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Impression of Val D'Isere...as an American

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I'm not sure how, but I only discovered this site the day AFTER my first foray to the east of the pond to ski. I just got back from Val D'Isere yesterday. I've skied most of the western US and Canadian resorts and thought I'd offer some insights that might help someone out there.

The transfer from Geneva to Val was really a PITA. Took 7 hrs there and 4.5 hrs back. Due entirely to traffic, not weather. We were told in the future to avoid Saturday transfers. But the return was on Friday and still was bad.

Getting one's hands around Val takes a day or two. Compared to North American resorts this place is huge, at least in terms of space. I think I remember there being about 50 lifts. The views are spectacular and we were treated to two days of them as the skies were clear for the first part of our six days of skiing. Val and Tigne are now basically one resort but getting from one area to the other takes effort. Also, people should be aware that while there is a free bus that links all the base areas of Val D'Isere it does not go to Tigne.

After two days of sun we then had 3 days of snow, the first day of which shut down the whole place, apart from Le Fornet. Which was actually a blessing as it turned out to be fantastic skiing, and uncrowded, as it seems most of the French like to stick to the groomed runs.

Another adjustment is the apparent lack of avalanche control on the off piste in-bounds areas. I guess that's why everyone riding the gondola to Le Fornet had backpacks and ave gear. In the US and Canada there seems to be good control of the off piste in-bound areas. Not at Val. I'm guessing this a general European thing.

After the storm we had great conditions, with plenty of powder in the huge bowls up high.

So overall would I as a North American travel to Europe again to ski? Probably not. It isn't that the skiing was bad. It actually was quite good. And the food was really good. The concerns we had about treated poorly by the French were, happily, unwarranted. It's just that while Val is enormous, for a skier who avoids the groomed pistes, the available terrain didn't seem enormous. And I like tree skiing, but the tree line is much lower in Europe than in NA.

North American skiers should be aware of French school vacations. It was kind of crowded during our trip and our guide (we had one for a day and were happy for it) told us the best time to come to Val to avoid crowds is late January.

Anyway, maybe my observations will help someone out there. If you have questions about US resorts let me know. I've been to a lot of them (Park City, Solitude, Deer Valley, Alta, Snowbird, Snowbasin, Breckenridge, Vail, Beavercreek, Keystone, Steamboat, Jackson Hole, Big Sky, Revelstoke, Lake Louise).
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@aschriber, welcome to snowheads. Interesting insight. BTW there is no such thing as inbound off piste in Europe. Very different to north America
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Quote:

North American skiers should be aware of French school vacations

Everybody should be aware of French school vacations! A shame you didn't come here earlier, @aschriber (a belated welcome.....) or we'd all have told you NOT to go then! And it sounds as though you might have caught the British half term holiday, too. Also, there is no such thing as an "off piste in-bounds area". In most of Europe you're either on piste, or off piste. Many insurance policies will not insure you if you go off piste without a guide. Glad the food - and the French - were good though!
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There’s no such thing as “inbounds” in Europe. You’re either on piste or you’re off piste. Avalanche control is (generally) only done to protect the pistes. Go off piste and you’re on you’re own.

aschriber wrote:
It's just that while Val is enormous, for a skier who avoids the groomed pistes, the available terrain didn't seem enormous.


It’s got huge (almost limitless) backcountry / off piste / touring options. But see my comment above - if you were expecting “inbounds” terrain then it doesn’t exist (generally - there are some exceptions).
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@aschriber,
Thanks very much for your views.
Must say you were very unlucky with your transfer you must have been peak time. French school holidays it can be hectic though.
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Verbier, Serre Chevalier, and Schladming are the only good resorts in Western Europe for tree skiing.

You have to work hard to find the best offpiste in Val d'Isere.

If you want easy-access slackcountry, you will need to go to Verbier in Switzerland.

If you want steep backcountry, go to Chamonix or Verbier.
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Thanks aschriber and welcome to Snowheads. Val d'Isere is my favourite resort but it can be difficult to travel there. One year the road was closed and I had to spend a night on the floor of a sports centre in Bourg.
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Nice report, @aschriber, and, as someone who skis both sides of the Atlantic, a fair summary of how I would describe Val to a North American.

To access the best off piste in Val, you really need a guide. Do that, and you'll be introduced to some amazing stuff that rivals the best of North American skiing.
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Quote:

To access the best off piste in Val, you really need a guide. Do that, and you'll be introduced to some amazing stuff that rivals the best of North American skiing.


I think that's his point, off-piste skiing in Europe is far less accessible. Go to any North American resort and you don't need a guide, avalanche safety equipment, or any kind of knowledge and you can be skiing all types of terrain no problems.
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Whitegold wrote:
Verbier, Serre Chevalier, and Schladming are the only good resorts in Western Europe for tree skiing.


