We may be pushing April but up in the French Alps, Val d'Isere is one ski resort that won't turn you away for another month at least. Plus, it'll be a nice change to get out of the popular- with-Asians comfort zone of Chamonix or Courcheval and find out why Val d'Isere is the top choice of Europeans with a need for snowy speed.
|Lovely: A large part of the town was developed in the 1980s and the rebuilding efforts faithfully kept to the Savoyard architecture of the region, using traditional material like stone, wood and slate to recreate a charming Alpine village
For one, this upmarket Alpine ski village - nestled in a steep valley in the Savoy region close to the Italian border - is situated at an elevation of 1,850 metres with its highest point at 3,300 m. That means loads of natural snow cover, so there's no need to pad up any bald spots with snow-making machines.
Val d'Isere and neighbouring resort village Tignes together form l'Espace Killy, a great expanse of ski area covering some 1,200 hectares of marked runs. You can opt to ski in this vast spread or pick from either Val d'Isere or Tignes.
If you stick to Val d'Isere alone, you have 82 slopes to choose from, so most skiers are happy enough to just stay there. A very well-organised system of interconnecting ski lifts which include chair lifts, draglifts, gondolas, cable cars and even a funicular, make it easy to get from one section to another.
Most of Val d'Isere's accommodation, eateries and shops are concentrated in the "Old Town" or town centre. Although the origin of the town dates back a few centuries - it still has a 17th century church standing to this day - a large part of the town was developed in the 1980s, in the lead-up to the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics when Val d'Isere was the proud host of the men's events.
|Where to stay:
Les Barmes de l'Ours
|This luxury 4-star (French equivalent of 5-star) hotel has an unbeatable location just metres from the foot of what's probably Val d'Isere's most famous ski slope, the Face Olympique de Bellevarde ski run. It's so close you can ski in and out from the front door of Les Barmes de l'Ours. In keeping with the Savoyard architecture of the valley, the d'cor of the hotel features plenty of wood and stone throughout, creating the feel of a cosy Alpine lodge but with luxurious and elegant trappings. As it's located up a hill, many of the rooms have great views which look down onto the town and the mountain ranges in the background. The best way to round off a perfect day is a great meal at the hotel's one-Michelin-star la Table de L'Ours, headed by chef Alain Lamaison. website: www.hotel-les-barmes.com
The rebuilding efforts faithfully kept to the Savoyard architecture of the region, using traditional material like stone, wood and slate to recreate a charming Alpine village.
Getting around is super easy as a very efficient and free bus service runs between the main ski stations, from La Daille (a tiny hamlet) at the lower end of Val d'Isere to Le Fornet at the upper end, with the Old Town in between.
From La Daille, one can take the funicular which cuts through the mountain and takes you all the way up to the Rocher de Bellevarde (2,827 m).
This is an area which offers a wide range of runs, with slopes facing three different directions. The views from here, as with the other ski areas, are breathtaking.
If you go down from the west-facing slopes, you'll be rewarded with stunning views of Mont Blanc. But what most experienced skiers come up here for is to tackle the legendary Face Olympique de Bellevarde, the setting for the men's downhill ski events at the 1992 Olympics.
Whilst not the steepest of slopes, the 2,905 m run is technically challenging. The run will be used again for the men's events at next year's prestigious FIS World Alpine Skiing Championships. Of course, if you're not in competition yourself, you can try and break your own record - by seeing how much activity you can pack into your visit before your legs give way.
For more information, visit www. valdisere.com.
This article was first published in The Business Times, Weekend Edition, Mar 29 2008.