As part of the vast Espace Killy ski area, Val d’Isere has long appealed to mileage-hungry skiers, but a recently completed revamp has made it more beginner-friendly too. Matthew Parsons heads to the resort with Mark Warner Holidays.
Eagle, eagle!” I can still hear the shouts of my last instructor urging me to lift my arms for balance as I hurtled down the mountain in the Austrian resort of Adelboden six years ago.
So it’s with some trepidation that I collect my snowboard and head to my much-needed refresher lesson in France’s Val d’Isere – a resort, in my mind, only for those ready to hit the slopes with confidence.
Fortunately, I arrive just after a renovation in the Solaise area – an £11 million, two-year project in fact, which includes a new gondola and learning area complete with “magic carpets” – covered conveyor belts for the weary.
What’s more, heavy snowfall the previous day means I also benefit from plenty of fresh snow to ease my falls.
The wide, gentle slope is a perfect reintroduction to snowboarding, although I’m surprised just how much the single plank has fallen out of vogue since my last winter sports experience; during my two days in the mountains, I see no more than a dozen snowboarders.
After two hours’ tuition, I regain my confidence and spend the rest of the day practising turns without becoming exhausted (thanks, magic carpet). I also take regular breaks at Le Lounge – another key part of the revamp.
Located next to the Solaise gondola station, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this stylish cafe and picnicking space for the latest luxury hotel in the region.
At the end of the afternoon, I catch the gondola back down to the village and meet the rest of my group for a drink in Le Petit Danois.
Despite Val d’Isere’s reputation as one of the more bling ski resorts, this bar is surprisingly cheap (around €2 for a glass of wine), and although it’s just gone 4pm, the drinking games have already begun.
With an early start planned for tomorrow, I head back to Chalet Hotel Le Val d’Isere after my well-deserved drink for a hot soak before dinner.
For a beginner like myself, this Mark Warner property makes you feel as though you’re in safe hands.
Staff are friendly and there’s no snobbery – probably because the resort caters for families, even looking after babies with its on-site creche – so all levels are truly accommodated for.
The central location is reassuring too: the ski equipment hire shop is conveniently located next door, while the gondola station is just a few minutes on foot.
Other selling points include the fact that lift passes can be pre-paid for and handed to you on arrival, plus there is a heated outdoor pool and cosy bar area; rooms are fairly basic, though with all the skiing and apres you don’t tend to spend much time in them.
Each day I’m welcomed back from the mountain with a spread of homemade cakes, fresh breads and spreads and hot tea and coffee although I have to curb the urge to devour too much as a couple of hours later there’s a three-course meal for dinner.
A great selling point for clients is that Mark Warner operates on chalet board meaning breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner is all included in the price so they don’t need to worry about high prices and poor exchange rates once they reach the resort.
That’s with the exception of one night a week when staff have the night off giving guests an opportunity to sample the local fare. I try restaurant 1789 where hearty steaks and the Alpine classic, raclette, are on the menu.
I continue lessons the next morning, but after a few runs in the beginner’s area my instructor decides I’m ready to move on to other slopes.
I even master the “falling leaf” manoeuvre, which snowboarders use to glide safely from side to
side down steeper slopes, facing down the mountain but leaning backwards.
Unfortunately, accessing the other pistes means reacquainting myself with the chairlift; now I see why so many people prefer skis. With one foot locked in the snowboard’s front binding, I make my panicked exit out of the chairlift with a dramatic forward-roll, much to nearby skiers’ amusement.
The embarrassment is worth it, though, as after a few runs on several blue and green slopes I’m let loose, even braving the Bellevarde region, reached via the Olympique gondola. I even mistakenly descend a black run, that falling leaf technique coming in handy.
I had inadvertently picked the infamous La Face Olympic black run – a former World Championship piste, which in parts has a terrifying gradient of 71%.
However, I make it back to the village, and head for apres-ski at Cocorico – the in-place to go with its excellent live band. More drinks follow as our group toasts a successful couple of days.
For clients looking to learn to ski or snowboard, Chalet Hotel Le Val d’Isere ticks all the boxes for a winter escape in the heart of one of the Alps’ most atmospheric villages. And the resort’s reputation for catering to piste-bashing intermediates and the more tenured is rapidly thawing – helping more beginners to take up the sport on its varied slopes.
Book it: A week’s stay on chalet-board at Chalet Hotel Le Val d’Isere starts from £599pp (children from £499pp), based on two sharing on December 10, 2017. Price includes flights, transfers and evening childcare. Free lift passes available on all dates across the season, saving up to £285pp, if booked by October 9, 2017. Equipment hire, day childcare and tuition can be pre-booked at additional cost. markwarner.co.uk
Following the Solaise revamp, Val d’Isere is embarking on another project this year. Dubbed “Le Coin de Val d’Isere”, the village will see a £170 million redevelopment over the next five years.
It will involve the demolition and reconstruction of a triangle at the centre of Val d’Isere, where an underground moving walkway will bring skiers back up to the Olympique and Solaise gondolas.
Meanwhile, 900 extra tourist beds will be added, bringing the village’s total to 25,760. Le Coin is a joint project between the Val d’Isere town hall and local architect Jean-Charles Covarel. lecoindeval.com
Mark Warner has a further three properties in Val d’Isere and neighbouring resort Tignes, which also links into the Espace Killy region.
Chalet Hotel L’Ecrin, Tignes Val Claret
Price: Adults from £739pp, children from £629pp
Highlights: A luxury five-star property with indoor pool (below) and spa/salon, and an open fire.
Chalet Hotel Aiguille Percee, Tignes Le Lac
Price: Adults from £599pp, children from £499pp
Highlights: Recently refurbished and located at the edge of the slopes, the property is just a two-minute walk to the snow and lift. It also has an indoor pool and spa/salon.
Chalet Hotel Moris, Val d’Isere
Price: Adults from £549pp
Highlights: Adult-only hotel with a party atmosphere, located in the centre of Val d’Isere, plus great apres at the Moris Pub below.
All prices based on two people sharing, from December 10, 2017 for a week