The slopes

  • Extent 5 out of 5
  • Fast lifts 4 out of 5
  • Snow 5 out of 5
  • Queues 4 out of 5
  • Terrain p'ks 3 out of 5
  • Expert 5 out of 5
  • Intermediate 5 out of 5
  • Beginner 3 out of 5
  • Boarder 4 out of 5
  • X-country 1 out of 5
  • Restaurants 3 out of 5
  • Schools 5 out of 5
  • Families 4 out of 5

The resort

  • Resort charm 3 out of 5
  • Convenience 3 out of 5
  • Scenery 3 out of 5
  • Eating out 5 out of 5
  • Apres ski 4 out of 5
  • Off-slope 2 out of 5

Key facts covers:

  • Espace Killy

Key facts

Resort1850 m
Slopes1550-3455 m
Lifts88
Pistes300 km
Price index110

Linked resorts

Val d’Isère

France

Val d'Isère chalets

The upside

  • Huge area shared with Tignes, with lots of runs for all abilities
  • One of the great resorts for lift-served off-piste runs
  • Once the snow has fallen, high altitude of slopes keeps it good
  • Wide choice of schools, especially for off-piste lessons and guiding
  • For a high Alpine resort, the town is attractive, is lively at night, and offers a good range of restaurants
  • Wide range of package holidays, including some comfortable chalets

The downside

  • Some green and blue runs are too challenging, and all runs back to the village are tricky
  • You’re quite likely to need buses at the start and end of the day (but they are very frequent and efficient)
  • Many lifts and slopes are liable to close when the weather is bad
  • It can seem more British than French for much of the season
  • Expensive eating and drinking; it’s one of the priciest resorts in France for this and readers complain
  • Latest user reviews

    There aren't any reviews yet.

    Your views?

    If you have visited this resort not too long ago, why not add your own short review to this page?

    News – 2017/18

    The lift revamp of the Solaise area will be completed for 2017/18 by the replacement of the tediously slow Datcha chairlift, which serves some nice easy blue runs, by a high-speed quad that will cut queues and give a much quicker ride. As well as that, the long cruise back to town from the blue Santons run, along the Manchet valley, will be served by snowmaking, making this an attractive home run alternative to the steep black Face de Bellevarde. Plus there will be a new mountain restaurant, L’Étincelle (which means ‘spark’), near the bottom of the Solaise pistes.

    A lift pass covering seven lifts in the Solaise area including the gondola up from the village will be available for €36 a day (compared with €57 for a normal day pass) – this will suit beginners and intermediates lacking the urge or ability to cover a larger area.

    And the resort has announced ambitious plans to transform the heart of the village itself over the next five years with a €200 million project called ‘Le Coin de Val d’Isère’. A huge central area will be redeveloped with new buildings replacing old, a new piste will be built to allow you to ski from the foot of the lifts to the newly developed area and an underground moving walkway will bring skiers back from there to the lifts. Two new hotels, two new apartment complexes, a resort welcome centre, new childcare facilities and a covered bus station will also be built.

    News – 2016/17

    A 10-person gondola that can carry 3,600 people per hour replaced the existing quad chairlift and parallel cable car from village level to the Solaise sector of slopes – effectively increasing carrying capacity by 40 per cent. The new gondola arrives at a much more convenient point at the top of the new beginner slopes, allowing easy access to those and down to the main Solaise chairlifts.

    There’s also a new day lodge at the top of the gondola with a terrace, a coffee bar, picnic areas with microwaves, vending machines, table football and a kids’ area with cushions.

    Summary

    Val d’Isère is one of the world’s best resorts for experts – who are attracted by the extent of lift-served off-piste – and for confident, mileage-hungry intermediates. You don’t have to be particularly adventurous to enjoy the resort and a good new beginner area opened in 2015/16; but it would be much better for novices and timid intermediates if the piste classifications were more reliable.

    The drawbacks listed on the left are not crucial for most people, whereas most of the plus-points weigh heavily in the balance. For a combination of seriously impressive skiing and pleasant village ambience, it is difficult to beat.

    THE RESORT

    Val d’Isère spreads along a remote valley that is a dead end in winter. The road in from Bourg-St-Maurice brings you dramatically through a rocky defile to La Daille – a convenient but hideous slope-side apartment complex – and the base of lifts into the major Bellevarde sector of the slopes.
    Carry on into the centre of town and turn right, and you drive under the nursery slopes and major lifts up to both the Bellevarde and Solaise sectors to a lot of new development. Continue up the main valley instead, and you come first to Le Laisinant, a peaceful little outpost with a fast lift into the slopes, and then to Le Fornet, the fourth major lift station.
    The developments up the side valley beyond the main lift station – in Le Châtelard and La Legettaz – are mainly attractive, and some offer ski-in/ski-out convenience. La Daille and Le Fornet have their (quite different) attractions for those less concerned about nightlife. A car is of no great value around the resort.

