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Location: snowHeadLand
Resort: Val D’Isere
Country: France
Domain: Espace Killy (joining Val D’Isere with Tignes)
Author: Specialman

Date: 7/12/08 – 14/12/08

Our holiday: Fourth week away that was booked to help us further our boarding and maybe take in a few new things in a big, varied area. Three people; myself and the missus and our bestest boarding buddy Hippy

Website : is the official website but has a lot of independent info

Basics : Situated close to the Italian border, Val is one of the furthest resorts from the major ski airports of Lyon, Geneva and Grenoble. We flew into Geneva, followed by a 3.5hr transfer through beautiful Annency and returned via Grenoble (another 3.5hr transfer), a great route through the Alps that is truly breathtaking all the way to the airport.

Lift system : 150km of runs in Val (300km total in the Espace Killy, shared with Tignes). Not many drags, a very modern lift system based mainly around fast quads and six-seater chairs. From the end of November to the middle of December the EK works on a discounted pre-season pass that saw very few people on the slopes, even though the World Cup was in town. We never had to queue and rarely got on a lift with anyone else – it was really chilled out.
Val is based around several areas: Bellevarde/Solaise are the two main lift areas straight out of the village on the big cable cars; La Daille at the Tignes end has a fast chair and an underground Funicular train; Le Fornet at the top of the valley has a big cable car and is the quietest area and gives access to the Pisalles glacier.

The terrain : Val has four main areas and each offers a different set of runs.

*Bellevarde and La Daille are link to Tignes (via the Tommeusses chair) and offer wide, fast, open pistes (mainly greens and blues) that are great for the first-timer and improver. Access to La Daille is by several easy reds, but these can ice up quickly, especially as the sun drops and they go into shade after slushing up over lunch. Access down Bellevarde is limited to the (in)famous Face run that is the World Cup black run, plus there’s the narrow, gully-like Santons blue (horrible when it’s chopped up an busy) and the hairy Epaulle Du Charvet black run.

*Solaise offers lots of wide blues that really are confidence boosting runs, good for getting rid of a hangover if anything, and these link up to the Pissalles glacier area. Very good but when there’s a whiteout it’s not the best area because there’s little in the way of cover. There are several ways back down, including the amazing Piste L, which is a powder hound’s delight and a truly magical run when you’re on your own and you have so much deep snow to play with.

*Le Fornet up the end of the valley is the gem of Val’s crown, featuring extensive tree skiing and powder runs (down from the glacier) but the red Route De Col is a flat road that shouldn’t actually be a piste – it’s only good for ski touring so boarders beware! Fornet is by far the emptiest area and the most beautiful and the black and red runs going down from the side of the cable car are ace. We did a load of off-piste through the trees (our first proper attempt at off-piste), dropping directly under the cable car into knew deep powder that was untracked. Even if you take a wrong turn the terrain isn’t that gnarly that you lose your way, but there are a few steep gullies with streams at the bottom that can freak you out at first glance.

Good runs to try in the Espace Killy (particularly for boarders) are:

*Col/Vallon/Mangard (Le Fornet)
Coming down from the bottom of the glacier under the Fornet and Vallon bubbles, these long blues intertwine through open powder fields with the odd flat bit, down into the trees of Fornet where Mangard gets steep and gives access to easy off-piste. You can take the Cognon red run near the Edelweiss restaurant or the Foret black from under the cable car. I could ahve spent all week doing this run it's that good.

*Moraine (Pissailles glacier)
Quite possible the best pisted run I’ve ever been on, it’s maybe 1000m – 1200m in length but is steep, wide and beautifully groomed for masses of speed. Amazing off piste just below the chairlift. When it’s sunny this is a joy to go down.

*Piste L (Le Fornet/Solaise)
Like a big gully for most of its length it’s a steep blue but gets a shedload of powder that make sit ideal for practising off-piste without actually having to venture onto off-piste. Terrible in a whiteout though – the gulley walls hurt when you can’t see them!

*Plan Millet (Solaise)
Good blue run that’s great for learning to turn on. Enough gradient to gain speed but not pant-browningly steep.

* Piste M/Rhone Alps (Solaise)
The former is a red, the latter a black. Both are steep and gnarly as hell when iced up and not for tired legs. When the sun’s glaring on them though and there’s been a few centimetres of snow these are speedy runs that really do give you a thrill while you over look the whole valley.

