Val d'Isere Advanced & Expert Skiing

It’s Val d’Isère’s off-piste which provides much of its claim to be one of the world’s great ski resorts for advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders. But it also has some great on-piste challenges too.

We cover the Espace Killy's phenomenal off-piste in another section, so this concentrates on Val D'Isere's share of the 26 black runs in the Espace Killy, which make Val d’Isere and Tignes some of the best resorts in the world for advanced skiers, even if they never venture beyond the piste marker poles.

It's the quality, not the quantity of black runs that makes Val D'Isere stand out. Many of the runs are long, so be prepared to be be locked in their embrace for hundreds of metres, unless a blue or red crosses them on their way down the mountain. Several of them are now classified as Naturides, or dotted black runs. These are patrolled and marked, but not groomed in any way. Following a huge dump of snow, they can be sublime but be warned: as more and more people ski them, and less and less powdery snow remains, moguls and ice build up.

Just above the resort, and descending into it's centre, is La Face De Bellevarde (or 'Face' for short). This is one of the most iconic black runs in the Alps, and each year is the stage for the legendary Criterium de la Premiere Neige - the first World Cup Downhill in the Alps – held in Val D'Isere in mid-December. The race opens the European alpine skiing season, and is still considered one of the main contests for the world's best skiers competing in the men's and women's World Cup circuit. And for the Espace Killy it has special significance, because it was the event in which local boy Jean-Claude Killy won fame and fortune in the 1960s, giving his name to the ski area.

In good weather, and without the moguls and ice, La Face De Bellevarde can be a breeze. It faces East and is normally groomed every night so is particularly enjoyable mid-morning when it's had a bit of sun on it and is also at its least crowded. Sure, it is steep, but without ice and moguls, strong intermediates can make their way down without much problem. But late in the afternoon, when the fresh snow has been scraped off leaving long icy patches, moguls have started to build up, and the run is crowded with skiers and boaders taking the shortest route home (some of whom will have never skied a black before), Face becomes a much more serious challenge. And as it's one of the longest runs in the Espace Killy, the pain goes on, and on, and on. Luckily about half way down you have the option of swallowing your pride and switching over to the gentler Joseray red.

If Face has given you a taste for World Cup runs, Val D'Isere has another one to offer up. Still in the Bellevarde sector, but this time descending into La Daille, is the 'OK Coupe du Monde' . It's classified as a red, but it's steep one. It is more tree-lined than Face (making it a favourite spot in poor visibility) but just like Face, it's at its best mid-morning, when very few people choose to ski it, and at it's worst in the late afternoon when it's a popular route home. 

Also in the Rocher De Bellevarde area is the Epaule du Charvet, another black run that provides an even sharper, sterner challenge than La Face. The Epaule feeds into the Santos red, so you can get some respite from its giant moguls before you reach the resort. There is a lovely little restaurant at the bottom from which you can watch others similarly trying to battle through.

The next black on our list is Foret. It's in the Iseran sector above Le Fornet. In our view it is the toughest 'on-piste' challenge in the resort, although as it is a now a dotted black 'Naturide', it's a piste only in the sense that it is marked and patrolled. Large moguls build up, and it's also steep and very narrow in places, so it really is for excellent skiers only – you have been warned! Again, if you get to the bottom in one piece you can stop at the cafe below the Fornet cable car and watch others come a cropper whilst sipping your hard-earned drink.

In the Solaise sector, two black runs come off the Plan red. Piste S is a dotted black naturide. Unless you are blessed with virgin snow, or you enjoy steep icy moguls, it is more pleasurable to take the Rhone-Alpes which is another black run going in roughly the same direction, which cuts a narrow slice through the forest on its way down to Val d’Isere.

Also in Solaise is the Marmottons dotted-black Naturide off the Manchet Express chair. This can provide a host of opportunities and you can take whichever way down you like. In powder, there are few better black runs in resort. But ski it quickly after a snowfall, because it''s West-facing and gets a lot of afternoon and early evening sun, so the fresh powder often turns into crud, slush or ice within 24 hours.

The Boarder run off the Grand Pre lift on the Rocher du Charvet is reserved for boarders, but there are areas just off to the side that skiers can descend on.

Advanced skiers and boarders returning to Val D'Isere after a long gap should note that it has removed the '3000' or 'Tunnel' black piste which was near the Leissieres chair, so don't go looking for it.

All advanced skiers should also test theselves on the challenges posed by Val D'Isere's red runs. Many would be graded black in other resorts. All the red runs already mentioned have steep sections, but perhaps the toughest are Signal (Isere sector) and Cugnai (Solaise).

Then of course, there are the black runs in Tignes. These fully deserve a separate guide to Advanced Skiing in Tignes, but it's worth quickly mentioning that some of the most challenging are the runs leading down to Tignes from Val D'Isere via the Tomeuses lift, such as Campanules, Envers de Campanules, Trolles and Paquerettes.

Finally there are plenty of opportunities for Val D'Isere's advanced skiers to sample some powder skiing in relative safety by trying some of the ungroomed snow very close to the pistes. There is always some extra risk if you go outside the confines of the piste markers, particularly if you are on a glacier, but thousands of skiers do this every year in Val D'Isere without encountering any harm. If you join them, make sure you're not alone and you only 'ski what you can see', and ski where you can also be easily seen from a lift or a piste. Good areas for this between-the-piste skiing include Cugnai and Signal (these both have much longer and more serious itineraries 'off the back' but their front faces have pwoder skiing too), the Col De la Madeline blue in Solaise, the area around the Cascade red on the Glacier du Pissaillas (but be aware of the extra danger here posed by crevasses), the area between the Pyramides and Vallon lift above Le Fornet, and between the Tommeuses and Mont Blanc lifts in Bellevarde.

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