    Village charm

    Much improved but…
    The outskirts are dreary, but as you approach the centre, the buildings become much more attractive (chalet-style, clad in wood and stone) and the central Val Village complex is traffic-free. Many first-time visitors find the resort much nicer than they expected but reporters have complained of ‘loud arrogant Brits’ spoiling the place.

    Convenience

    Mostly fine
    There is a lot of traffic around, but the resort has worked hard to get cars under control and has made the centre more pedestrian-friendly. The location of your accommodation isn’t crucial, unless you want to ski from the door or be close to a nursery slope. The main lift stations are served by very efficient and amazingly frequent free shuttle-buses; but in peak periods you may have to let a few full ones pass before there’s space to board.

    Scenery

    Valley deep, mountain high
    The resort sprawls along a steep-sided river valley, beneath a series of high and partly wooded mountain ridges. There are splendid views from the Pissaillas glacier.


    © Val d’Isère

    THE MOUNTAINS

    Although there are wooded slopes above the village on all sectors, in practice most of the runs here are on open slopes above the treeline, and a lot of lifts can close in bad weather. Signposting is good. But Val d’Isère vies with St Anton for the title of ‘resort with most underclassified slopes’. Many blue and some green runs (including runs to the valley) are simply too steep, narrow and even bumpy; in other resorts they would be reds, or even blacks; we have a hefty file of complaints from readers who agree with our judgement. The local radio (96.1 FM) carries weather reports in English as well as in French.

    Extent of the slopes

    Vast and varied
    Val d’Isère’s slopes divide into three main sectors, two reachable from the village. Bellevarde is the mountain that is home to Val d’Isère’s two famous downhill courses: the OK piste that has been used for the World Cup events and the Face piste that was used for the 1992 Winter Olympics and the 2009 World Championships. You can reach Bellevarde quickly by underground funicular from La Daille or the powerful Olympique gondola from near the centre of town. From the top you can descend to the valley, play on a variety of drags and chairs at altitude or take a choice of lifts to Tignes’ slopes (see separate chapter).

    Solaise is the other mountain accessible directly from the village and reached by a 10-person gondola that was new for the 2016/17 season. At the top is a new beginner area and you can ski down to a variety of chairs that serve this very sunny area of predominantly gentle pistes. From near the top of this area you can catch the fast Leissières chair (which climbs over a ridge and down the other side) to the third main area, in the valley running up to the Col de l’Iseran. This area can also be reached by the fast chair from Le Laisinant or by cable car from Le Fornet. At the top here is the Glacier de Pissaillas.

    Fast lifts

    Access all areas
    High-capacity lifts provide good access from the valley, and there are lots of fast chairs higher up. But there are still a few slow chairs and draglifts around.

    Queues

    Few problems
    Queues to get out of the resort have been kept in check by lift upgrades and additions – but there can be a short wait at the Olympique gondola up Bellevarde. Crowded pistes in high season is a more common complaint than queues.

    Terrain parks

    Beginners and experts welcome
    There’s a good park with lines to suit every level from beginner to expert freestylers; see www.valdisere-snowpark.com.There’s a snowcross and another mini-one aimed at kids. But head to Tignes for a super-pipe.

    Snow reliability

    One of the best
    In years when lower resorts have suffered, Val d’Isère has rarely been short of snow. In our experience of many late-April visits, even in poor snow years, decent skiing is still available. Once a big dump of snow has fallen, the resort’s height means you can almost always get back to the village. But what’s even more important is that in each sector there are lots of lifts and runs above mid-mountain, between about 2300m and 2900m. Many of the slopes face roughly north. And there is access to glaciers at Pissaillas or over in Tignes. There’s substantial snowmaking too (increased in recent years).


    © Val d’Isère

    For experts

    One of the world’s best
    Val d’Isère is one of the top resorts in the world for experts. The main attraction is the huge range of beautiful off-piste possibilities.
    There may be better resorts for really steep pistes – there are certainly lots in North America – but there is plenty of on-piste action to amuse most experts, despite the small number of blacks on the piste map. And some of these have been converted to ‘naturides’, which means they are never groomed but they are marked, patrolled and avalanche protected. Many reds and blues are also steep enough to get mogulled.
    On Bellevarde the famous Face run is the main attraction – often mogulled from top to bottom, but not worryingly steep and it’s a wonderful blast if it’s been groomed. Epaule is the sector’s other black run; where the moguls are hit by long exposure to sun, it can be slushy or rock hard (it is prone to closure for these reasons too). Most of the blacks on Solaise and above Le Fornet are now naturides (and the proper black from Solaise to the valley is no steeper than the alternative red).
    Wayne Watson of off-piste school Alpine Experience puts a daily diary of off-piste snow conditions and runs on the web at www.alpineexperience.com.