Comedy Gold.
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@boarder2020, yes it is his point..but he seems surprised that is the case
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Another viee
https://blog.tdcski.com/first-ski-trip-from-usa-to-the-french-alps/
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I think treeline is the number one difference between NA and the Alps. In NA most skiing is below; in the Alps most is above. And of the forests, many more of them are closed to skiing than in NA. Here in the Northwest, skiing trees is routine. You did pick a great area that is not easy to get to. A little more homework on the front end would have made for a better outcome. This is a good place to do it.
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You know it makes sense.
Mike Pow wrote:
Whitegold wrote:
Verbier, Serre Chevalier, and Schladming are the only good resorts in Western Europe for tree skiing.


Comedy Gold.

whitegold doesnt ski, hes seen it on the telly a couple of times though
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@aschriber, as has been said, to get the best out of the espace killy, or any of the other big EU resorts you really want to get yourself a guide. Shame you only hit on snowheads after the fact, you would have been better informed for sure.
Oh and ignore everything @Whitegold says. He's our village idiot, every forum has one I guess.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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aschriber wrote:


Anyway, maybe my observations will help someone out there. If you have questions about US resorts let me know. I've been to a lot of them (Park City, Solitude, Deer Valley, Alta, Snowbird, Snowbasin, Breckenridge, Vail, Beavercreek, Keystone, Steamboat, Jackson Hole, Big Sky, Revelstoke, Lake Louise).


I would be interested to know which resort you would suggest for a first time trip to USA / Canada ?

Family of four - me and the wife , and two kids now aged 13 and 17.

All capable skiers but my wife prefers to be in a ski school as she feels safer (and it saves family fall outs).

Although a guided ski group would work fine for her so long as it remains on piste (some gentle off the side of the piste is OK)

Me and the kids happy to be shown around for a few days (so somewhere with free guiding ?) and will be happy to ski piste and gentle off piste (nothing too gnarly).

Would not be too keen on having to travel around too much (i.e not unpacking and repacking) - so a resort / base big enough for min 7 days .

Would prefer to be able to ski in / ski out .

No lift queues ... see dates below.

Would like an atmospheric town with shops / restaurants / apres activities like ice skating , ten pin bowling.

So we have things to do if weather is bad - of my wife wants an afternoon potter about.

Might be thinking of Christmas 2020 (could head out around 15th-16th December maybe and do ten days or 19th 20th for a week).

Then tied really to EU school hols - so 13th Feb 2021 for one week and 2nd April 2021 for up to two weeks. But wanting to avoid busy times .

I did look into Aspen last year - that seemed to tick a lot of boxes. Heard good and bad things about Whistler (too popular for its own good? and often gets rain in resort). Lake Louise has potential to be very cold...?
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sheffskibod wrote:


Although a guided ski group would work fine for her so long as it remains on piste (some gentle off the side of the piste is OK)

Me and the kids happy to be shown around for a few days (so somewhere with free guiding ?) and will be happy to ski piste and gentle off piste (nothing too gnarly).


Several US resorts do free "Meet the Mountain" introductory tours, usually in the mornings, where locals (often reired senior citizens) volunteer to show people around the slopes (they get a free ski pass in return Madeye-Smiley )
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aschriber wrote:
I'm not sure how, but I only discovered this site the day AFTER my first foray to the east of the pond to ski.
...
Anyway, maybe my observations will help someone out there.

1) As others pointed out, you might have had a more favorable impression had you found this site BEFORE your trip and use it to guide your trip planning part.

2) Your observation is right on for North American who had little knowledge of skiing in Europe. This report will be more helpful for north American than for Europeans. See if you can find an American/Canadian forum to help them.

Quote:
It's just that while Val is enormous, for a skier who avoids the groomed pistes, the available terrain didn't seem enormous. And I like tree skiing, but the tree line is much lower in Europe than in NA.

North American skiers should be aware of French school vacations.

Basically, you picked the wrong resort for your type of skiing, and went at the wrong time of the season.


Quote:
Another adjustment is the apparent lack of avalanche control on the off piste in-bounds areas. I guess that's why everyone riding the gondola to Le Fornet had backpacks and ave gear. In the US and Canada there seems to be good control of the off piste in-bound areas. Not at Val. I'm guessing this a general European thing.

You did better than many north American in RECOGNISING the lack of avi control! Many others blissfully went off-piste without realizing the danger they put themselves into. A few didn't live to regret it.
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aschriber wrote:


Another adjustment is the apparent lack of avalanche control on the off piste in-bounds areas. I guess that's why everyone riding the gondola to Le Fornet had backpacks and ave gear. In the US and Canada there seems to be good control of the off piste in-bound areas. Not at Val. I'm guessing this a general European thing.


