Although there are wooded slopes above the village on all sectors, in practice most of the runs here are on open slopes above the treeline, and a lot of lifts can close in bad weather. Signposting is good. But Val d'Isere vies with St Anton for the title of 'resort with most underclassified slopes'. Many blue and some green runs (including runs to the valley) are simply too steep, narrow and even bumpy; in other resorts they would be reds, or even blacks; we have a hefty file of complaints from readers who agree with our judgement. The local radio (96.1 FM) carries weather reports in English as well as in French.
Resort altitude: 1850m
Lower slopes: 1550m
Upper slopes: 3455m
Total pistes: 300km
A new beginner slope at the top of Solaise opened recently and is covered by a special lift pass. The beginner slope right by the centre of town is 95% perfect; itâ€™s just a pity that the very top is unpleasantly steep; the lifts serving it are free.
Once off the beginner slopes, you have to know where to find easy runs; some of the greens should be blue, or even red. One local instructor admits: â€˜We have to have green runs on the map, even if we donâ€™t have so many green slopes â€“ otherwise beginners wouldnâ€™t come to Val dâ€™Isere.â€™
A good place for your first real runs off the nursery slopes is the Madeleine green run on Solaise, served by a six-pack. The Col de lâ€™Iseran runs are also gentle and wide, and not overcrowded. There is good progression terrain on Bellevarde, too â€“ though getting to it can be tricky. From all sectors, itâ€™s best to take a lift back down to the valley.
Val dâ€™Isere has just as much to offer intermediates as experts. Thereâ€™s enough here to keep you interested for several visits â€“ though pistes can be crowded in high season, and the less experienced should be aware that many runs are underclassified.
The Solaise sector has a network of gentle blue runs, ideal for building confidence. And there are a couple of beautiful runs from here through the woods to Le Laisinant â€“ ideal in bad weather, though prone to closure in times of avalanche danger.
Most of the runs in the Col de lâ€™Iseran sector are even easier â€“ ideal for early and hesitant intermediates. Those marked blue and red at the top of the glacier are really very easy cruises on usually very good snow.
Bellevarde has a huge variety of runs ideally suited to intermediates of all levels. From Bellevarde itself there is a choice of green, blue and red runs of varying pitch. The World Cup downhill OK piste is a wonderful rolling cruise when groomed. The wide runs from Toviere normally offer the choice of groomed piste or moguls.
A snag for early intermediates is that runs back to the valley can be challenging. The easiest way is down to La Daille on a green run that would be classified blue or red in most resorts. It gets very crowded and mogulled by the end of the day. None of the runs from Bellevarde and Solaise back to Val itself is easy. Many early intermediates ride the lifts down.
Val dâ€™Isere is one of the top resorts in the world for experts. The main attraction is the huge range of beautiful off-piste possibilities.
There may be better resorts for really steep pistes â€“ there are certainly lots in North America â€“ but there is plenty of on-piste action to amuse most experts, despite the small number of blacks on the piste map. And some of these have been converted to â€˜naturidesâ€™, which means they are never groomed but they are marked, patrolled and avalanche protected. Many reds and blues are also steep enough to get mogulled.
On Bellevarde the famous Face run is the main attraction â€“ often mogulled from top to bottom, but not worryingly steep and itâ€™s a wonderful blast if itâ€™s been groomed. Epaule is the sectorâ€™s other black run; where the moguls are hit by long exposure to sun, it can be slushy or rock hard (it is prone to closure for these reasons too). Most of the blacks on Solaise and above Le Fornet are now naturides (and the proper black from Solaise to the valley is no steeper than the alternative red).
Wayne Watson of off-piste school Alpine Experience puts a daily diary of off-piste snow conditions and runs on the web at www.alpineexperience.com.