    For intermediates

    Quantity and quality
    Val d’Isère has just as much to offer intermediates as experts. There’s enough here to keep you interested for several visits – though pistes can be crowded in high season, and the less experienced should be aware that many runs are underclassified.
    The Solaise sector has a network of gentle blue runs, ideal for building confidence. And there are a couple of beautiful runs from here through the woods to Le Laisinant – ideal in bad weather, though prone to closure in times of avalanche danger.
    Most of the runs in the Col de l’Iseran sector are even easier – ideal for early and hesitant intermediates. Those marked blue and red at the top of the glacier are really very easy cruises on usually very good snow.
    Bellevarde has a huge variety of runs ideally suited to intermediates of all levels. From Bellevarde itself there is a choice of green, blue and red runs of varying pitch. The World Cup downhill OK piste is a wonderful rolling cruise when groomed. The wide runs from Tovière normally offer the choice of groomed piste or moguls.
    A snag for early intermediates is that runs back to the valley can be challenging. The easiest way is down to La Daille on a green run that would be classified blue or red in most resorts. It gets very crowded and mogulled by the end of the day. None of the runs from Bellevarde and Solaise back to Val itself is easy. Many early intermediates ride the lifts down.


    © Dave Watts

    For beginners

    OK if you know where to go
    A new beginner slope at the top of Solaise opened from the 2015/16 season and the Solaise area is now covered by a special lift pass. The nursery slope right by the centre of town is 95% perfect; it’s just a pity that the very top is unpleasantly steep; the lifts serving it are free.
    Once off the nursery slopes, you have to know where to find easy runs; some of the greens should be blue, or even red (see the warning in the last paragraph of ‘For intermediates’ above). One local instructor admits: ‘We have to have green runs on the map, even if we don’t have so many green slopes – otherwise beginners wouldn’t come to Val d’Isère.’
    A good place for your first real runs off the nursery slopes is the Madeleine green run on Solaise, served by a six-pack. The Col de l’Iseran runs are also gentle and wide, and not overcrowded. There is good progression terrain on Bellevarde, too – though getting to it can be tricky. From all sectors, it’s best to take a lift back down to the valley.

    For boarders

    Watch out for flats
    Val d’Isère’s more upmarket profile attracts a different kind of holiday boarder from Tignes; the resort is, perhaps, seen as Tignes’ less hard-core cousin. But the terrain here is great for freeriders. The easier slopes are suitable for beginners, and there are very few draglifts. But there are quite a few flat areas where you’ll end up scooting or walking.

    For cross-country

    Limited
    There are a couple of loops in each of three areas – towards La Daille, on Solaise and out past Le Laisinant. More picturesque is the loop going from Le Châtelard (on the road past the main cable car station) to the Manchet chair. But keen cross-country enthusiasts should go elsewhere.

    Schools and guides

    A very wide choice
    There is a huge choice of schools, guides and private instructors – about 20 schools at the last count. But as they all get busy, at peak periods it’s best to book in advance. Practically all the schools run off-piste groups as well as on-piste lessons.
    Alpine Experience specializes in guided off-piste groups – an excellent way to get off-piste safely without the cost of hiring a guide as an individual. We have had great mornings out with them, and reporters recommend them too. Heli-skiing trips can be arranged.
    Henry’s Avalanche Talks are based here – see www.henrysavalanchetalk.com.

    For families

    Good tour op possibilities
    Many people prefer to use the facilities of UK tour operators such as family specialist Esprit Ski. But there’s a ‘children’s village’ for children from 6 months to 13 years, with supervised indoor and outdoor activities on the village nursery slopes. And Petit Poucet takes children from age three and will pick them up and take them home. And there are registered individual child carers. See www.valdisere.com/en/family/recreation-centers-and-nursery/

    Blogs, features and news

    Map unavailable.

    The slopes

    • Extent 5 out of 5
    • Fast lifts 4 out of 5
    • Snow 5 out of 5
    • Queues 4 out of 5
    • Terrain p'ks 3 out of 5
    • Expert 5 out of 5
    • Intermediate 5 out of 5
    • Beginner 3 out of 5
    • Boarder 4 out of 5
    • X-country 1 out of 5
    • Restaurants 3 out of 5
    • Schools 5 out of 5
    • Families 4 out of 5

    The resort

    • Resort charm 3 out of 5
    • Convenience 3 out of 5
    • Scenery 3 out of 5
    • Eating out 5 out of 5
    • Apres ski 4 out of 5
    • Off-slope 2 out of 5

    Key facts covers:

    • Espace Killy

    Key facts

    Resort1850 m
    Slopes1550-3455 m
    Lifts88
    Pistes300 km
    Price index110

    Linked resorts