunch at Solaise Le Lounge. But I took the wrong gondola and then had to take a long detour (my sense of direction was very bad). I was >30 mins. late when I arrived to our meeting place. The kid was worried sick. I felt very bad.
We had lunch at Le Lounge, built 2 years ago. It was a very contemporary 2-floor building with glass windows overlooking the slopes from different angles. (Even the restroom has this huge glass window overlooking the slopes).
Le Lounge only has a coffee shop on 2nd floor. But the setting was so inviting, we spent an hour here just to enjoy the view. By now, I am falling in love with Val D’Isere. Great powder skiing, magnificent views, what’s more to ask for ?
Food at Le Lounge was not so expensive. He had 3 different pastries (chocolate croissant, regular croissant, raison croissant) and hot chocolate, I had a cafe mocha. Grand total: ~12 Euro.
But the view... it is priceless!
Behind the coffee shop, it has a sitting area where you can relax. Also has a kids area with big screen TV on the 2nd floor.
Coffee Pastry shop
After lunch, the kid suggested we head back to the glaciers and tried out the disc tow and T bar. I happily obliged. Compared to last year, one huge progression I made during this trip was, I became more open to try new things. Last year at WB, the kid wanted to do T bar and disc tow, I flatly said no. I think I finally realized, it was ok to try these new things, I would not get hurt from trying them.
Afternoon the trails got bumped up pretty bad. But with the powder snow, I felt very comfortable navigating through the bumps because they were so forgiving, I could ski over, around, whatever…. I did not loose control or fell. I was no longer afraid of bumps! Actually I kind of like bumps because they slowed me down.
The kid, on the other hand, was not so fond of bumps, he said they were hard on his knees and they slowed him down….
We finished the day with our routine village run. Another great day of skiing. I think my confidence level and ability level grew stronger each day. I was comfortable to ski faster, ski in icy conditions and bumps. I really like skiing in Europe.
After 5 days of skiing here, I encountered, French, German, Australian, British, Italian; but no American or Canadian yet.
Day Seven 2/2 - Overcast day
I started skiing as soon as I dropped the kid at his lesson. Headed out to Solaise and glacier side again, because that side has the best snow conditions.
I stopped at Piste “L” (blue but a difficult one, more like red), debated if I should go down there myself. Since I saw the Kid’s GoPro recording the night before, it was similar to Santon, but wider half pipe with steeper part in the beginning of the run. I chickened out, I headed out to Glacier side at Val D'Isere.
I skied down this Vallon (blue run) trail off Solaise area, it was another natural half pipe but much shorter, wider than Santon and since it was early in the morning, the snow condition was still good. I enjoyed half pipe if it was not icy and wide. I enjoyed that Vallon half pipe so much that I repeated 2 times and headed back to Bellvarde side to meet up with The Kid for lunch.
We decided to go to Tignes for lunch. This place called Le Plate, privately owned cafeteria, great view but bit more expensive. So, it was worth it. This place was different from Le Lounge. It was outside seating. I found it was a bit cold and windy. Since it is private, you'd need to pay to use their restrooms...
We decided to spend the remaining day at Tignes. Remembered I said before that I liked Tignes? Now I changed my mind! There were way too many snowboarders in Tignes than Val D'Isere. I got hit by a snowboarder once, the person just took off. Second time, it was a close call with another snowboarder going on high speed.
The condition was not as good yesterday and I did not ski well. Combination of reasons: I had a new rental ski Rossi Famous 2, a carving ski. I felt like I had to carve more than I wanted. My knees were hurting from 2 consecutive day of skiing.
The Kid wanted to ski more in Tignes but I wanted to call it a day. He might be a bit frustrated because I wanted to finish early today, I was skiing so slow and he had to wait for me often.
We got back to hotel early. I proposed that he asked (again) for his parents' permission to ski alone, checked back with me every 30 or 45 minutes, and we would bring our walkie talkie.
It was good that his parents finally agreed. Since he wanted to do more exploring in Tignes the next day, we discussed our meeting points at Tignes during dinner time.
Day Eight 2/3 - Another blue bird powder day
We got another round of snow. Overnight snowfall resulted in 12 - 15 cm of snow. I tried to wake up The Kid at 7:15 am, he ignored me. I then said to him, we got more snow overnight, take a look. He got up immediately! (kids!)
Today was his last day of ski school. This Australian snowboarder in his class wanted to learn skiing, he skipped 2 days out of 5-day ski lessons in total, because he wanted to take advantage of powder day. Today, he was no show again. But I couldn't blame him.
I supposed to meet up with The Kid in Tignes (the same spot near this restaurant we had lunch), I was late again! Same reason, I got lost, had to take a detour and then missed the bus stop to get off. It should only take me ~1.5 hour to ski from Val D'Isere to Tignes, but I took more than 2 hours. Me and my sense of direction, it is hopeless!
After lunch, The Kid strategically planned out a route in Tignes, so that he could maximize his time in exploring the areas and; I could minimize my skiing (knees still hurting).
