A guide to skiing in the Domaine Killy (Val d'Isere and Tignes)

The (now obligatory) apologia

In 1996 I first started circulating a guide to the Trois VallÉes via the rec.ski alpine and rec.ski.resorts.europe news groups. While the guide was sketchy, idiosyncratic and long-winded it nevertheless seemed to strike a chord with enthusiastic recreational skiers and over the years I received hundreds of requests for electronic copies. I also received scores of requests for guides to other resorts, in particular to Chamonix and Val d'Isere. Despite the ease and speed of email I found that distribution of the guide was becoming too time consuming and my first priority became that of moving the original 3V guide to the World Wide Web. This I completed (in rudimentary text only form just before Christmas 1997. However whilst wrestling with the problems of HyperText Markup Language and finding a decent Editor I was also considering the project of a new guide. There were two problems. First, a moderately comprehensive guide to either resort was going to be intrinsically more difficult than for the Trois VallÉes. Second, I was even less qualified as the compiler than I had been for the Trois VallÉes. Nevertheless, in the absence of any other suitable volunteer, here is my offering.

Part 1: An introduction to the Domaine Killy

Val d'Isere is primarily an off-piste resort. Its true that it has a wide variety of pistes, good slopes for beginners and a reputation as all-round one of the world's top resorts; Nevertheless, it is primarily most appropriate for those wanting to ski off-piste. Under NO circumstances should a party comprising solely beginners or intermediates, put it high up their list of places to visit. There are much better, much cheaper and (above all) much more enjoyable resorts all over the Alps. This is not to say that beginners and intermediates will necessarily dislike Val d'Isere. A mixed party containing Advanced or Expert skiers together with Novices and Intermediates will find plenty of skiing at every grade. Its also (unlike the Trois VallÈes) relatively easy for a competent advanced skier to take off for a remote corner of the resort and still make it back to a pre-arranged romantic lunch date with an anxious novice partner.

Next a warning. Contrary to popular belief, skiing is not a high risk sport. Your chances of suffering a fatal accident are about the same as if you played soccer regularly. Its approximately 10 times safer than scuba diving and more than 100 times safer than mountaineering. In general its not clear whether skiing off-piste increases the risk. That said , the anecdotal evidence implies strongly that skiing off-piste in Val d'Isere is much more dangerous than average. In particular many of the slopes are avalanche prone. Unfortunately the resort is very secretive about its accident record and its difficult to know how many of the horror stories are exaggerated. I can state categorically that I was there in 1985 the week that the head of the ski school and avalanche control were killed in an avalanche. Therefore at least some of the anecdotes are true. I therefore strongly urge those wishing to ski off-piste to consider using one of the specialist off-piste schools or guides. It should be obvious from this Web Site that for my wife and I, one of the supreme enjoyments of skiing is the adventure of finding one's own routes in backcountry skiing. Nevertheless, in Val, I prefer skiing with a guide. Part 2 will suggest some of the off-piste routes that we have sought out and enjoyed ourselves. Several of these were suggested by guides or instructors as suitable for self-guiding under the prevailing snow conditions at the time. The conditions may well be different when you are there. If in doubt, use a guide.

Where to stay

Val d'Isere is a genuinely old village much developed for the Albertville Olympics. The modernisation and building programme (atypically) immensely improved the village as well as the area at the foot of the skiing that serves as nursery slopes. More to come...

The skiing

Copyright©Dennis Summerbell, 2003, (Link to full copyright notice)

Updated 25th Jan 2003