Editor Watts’ first ski of the season

10th December 2017, by Dave Watts

Lovely cruising on Thursday in Val d’Isère

Lovely cruising on Thursday in Val d’Isère

It was great to be back on skis again after the summer lay off. And it was great to see so much snow so early in the season – very different to the last three seasons when early snow was in short supply.

My first day in Val d’Isère was a classic bluebird day – crisp and cold with clear blue skies. The pistes were hard but great for high speed cruising but the off-piste was patchy – more snow was needed to cover the rocks and bushes.
There were a surprising number of skiers around to enjoy the conditions and the pistes were fairly crowded.

After 4 hours on non-stop skiing it was time for the first lunch of the season at the Fruitière in the Folie Douce above La Daille. That morphed into a dancing and après session enjoying the famous Folie Douce cabaret – again the place was surprisingly crowded for 7 December – followed by Cocorico, the newer and smaller kid on the block that many people prefer. We bumped into Graham Bell there, who was in town to cover the weekend’s racing for Ski Sunday.

The Folie Douce in full swing on 7 December

On day two we woke to 10 to 15 cm of fresh snow and it was still snowing. The blue pistes at the top of Solaise were delightful with untracked powder on top of groomed pistes. Some our group tried an off-piste section between the pistes. I was glad I declined the offer as carnage reigned because skis got stuck in bushes hidden just below the new snow.

Struggling in the patchy off-piste on Friday

The new beginner area at the arrival point of the Solaise gondola is a huge improvement on the old one at resort level. There are gentle slopes on both sides of the hill, served by moving pavements. So beginners should no longer have to contend with the drag lift and steep top of the resort level nursery slope. So I was amazed to be told by my Oxygène ski instructor that he still took complete beginners to the resort level slope and told them to jump off the button lift part way up to avoid the steep top section – completely bonkers.

The new beginner area on Solaise, with The Lounge at the top

The new Lounge at the top of the gondola is also great – wonderful views and you can bring your own food to avoid the famously pricey mountain restaurants in Val and the outrageous charges for using the loos in them. The loos in The Lounge are lovely with great views from picture windows. And there’s a small coffee bar that sells hot drinks at very reasonable prices.

Day 3 dawned with yet more new snow falling plus high winds that shut the top lifts and bitterly cold temperatures (–15ºC in the village and –30ºC at the top of the mountain). The people preparing the piste for the Giant Slalom World Cup Race had worked all night to keep the course in prime condition and evidently did a top notch job because the race started on time and thankfully the weather improved during the day, with even some blue sky showing by the end of the race. A huge crowd was in raptures when Frenchman Alexis Pinturault (born in Moutiers, now lives in Courchevel) powered down on his second run to win. race.

Dancing girls at the World Cup race on Saturday

Most of the pistes for we ordinary skiers were sadly hard with a few icy patches because the high winds had blown the lovely new snow off. But more snow is forecast for the next few days.

Indeed on Saturday afternoon I moved to Tignes, where I’m skiing on Sunday to Wednesday. Sunday was a white out all over the mountain and no fun at all because of very poor visibility in the heavily falling snow. I was amazed to hear that the scheduled World Cup slalom race in Val d’Isère went ahead – more credit to the race course preparation team

More news from Tignes soon.

In Val d’Isère, I stayed with VIP SKI in their Club Aspen chalet-apartment, which is in a great central position on Val d’Isère’s main street and has 10 spacious en-suite bedrooms (some with Jacuzzi baths) which can all be booked individually. It also has a huge dining room, two spacious sitting rooms and shares a reception/bar area, a view of the floodlit World Cup course and three wooden outdoor hot tubs (excellent with piping hot water and good jets) with the other VIP chalet-apartments in the building.

Dave’s room in VIP’s Club Aspen – spacious and with a Jacuzzi bath and views of the mountain and the legendary Dick’s Tea Bar

Dinner was excellent and included delicious duck and lovely tender steak and was accompanied by delicious wines and preceded by champagne and canapés. And the VIP staff were always on hand to sort any problems and answer questions; and minibuses were available to ferry you to and from wherever you wanted to go (and indeed took me to another of their chalets for a massage, swim, sauna and steam and to Tignes where I am now).

VIP has other luxury chalets elsewhere in Val d’Isère and in seven other top French resorts including Morzine, Courchevel and Alpe d’Huez.

VIP arranged a transfer for me from Geneva airport to Val d’Isère with SnowDrone.They specialise in transfers to Tarentaise resorts and have a fleet of smart 4×4 mini-buses complete with leather seats, WiFi, iPads, a bank of films to watch, USB charging points and more. I was very impressed with my 2hr 30min transfer, which started from the very short-term car park just a few metres from the terminal building. I was sharing with a group of four who were on a later flight than me but I only had to wait 10 minutes for them to arrive.

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