Myself and a couple of friends went to Val D’Isere (in the French Alps) in January to do a week’s snowboarding. We’re by no means pro-snowboarders, we’re at the stage where we can go down anything, go terrifyingly fast, and pull off a few tricks here and there.
Val D’Isere is, apparently one of the top ski resorts in France, and rates alongside St. Moritz and Cortina. With over 300km of runs and a vertical drop of 1900m, there’s lots to offer the competent skier and snowboarder in the way of a large shot of adrenaline (note that there is a complete lack of beginner runs). Summer skiing can be enjoyed on the high glacier of the Grand Motte as well as a top class snowboard park.
We went in January and were a bit worried by reports that there wasn’t exactly a huge amount of snow (in fact, the Italian Alps really had no snow at all). That said, once we arrived (after some upper economy seats on the plane and a too-long bus ride from Geneva), things were looking better. It was damn cold, and everything in Val D’Isere village was covered in about a foot of snow.
From the start of the first day it was clear we were going to have a kick-ass time. The snow conditions, were pretty good, the skies were, eh, sky blue, and the pistes were steep and wide. We later discovered that the best runs in the whole area are above Tignes (the sister resort) and up towards the Grande Motte glacier.
An average day would start with slowly waking up. The guys I was with happened to snore rather too much for my liking – making long, refreshing night’s sleep, for me at least, unlikely. After looking outside and pointing out that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, we’d hit the slopes. The best boarding, as I mentioned, was towards Tignes. We’d generally make our way up to the Grand Motte, and come flying down towards the village.
My main mission (once I’d managed to scare myself enough on steep sections) was to learn to ride fakie, i.e. backwards. It’s all well and good going down runs forwards, and it’s fun. But to go down that same run doing 180 jumps from forward to fakie and back is not only fun, but is seriously cool.
As anyone who’s learned to board will tell you, the first day or so is spent enduring body-pounding wipeouts. Many people wonder what the hell they’re trying to learn for when it causes such ridiculous pain and bruising, but once they get past that stage it’s well worth it. I’d been boarding for a few years and the pain was a long-distant memory. That memory came back to haunt me and I spent about a day and a half trying to hit the ground with various parts of my body as hard as I could (unintentionally of course). Once I cracked it, I was able to get down entire red runs fakie and 180 without falling over (mostly). Still a long way to go, but a step further up the ladder.
As far as resort villages go, Val D’Isere is pretty good. It’s got a supermarket, some equipment shops (that you can spend evening walking around not buying kit), some fast food eateries, some restaurants and, oddly enough, a lot of pubs. It’s not just a faceless, tourist trap as real people actually do live there – which is nice.
Anyway, in summary, the best boarding in the area is in Tignes (I think I mentioned that before somewhere). And while the snow conditions weren’t bad, coming later in the season is probably a better move. Most of the runs were open so I got a pretty good feel for the different types of piste up there, and they’re mostly aimed at the experienced skier or boarder. Would I go again? Probably not. After 5 days of boarding we’d pretty much covered all the interesting areas and were wishing we were in the 3 Valleys instead. Still, it’s better than work…