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The best skiing in Val d'Isere
Every so often we get the chance to pin down a friend of MadDogSki who knows their patch of mountain really well, and quiz them about their very favourite places. All so you can make notes and act like a local. First up is Ken Smith of Progression Ski in Val d’Isere
So Ken, we guess your favourite resort is Val d’Isere, since you've been there almost two decades
Well, and Glenshee. I used to go skiing there as a kid, with school on a Wednesday. You get some extreme conditions there. Then we’d go on family holidays to the Alps every year, driving the whole way from Scotland which would take two days each way! Sometimes we took the car-train to London from Aberdeen – you’d drive the car onto the train and go through to the lounge. It doesn’t exist any more though.
And it was Val d’Isère you’d visit?
Yes, on alternate years – one year to Val d’Isère, the next to try out somewhere else. But Val d’Isère ended up as the usual. I went back to do a season… just one…
Then I bought a flat there that summer. 17 years later, here I still am!
So, you must know the place pretty well. What’s your all-time favourite run?
The Fornet trees – they are good for when I’m going for a ski on my own – they’re challenging, hold snow and are great in bad weather. But I’m also happy to take clients there – it’s not too difficult, and very accessible.
What about a good piste for a satisfying morning warm-up?
Definitely OK Orange – it’s always a winner. The variety of pitch and terrain, it’s long and there’s beautiful scenery, and the lift is good so you can do a warm, fast turnaround. There are also several good bars on the piste, the infamous Folie Douce included.
And the best bar in town?
Where do you start? It varies from season to season, historically Victors and Petit Danois have been the places to go, but there’s a new bar for this season which could be good. It’s where Foret used to be, and it doesn’t have a name yet. A head barman from Bananas and one from Salut have bought in, so it certainly could work.
Any recommendations for mountain restaurants?
Edelweiss or Signal. For Signal, go upstairs on the balcony on a sunny day and have the lamb shank. They always do interesting things like rabbit – it’s not your usual haute cuisine. Take your mortgage… but then it’s not really all that expensive – for high end food it’s not too bad. Compared with Cour it’s pretty cheap.
What about the best food in town?
Val actually has better food on the mountain than in town… There’s the Vieille Maison in La Daille – if you’re going for a romantic meal ask for the sunken table by the fire, and always go the kidneys. It’s all French fayre, fois gras etc. Really good, yeah.
And what about for le nightclub?
Doudoune is the best by far. I think Doudoune means duvet, or puffer jacket. It’s up at Rond Point des Pistes and it’s a proper nightclub with an international atmosphere – it feels like you’re in Paris. Dick’s Tea Bar is just Brits – if you are 18-25 you probably want to go there, but for a proper nightclub head for Doudoune.
We guess the best ski school is Progression? Tell us your news.
It’s been a ski school for six years. I set up Progression Physiotherapy and Massage in 2007 – I had managed the Clarins health and beauty salon at the country club I worked at before coming out to Val d’Isère and thought there was a natural link between ski and massage.
This year we’re launching the instructor course – a season-long, 10-week course with specialist off-piste training, in groups of up to ten.
Val d’Isère is really good for a gap course, the accommodation and everything is really central. There’s a compact seasonnaire atmosphere that you might miss in places like Courchevel or Meribel that are more spread out.
For the coaching programme we’ve got the best ex-national team members to coach the freestyle – it’s very specialist.
The season course runs from January to mid-March, and we help them find accommodation and work.
They can work while they do the course?
Yes, in the evening or at weekends. It helps keep the cost down for them. They tend to come for the full season too – the lift pass is the same for ten weeks as it is for the full time. We point them in the direction of getting work as instructors too.
How good do they have to be?
The need to be able to ski red runs.
Progression GAP Course & Instructor Training
0208 123 3001
Progression GAP Course & Instructor Training provide 10 week and season long courses which include off piste and free-ride training, race training, park and pipe sessions and general technique. BASI1 and BASI2 courses are included as well as accommodation and food if needs be. Plenty of social events and outings with flexible programs to suit and great value for money.
Progression Ski & Snowboard School
0208 123 3001
Progression Ski & Snowboard School is Val d'Isère's leading snowsports school providing a full range of lessons type for beginner to expert and beyond. Benchmark kids and teen lessons during school holidays. With many British instructors and international instructors fluent in English Progression provides a one stop shop for all your group or family. Progression also have a team of physiotherapists who can come to your chalet and give you a well deserved massage – what more could you ask for?
Ken's Extreme Sport Ken doll
Progression Ski had a VW at the London Ski Show