Like all previous days, I just followed him and trusted him that he would not take me to terrains beyond my ability. But guess what, surprise of the day. As we got off this chair in Tignes, he said: "Well you need to go down on this red run (advanced blue), no other options to go down....but it was not bad" I thought to myself: "Yes for you. But not for me." While I was contemplating how I should manage this, he already reached to the bottom of the trail....
That red run was steep with big bumps, but it was wide. I was very scared initially because I thought it looked icy. (I could handle bumps by now but ice, still a no.) To my surprise, I managed each turn okay because it was not icy. So I just took my time, handle 1 turn at a time. Believe me, there were moments that I really want to strangle The Kid after I made my way down. But as I reached to the bottom, I thought to myself: "hmm, it wasn't so bad, it was the first red run I did here, and I survived it!"
So, off we went again to another area in Tignes to explore. While I was waiting for The Kid at a lift chair (he went to explore on his own), the lift guy came to chat with me. I guess they normally do not see many Asians, when they see one, they are curious to learn more about you. He asked me all sorts of interesting questions: where are you from? Are there any ski resorts in China? Which part of China? How many?
By the time The Kid finished exploring Tignes, it was quite late. We barely made to the last gondola back to Val D'Isere at 4:30pm. It was a good day overall. The Kid got what he wanted, I survived the 1st red run and had the rest I needed.
It started snowing again and The Kid wanted to try "La Face" on his last day (tomorrow).
Day Nine 2/4 - Au Revoir Val D'Isere
The day started with overcast, visibility was not very good. I turned The Kid loose and let him went exploring himself. He decided not to do La Face run after all because of poor visibility. For this, I applauded his decision, a wise and level headed one. For me, I spent my last morning in Village chair. Then I went back to the Solaise area, I just did 3 runs off the magic carpet. I did not want to venture out further because we had to catch the 1 pm bus back to Geneva. I did not want to get lost and be late again.
My last ride of the Solaise Telecabine.
The runs below the Solaise Telecabine (gondola) are either red or black, all these runs take you back to the main village base.
We never skied down to the main village base, because all those runs are steep.... we always take the gondolas, either Olympique Telecabine or Solaise Telecabine.
The Solaise Telecabine (gondola) was built in recently. They had to cut down some trees to make "ways" for the gondola. See the exposed tree trunks.
One of the side trails off the Solaise.
1) Skiing in Europe is not expensive. We bought 8-day ski lift ticket at $334 per person, 8-day boots + skis rental $240, 5 half-day lesson - $235. Calculated it out per daily cost, it is still cheaper than the cost of 1-day lift ticket at some big U.S. ski resorts. e.g. Stowe, Vail, Aspen...
2) There are more ski school options. Unlike U.S. where there is only 1 ski school per resort. I think this is a good idea because competition breeds better quality and value.
Before our trip, The Kid did some research on his own and narrowed down to 3 ski schools (ESF, Oxygene, Evolution 2). The first 2 days, we visited those 3 schools, and asked about the price, instructor to student ratio, language (whether it is a bilingual instruction or english only). Evolution 2 had a promotion: $195 for 5 half day, but it had 5 students signed up for the class when we checked. ESF is the most expensive ($285?) and has the highest student to instructor ratio. Oxygene is $235 for 5 half-day, only 2 students signed up when we checked and it is English only instruction. We went with Oxygene.
The Kid was very happy with his choice. He liked his 21-year old Italian instructor a lot because he found the guy was very good at teaching teenage kids. He felt he progressed more this year than last year at WB. Now he started to learn carving, which he likes it very much.
3) No chair lift chat because Europeans don't want to be intrusive.
4) No queueing to get on lift chairs. No such thing that you have lift guys call out "first row" or direct the traffic.
5) I found trail rating at Val D'Isere is not very reliable and consistent. Some green runs are actually more difficult than blues. I experienced some surprises when I skied on the greens and blues. Even though a run is rated as green, there can be portions of the run that are challenging (icy, bumpy, narrow or steep) because one run can be very long. (felt extra long if you are struggling!).
6) Tignes on the other hand, trial rating is more reliable and consistent. Less surprises.
7) Trials are normally get pretty bumped up within the first 2 hours, at least for the trails that I skied on.
8) This place was impressive, I’ve never seen mountains and lift systems in such vast and mature scale. You have: rope tow, detachable disc tow, 8-person detachable chair lift, double loading lift chairs, funicular, gondolas, magic carpets to take you from one area to the next. It was so efficient.
9) Definitely a plus if you have a good sense of direction. Because it can be tricky to navigate your way around at times. I was very lucky (& thankful) to have The Kid as my guide. He is like a human GPS. Before the start of our trip, he already knew the trails, lifts like the back of his hand.
10) If you are interested in the lift systems, or riding different kind of lifts, Austria is a very good place to visit (I learned from my nephew). Of course, Val D'Isere / Tignes is not so shabby either! The Kid loves to ride different chair lifts, so this place meets his interest.
By the end of this trip, I become:
1) better in skiing bumps
2) more comfortable in handling faster speed
3) extremely proficient in cutting lines and I can now subtly make my way from the last row to the gate in no time! (But this won't help me much in the U.S., will it?)
Edited by fosphenytoin - 2/11/17 at 6:08pm