It was jackpot time for those who decided on an early ski trip…certainly for those, of whom I was one, who opted for the steeps and deeps of Val d’Isère.
As long as flights to and from the Alps didn’t coincide with weather debacles in the UK (embarrassing, isn’t it, how a modest dump of snow reduces Britain to panic-stricken helplessness) it was a triumphant December for those bold enough to gamble on blizzards arriving early. It felt like mid-winter in Val…the atmosphere enhanced with spine-tingling views from the balcony of my VIP SKI chalet of the floodlit Face de Bellevarde in full race mode.
Since 1955 the top ski racers have congregated each December in Val for the Criterium de la Premiere Neige – the 2017 race meeting was the 62nd in the series. And who would fancy racing in a snowstorm? Watching the slalom specialists handling a World Cup course of alternate ice and deep sweeps of loose snow between the gates, and visibility so restricted that they could sometimes barely see from one gate to the next, was awe-inspiring.
Our hero Dave ‘Rocket’ Ryding had a disappointing time of it by his current high standards – but how great to hear him reject the opportunity to use the conditions or his choice of ski set-up as excuses. The TV interviewer almost urged him to blame both – no, said Dave, the skis were fine, conditions were the same for everybody,’ it was just down to me, I must do better’. Great bloke!
Folie Douce, the full-on après-ski venue above La Daille where, as long as there are nursing staff on hand to help me up and then down, I am very keen to dance on the tables, was in vibrant early season action. And with all the pistes in top shape it felt like one of the best opening periods for some years. And while the huge amounts of snow have brought problems of their own – on the roads and on the slopes – the incredible snow base will be perfect for a great season.
But I’ve been hearing that the village of Val is looking far ahead beyond this season, with plans for a major redevelopment of the centre. The heart of the resort is, subject to final planning permission by the authorities, to undergo a £170 million transformation to be called Le Coin de Val.
For those who know the village, this will affect a huge triangular chunk of the centre bordered by Dick’s Tea Bar and a 250-yard section of the main road, the Avenue Olympique. It includes the buildings to the right of the bus station roundabout.
The project will include an extension of the piste towards the main road and an underground moving walkway all the way back up to the ski lifts. Two new hotels, apartment blocks and 100 private chalets will in total provide the resort with 900 extra beds. It will be the largest construction project in the French Alps for the last 20 years or so – bigger even than the construction of Arc 1950 in nearby Les Arcs.
Despite the modern look of some of the village, it is basically an authentic and ancient mountain community and the new development, as with all building in Val, will be completed using traditional materials of stone, wood and slate. It will however take five years to complete – and depends on building permits being issued following a feasibility and impact study due to be completed soon.
Our VIP SKI chalet, Club Aspen, is a good example of Val’s blend of old and new. The chalet, with ten en-suite bedrooms, is actually a super luxury oversize apartment in a timbered block in the main street, a short walk from the main lifts (not that you have to walk – you’re obviously a VIP with this company and a driver is on hand). The chalet has a selection of lounges plus dining room, as well as hot-tubs, games lounge/bar with pool and giant TV – and plenty of balconies, with views of the mountains or the village centre.
Some chalets, and this is one of them, now incorporate all the luxury of a five-star hotel with the added bonus of chilled-out informality and the certainty of meeting like-minded new friends almost the moment you arrive.
Club Aspen has a bar area with complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks – TVs, music system, DVD players and games consoles in the various lounges and Wi-Fi throughout the chalet.
And unlike many chalets, Club Aspen offers a flexible menu plan, with a choice of gourmet dishes from a highly competent chef (in our case, Nick, who demonstrated a particularly deft touch with the blow torch on his incomparable creme brulées).
Seven-night stay at VIP SKI CLUB Aspen from £709 pp, including return flights, coach transfers, accommodation, catered chalet board, complimentary beer and house wine, and complimentary toiletries.
A one-day adult lift pass for Espace Killy from £51; a six-day adult lift pass from £253.
Full price list for passes at valdisere.com
An adult group ski course of six lessons from £216 with Oxygene, oxygene.ski
Ski hire can be booked with VIP SKI, advance bookings saving up to 25% on resort prices.
Six days’ ski hire from £91, ski and boot hire from £154.
La Folie Douce (lafoliedouce.com, +33 479 06 07 17)