Fabulous early season conditions in Val d’Isère

3rd December 2016, by Abi Butcher

Wall-to-wall sunshine, fabulous snow and happy skiers in Val d'Isère

Wall-to-wall sunshine, fabulous snow and happy skiers in Val d'Isère

Until Wednesday morning I hadn’t planned a pre-Christmas ski trip, something that I have done for as long as I can remember. Not because I don’t think conditions will be good after the past two seasons, but because I travel a lot year round and couldn’t bear the thought of putting my belongings in a bag again nor taking my dog to kennels.

But a last-minute invitation to join Le Chardon Mountain Lodges on an opening weekend to meet Zac and Owen Vinter, two extremely promising young Scottish racers, on a weekend in Val d’Isère was too good to turn down. As Fraser Wilkin has explained in Friday’s snow report, conditions in Val d’Isère and Tignes are – along with those in Zermatt and Cervinia — the best in the Alps. Snow conditions are very localised, and it’s dumped here thanks to something known as the “Retour d’est” a depression from the Med that brings snow up from the eastern Italian Alps and dumps it on Val. The resort had 1.5m in 36 hours, with drifts of up to 5m up top — and that’s stood it in good stead for the coming season. Locals are saying this is the best start in 25 years and I can well believe them.

Absolutely amazing conditions in Val d’Isère and Tignes this weekend

And what a treat skiing in early December is — Val d’Isère’s slopes are empty and the snow in perfect condition despite the uncharacteristically mild days for this time of year. Yesterday we had wall-to-wall sunshine, with no trace of ice and perfect grooming. After meeting up with our guide Andrea from Oxygen, we boarded the brand new gondola up Solaise to the nursery area at the top.

The cinema area in Le Lounge – perfect rest spot for kids

This area has been completely remodelled over the past two years and this season a restaurant and picnic area called Le Lounge has opened at the top, a place where skiers are actively encouraged to bring a picnic. There’s a microwave, huge TV screen and cinema area for the little ones and comfortable seating scattered generously with sheepskin rugs — an absolutely gorgeous, family friendly space that will surely help those keeping within a budget on their holidays in this Brexit climate.

Val d’Isère has introduced a new lift price this season of €35 for the whole of Solaise, so not only can beginners and children learn at the top of the mountain as opposed to the base of the slopes, it means the whole family can meet in a place with great views for a lunchtime fuel-up without having to trundle down to the town.

The view from Le Lounge on Solaise – a family meeting area and picnic spot

Anyway, on with the skiing — La Daille is currently closed off because the men’s World Cup races are taking place this weekend, transferred from Beaver Creek a couple of weeks ago when the Alps had more snow than Colorado. We started with a couple of laps of Madeliene then headed up the Glacier lift, over Leissieres and up the Vallon cable car to get to the top of the glacier. Everywhere the snow was perfect – thanks to Val’s impressive snow-making facilities, which ensure the resort can open 25 November and that there is snow down to the town, also allowed a good base.

This morning I swapped my Volkl all-mountain skis for a pair of Dynastar men’s piste skis and couldn’t have been happier with the decision. Every year Oxygen update their kit so I headed out up to Tignes on a brand new pair of bright orange skis to match my outfit. We lapped the Tommeuses chair several times, taking full advantage of the empty corduroy on Creux. It sounds like I’m writing an ad for Val d’Isère but the on-piste conditions here couldn’t be more perfect.

Watching the men’s World Cup downhill at La Daille

After watching the top 20 World Cup racers go down from the “mosh pit” in La Daille, we headed right up to the top of La Grande Motte — more wall-to-wall sunshine and fantastic little moguls all the way down Descente. Having broken my wrist in the summer I’m not as fit as I would normally be at this time of year and my legs, by this time, were burning.

A little bit more pootling about and I’m now sitting down to afternoon tea in Le Chardon’s wonderful Chalet Mistral. What a day — what a weekend. Just goes to show, you should always take a gamble and say yes. I’m sure the dog’s fine!

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