Don't Waste Ski Time - Hire A Guide or Instructor
The third day in Val d'Isere dawned foggy and hazy, but you could tell the sun was working to get through. This day I intended to test the expanse of the Espace - lift to lift, east to west, or maybe north to south - and take some great photos along the way. Of course I had no intentions of doing it by myself.
Remember that your time on the slopes in Val d'Isere is limited and you could spend a lot of time reading piste maps to know, not only where you are and where you are going, but also trying to figure the logistics of returning before key lifts close. They won't strand you on the mountain but it might take a very expensive taxi ride to get back to your base.
When you hire an instructor you get a lesson and worry free touring. There are over 250 certified instructors in the The Val d'Isere office of the French ski school - the Ecole du Ski Français (ESF) and most speak some English, many speak excellent English and, in all, at least 11 languages can be found among the instructors.
Jacques Morel, a veteran instructor with the ESF who was raised in Bourg St Maurice, a short 30 kms from Val d'Isere, was my instructor and guide for the day. Jacques had taken a sabbatical for several years to go to Canada and coach the Canadian national ski team and had now returned home.
Jacques' time in Canada gave him an excellent command of English and his experience coaching the ski team allowed him to recognize and assimilate the subtle differences in the ways North Americans learn skiing as compared to the French.
Suffice to say that the French ski school teaching system is much more standardized and regulated - to the benefit of the students - than in North America. Certified on both sides of the pond, Jacques is able to quickly assess a skiers flaws and knows how to work key improvements into the day.
If you visit and ski Val d'Isere you can request and reserve instruction time with Jacques Morel, or any of the other ESF instructors, through the Val d'Isere ESF web site.
L'Espace Killy - End to End - Almost
Jacques and I set out bright and early on the L'Olympique Tram at the foot of Bellevarde and turned our skis toward Tignes and pointed down the valley. As we moved from lift to lift the skiing was fantastic as about six to eight inches of new snow had been laid down during the night.
As great as the skiing was, the sheer beauty of the landscape was overwhelming. The sun, trying hard to push off the morning haze, was warm and full at the top of most lifts but you could see the night clouds hanging thick in the far valleys.
Jacques pointed out Mont Blanc at several different view points but it was always veiled in the clouds. At no time could the peak be seen, but often huge sections of the Massif breastwork were visible and quite imposing.
The saying is that when Mont Blanc wears the veil (or the hat as some others say) great skiing conditions are sure to come. I would have loved a peek at the summit, but I was grateful for the fresh snow, sun and calm winds.
Down and through Val Claret and Tignes we headed up to L'Aiguille Percee passing a huge hole worn through the rock dubbed - The Eye of the Needle. Around the back of the Needle we headed down a long descent above Tignes Les Boisses and the Lac du Chevril dam to the northern boundary of Espace Killy in Tignes Les Brevieres.
Onward and Upward
Watching the clock we turned right around and took the gondola out of Les Brevieres to head back toward the southern most environs. Our next stop was the obligatory lunch which we took at La Teniere, located at the midstation of La Face on the Bellevarde.
Both Jacques and I had a fresh green salad with warm bread and cheese - always a staple if you are not too hungry. Then we skied down Le Face and over to a covered chairlift up Solaise.
Jacques then took me to a very interesting and fun ride on Leissieres Express. This chair goes up to a summit that is part of the Col de L'Iseran and as it approaches the top it appears you are heading to an unloading station. Suddenly the chair rolls up and over the ridge peak and heads sharply down the other side. While I thought it was a real rush, the over the top move elicited more than a few screams for the other chairs.
Finally - The Moment of Truth
Off the Leissieres Express chair, Jacques made a quick calculation and we had to admit we didn't have the time to make it to the Signal de L'Iseran or the Glacier de Pissaillas. I told Jacques I didn't feel bad at all because we were running out of sunshine, I was running out of gas and L'Espace Killy will remain, for me, endless.