As you said, the area is huge, can you imagine what it would take to control all the in bounds terrain? You'd have to bring NATO in to do it after a storm Happy. There are the "naturides" if you like neither pistes nor avaalnches.
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If proper off-piste in Europe is your thing, mountain guides will make sure you find the best bits (and there is plenty of awesome off-piste stuff in Val), but you need all the correct avi gear and knowledge of how to use it.

There are many legendary off-piste resorts across the Alps with the gnarliest terrain you can shake a stick at (La Grave/Chamonix/Verbier), and also great places for tree-skiing like Serre Chevalier.

I wouldn't write Europe off forever - just ask Snowheads on where/when to go before booking and you'll have an epic time.
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@aschriber,

The off-piste and back-country is enormous in Espace Killy, as it is in plenty of EU alpine resorts. You should definitely give St Anton, Chamonix, and Paradiski a pop in the future. As has been said you really must have a mountain guide to access the best off-piste and back-country. The Canadian and American skiers I have skied with (off-piste) in the alps say you cannot even compare the terrain in the alps to that in NA. They told me not to bother skiing in NA - which is a bit harsh really. I had a great time in both Banff and Whistler, but they did feel incredibly small to me - the hell-skiing was very enjoyable and the main reason that I crossed the pond. Alaska looks incredible, but my NA friends warned me that I could well spend two very expensive weeks grounded.

If off-piste is your thing then you really should return and hire a guide or go with a guided group for a week or two.
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An interesting read.
The decent snow level has risen up above the tree line for much of France for much of recent seasons.
Austria is generally lower but further East so gets lower snow. Lots if decent tree skiing there.
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sheffskibod wrote:
I would be interested to know which resort you would suggest for a first time trip to USA / Canada ?

https://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=150345
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@sheffskibod

If I were a European coming to North America for a family ski trip for a week, over Christmas, I'd pick either Vail or Park City. Both areas have enough skiing to keep a family occupied for a week, and have sizeable base towns for apres ski or even a day off the slopes. Whistler has enough ski terrain as well but I probably wouldn't go there so early in the season as its elevation is lower and there'd be a better chance of poor snow conditions. Both Vail and Park City have ski in/out accommodations. Aspen is a reasonable alternative but is hard and expensive to get to (and expensive once you are there!)

Vail and Park City are a little different. Vail is about a two hour drive from Denver. There are non-stop flights from London direct to Denver but the drive to Vail is two hours from Denver and it can be a trying drive and occasionally the highway is closed to avalanche risk and often there is traffic.

Park City is very convenient to get to as it's only a 45 min drive from Salt Lake City airport, on a highway that never closes. But I don't think there are any non-stop flights to Europe to SLC, and honestly SLC doesn't have the cultural activities that Denver offers (although both cities have great Mexican food!) Vail is a little higher in elevation than Park City and thus a bit colder. Vail, being in Colorado, offers recreational marijuana but on a family ski trip that may not change the equation much!

You mention wanting to avoid lift lines. I doubt you can do that entirely over the Christmas vacation anywhere as that is a popular time to ski in the US as it is in Europe. If uncrowded lifts and a pleasant ski town are primary goals I'd consider a place like Sun Valley, Idaho. Very upscale, has a very pleasant town with an authentic vibe, great skiing, but it's a challenge getting there (4.5 hr drive from SLC, or fly to Boise Idaho or take an expensive flight to the local airport).

Let me know if I can help further.
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Oh and I doubt you will find any resort in North America that has free guided skiing. Most places will have personnel on the slopes you can ask questions of, however. And you will find that all resorts have very organized trail signage.
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@aschriber, If your group ever returns to the Alps, try and organise a high mountain guide (an old boy if you can) to take you off piste for a few days in Chamonix. A fantastic learning opportunity.
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Interesting perspective. As someone who lives in the US but prefers to ski in Europe, I appreciate the lower tree line. I love big open bowls, lots of beautiful white snow as far as the eye can see. The views in Europe are unparalleled as is the food. That said, yes, to get the most out of going off piste, you need a guide... and the good news is that guides or private instruction is about 1/3 the cost of what it is in the US. Like AL9000 said above, I had a guide/trainer for three days in Chamonix Valley... one day in La Tour, two days in Les Grands Montets. Best money I've ever spent.

Oh... and Euro verticals >>>> US verticals.
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aschriber wrote:
Oh and I doubt you will find any resort in North America that has free guided skiing. Most places will have personnel on the slopes you can ask questions of, however. And you will find that all resorts have very organized trail signage.