*Epaulle Du Charvet (Bellevarde)
Not a brilliant run but a ‘must do’ run just because you’ll never find so many moguls in such a short spec anywhere else. Basically it is about the same gradient as the Face but full of powder moguls that totally tire you out. A good alternative to the busy Santons runs but flat as hell at the bottom running into Val centre.

*Orange/OK (La Daille)
Two of the main runs, both reds, that run into La Daille, these are odd runs because in they change from wide to arrow, steep to flat in the most peculiar places. Long runs that can get busy late on as everyone races to get down to the funicular for the last runs, and can get icy late in the day because of tree lining each run.

*Diebold (Solaise/La Daille)
A long, easy blue that is super-wide and take you past several fast lifts that access the Tranquille Area (full of greens) and the lifts over to Tignes. Passes the Folle Douce bar.

*Piste H (Col De Fresse into Tignes)
Long, fast blue that’s good to warm the legs after the lift up to join Tignes. Busy first thing in the morning.

*Face/Double M (Tignes Glacier)
Two long reds that join below the Grand Motte funicular station. Not too steep and not too busy. Lots of powder to be accessed from these runs.

* Grattalu (Tignes)
Take the Tichot chair and then the Grattalu chair to access this long, fast but not overly steep run. The top half gives great access to big rocks that you can jib off and you can get to the Swatch Snowpark from here too. Brilliant but immensely cold because it’s so open and a long way from Val so don’t leave it too late.

Off-piste : Both Val and Tignes offer unsurpassed off-piste, something that attracted us because it’s something we were keen to improve on. We’d never really done off-piste before, other than some stuff in-between runs, and with so much snow early December (but a 4/5 avalanche risk) we were pretty scared to go off the main routes. Fornet provided the off-piste access because of the trees and the deep, untouched powder that isn’t a major avalanche risk. However, you really do have to take it easy in the trees, even more so on the wide powder bowls where a guide or at least some avalanche training, is a must.
The glacier has acres of untracked powder that’s easily accessible from the lifts but you’ll need a guide because it looks amazingly sketchy!
The runs off Col De Fresse and down into Tignes past the Aeroski are brilliant because they’re not steep but offer loads of powder that gets tracked out as soon as the first punters have made their way up. There is also so much snow in-between runs that you can always dip in and out for the off-piste without too much risk.

The resort : The village is spread along the valley floor at 1850m and although bright, fairly new and quite crowded, isn’t that bad a place to be. The free bus service every five minutes allows you to move around quickly if you don’t fancy using the lift system to get from one end of he valley to the other. It’s also handy if you are staying out of the main area and need to get into town. Compared to Tignes, which is butt ugly, Val is nice in a manufactured ski resort kind of way.

Food : Didn’t do much eating on the slopes – the strong Euro and high prices put paid to that – but La Tartine in the square at the base of the nursery slopes in the centre of Val is a great bakery that does cheap croque monsieur for €4 and other tasty treats. Café Des Sports opposite does good pizza but the staff are ‘Frenchly rude’ (in a good way). Other than that there are several supermarkets that all have extensive (if expensive) local produce plus the usuals like beer, fruit, chocolate and other goodies.

Accommodation : We travelled with and stayed in the budget Juniper Chalet some 500m from the village centre. A bit retro but blessed with an alcohol-loving Swedish chef who cooked amazing food. Bedside views of the World Cup course was also a nice bonus but no curtain in the shower room meat that the guests in the next apartment block copped more than a few eyefuls of my family jewels!! ?. Great place though and thoroughly recommended, if only to enjoy the group (18 people) environment where you meet interesting people.

Costs: £350 each for the accommodation transfers and flights; £150 for the full area lift pass (£180 normal season from mid-December through to April). A pint is about €6 and a pizza is about €11. Try BN Bar off the main square, to the left as you enter from the beginner slopes, for cheap beer in good surroundings with English staff that were very welcoming. They also don’t allow massive pub crawls from the universities so it’s a chilled place.

Conclusion: We’ve been to La Plagne and Morzine/Les Gets before this trip and although they were amazing because that’s where we learned to snowboard, butt Val d'Isere and the Espace Killy really came up with the goods for us. Okay, we had crowd-free slopes thanks to it being pre-season but nonetheless, it was an amazing place to be and despite people warning us that it would be expensive and full of toffs, it was brilliant if only because of Le Fornet, possibly the best boarding I’ve had ever!

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