What’s so special about Val d’Isère


There may be better ski resorts for shopping. There may be resorts with better après-ski (though we don't know any).


But for skiing, Val d’Isère is the best resort on Earth.


Of course, every ski resort, however obscure, has at least one aficionado who rates it the best in the world. But most skiers would put Val d’Isère at the top of their list of favourite places, so it must be pretty special. Val d’Isère’s secret is not that it has something for everybody, but that it has so much for everybody.


The season lasts longer in the Espace Killy (Val d’Isère and Tignes) than almost anywhere else in Europe, because these resorts are high, have exceptional snowfall, and are slightly north-facing.


Over 500 snow cannons create a base in November before the lifts open, which lasts until the following June, and add to it most nights through December and January. More important than the number of snow cannons is the fact that Val d’Isère has two healthy rivers to supply them. Ski resorts are not allowed to empty their streams, and can only use up to 30% of their water for snow making. Not many resorts have as much water flowing through them as Val d’Isère does in the Isère and Calabourdane rivers.


Val d'Isère's lifts only close at the beginning of May because there aren't enough people skiing at that time to justify keeping them running. The lifts in Tignes stay open even later - indeed, they used to run all year, and still would if there were the demand - but both resorts re-open their glacier lifts for summer skiing.


There are 300km of wide, varied, beautifully groomed runs catering for every sort of piste skier, from wobbly beginners on their first green run to experts straightlining the OK, hitting the bumps of the S or Sache, or scaring the bejabers out of themselves and the rest of us on the legendary Face de Bellevarde.


Val d’Isère enjoys one of the world’s biggest off-piste areas, much of it on unspoilt National Park land. There are vast expanses of mountainside accessible directly from lifts, yet where one doesn’t see a lift or a piste for hours. Instead of sanitized ‘back bowls’ there are literally thousands of acres of hidden ridges and valleys, some a short walk carrying skis, others a longer walk on skins. Some fanatics ski so far they have to return by helicopter.


Snowboarders find an extraordinary range of slopes with deep snow without the mandatory sack-race shuffle to reach it.


There are wide nursery slopes with free lifts, good snow and snow cannons to keep it that way.


There is a brilliant snow park with everything from little ramps for one’s first six inches of big air to huge jumps where the dudes have time for multiple spins, flips and trouser-retrievals.


There are more than a dozen ski schools, offering everything from teddy bear clubs to powder days, from race training to free-riding, from ladies-only lessons to heli-skiing.


There is no ski resort with better skiing than Val d'Isère.