Lots of places do - though the guiding is very much an orientation and I've heard that many places have a policy of not taking guests on ungroomed runs ( some hosts can however be persuaded wink on a I'm going to ski here but I'm not guiding you basis)
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
@aschriber, yes, christmas will have some crowded days, but "Then tied really to EU school hols - so 13th Feb 2021 for one week and 2nd April 2021 for up to two weeks. But wanting to avoid busy time"

US schools don't have half term. They have spring break, and typically that is sometime in March. So, one way for someone from the UK to avoid half term crowds is to come to North America. We have Presidents' Day weekend (holiday on Monday) that will frequently intersect with half term, but that's just a weekend.

As for where, I'd say Aspen would have the most for your wife to do, but is probably a bit more expensive to get to and enjoy. Park City would be 2nd best for her, and Vail 3rd. However, I would probably ranking my preference of skiing in the those 3 as Vail, then Aspen, then Park City. Any of the 3 would be a good option, however, so I would just choose the one that offered the logistics and price that work best for you and go there.
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@mr. mike, I don't think @aschriber needs much help in figuring out where to go in the US. Confused
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OP as mentioned, shame you didn't research or find the site ahead of your visit in order to know more about both the european holidays and off piste situation - sounds like you could have avoided the crowds and spent time with a guide to get more out of your long journey.

Intrigued as to why you would think that the French would treat you poorly? They're not ones to "blow smoke up peoples a**" (to borrow a US phrase) in the superficial/saccharine way that US "customer service" sometimes manifests itself. But seems an odd statement to make? Had you been before or heard stories?
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Dave of the Marmottes wrote:
aschriber wrote:
Oh and I doubt you will find any resort in North America that has free guided skiing. Most places will have personnel on the slopes you can ask questions of, however. And you will find that all resorts have very organized trail signage.


Lots of places do - though the guiding is very much an orientation and I've heard that many places have a policy of not taking guests on ungroomed runs ( some hosts can however be persuaded wink on a I'm going to ski here but I'm not guiding you basis)


In Canada i found it hard to get the "Mountain Host" back onto the groomers.

They also like a few beers with you afterwards and to steal your spicy wings!!
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Mosha Marc wrote:
Dave of the Marmottes wrote:
aschriber wrote:
Oh and I doubt you will find any resort in North America that has free guided skiing. Most places will have personnel on the slopes you can ask questions of, however. And you will find that all resorts have very organized trail signage.


Lots of places do - though the guiding is very much an orientation and I've heard that many places have a policy of not taking guests on ungroomed runs ( some hosts can however be persuaded wink on a I'm going to ski here but I'm not guiding you basis)



In Canada i found it hard to get the "Mountain Host" back onto the groomers.

They also like a few beers with you afterwards and to steal your spicy wings!!


^+1 and they’ve obviously never been to lake Louise where the mountain hosts adopt you for life
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I think we need to be clear on the difference between "Mountain Host" and "Guide".

A mountain host is a member of the resort staff (often retired and doing the job in exchange for free lift pass) who is allowed to show you around the resort and can take you anywhere inbounds (again North American concept) that is open depending on ability etc.

A Guide is a UIAGM certification that means they can take you anywhere that they think is safe from an avalanche and conditions perspective. In North America that means outside of the resort boundaries and in Europe that means off-piste. They certainly aren't free as it's a highly skilled job that take years of certification.
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I really enjoyed skiing with the mountain hosts in Fernie, which is a proper ski town where some of the local businesses close down on a powder day.
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The closest translation of the US term "Off-piste, in-bounds" in Europe is "Off-piste, outside nature reserves". In other words if you're in a nature reserve, not only are you off-piste, but you're also out of bounds. But sure, nothing is officially protected off-piste, even if a lot of it may enjoy incidental protection as a consequence of piste proximity.

Having spent a week in Jackson Hole (Teton village), as a European, it was really wacky to have an entire mountain area designated as freely skiable (pretty much free of treacherous hazards) - and the knowledge that there was no possibility of accidentally skiing below uplift.
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Surely the closest translation of the US term "Off-piste, in-bounds" in Europe would be the defined Naturide/freeride areas that a few resorts now have, as they’re avalanche secured?
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DidierCouch wrote:
Surely the closest translation of the US term "Off-piste, in-bounds" in Europe would be the defined Naturide/freeride areas that a few resorts now have, as they’re avalanche secured?


Also known in some places as "itineraries", although as this article shows there is a variation between countries which use the term as to whether this means they are evaluated as safe from avalanche risk or avalanche secured.
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I went to The Stash in Avoriaz in December, the ability to buzz around trees reminded me of Canada’s inbound off piste.
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@aschriber, thanks for your post(s), it's always interesting to see a different perspective on what we consider "normal".
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