Ski area in Val d'Isere
Discover the best of the Val d'Isere ski area
The combined ski domain of Val d’Isère and neighbouring Tignes, with its modern lift system and wide range of pistes, is a ski destination that will suit everyone.
The main things to know about the Val d'Isère ski area are:
Part of one of the largest ski areas in Europe
Joined with neighbouring Tignes, it offers around 300km of marked pistes.
Snow coverage tends to be one of the best in Europe meaning good conditions until the beginning of May.
Charming chocolate-box accommodation
Stone and wooden-clad chalets, shops and hotels makes it one of the most authentic and beautiful French ski resorts.
Val d'Isère ski area
Located in the Tarentaise area of the Savoie department in the Northern Alps, the ski area offers over 300km of piste skiing and some of Europe’s most spectacular scenery. Due to their location against the peaks of the Italian border, the Tignes and Val d'Isère ski area's record of snowfall is exceptional. Whilst benefiting from the same Atlantic depressions as other French resorts, it often receives heavy falls of snow from the Mediterranean low pressures which dump their snow on the Italian Alps.
Accessed by 90 ski lifts and funicular railways to reach the glaciers, there are 20 green pistes, 67 blues, 41 reds and 26 blacks, and two snowparks, making it popular with skiers of every level (see the piste maps).
What's it like to ski and snowboard in Val d'Isère?
Val d'Isère is located in a steep valley and it is these steep slopes that have attracted the hardcore skiers since the resort opened for downhill skiing in the mid-1930's. A tourist destination since the 1880s, it wasn't until 1933 that the village began to transform itself into a ski resort when it opened its first ski school. In 1934 it inaugurated its first ski lift, the Rogoney, and the Solaise cable car was completed in 1942. It's popularity grew quickly, and the village responded with sustained development strictly integrated and respectful of the traditional style, cementing its reputation as one of the most beautiful French ski resorts. The first mountain funicular in France was erected here in the 1980s.
There is a vast choice of slopes in the high Alps where intermediate skiers and boarders can sample the stunning views and learn from those on the steeper pitches, on the bumps and in the snowpark. With various different beginner areas and the challenging steep and deep runs there is something for every level of skiing ability.
The three areas to become familiar with are:
- Le Solaise
- Le Fornet
This is the resort's central skiing area and it's very popular, meaning at times it can be the busiest. Overall, it's the best area for beginner and intermediate skiers and is divided into three smaller sections: Glaciers Bowl, L and Mattis - all areas that offer easy skiing on sunny wide slopes. The Madeleine, Arcelle and Manchet pistes are comprised of beginner and intermediate level slopes and are often busy with groups under instruction. The Tête de Solaise/Plan is generally the run used back down to the village, but it is recommended for intermediate and advanced skiers only, so beginners or those with tired legs would be wise to take the Solaise cable car or chairlift down to the village.
The Solaise is easily accessible from the town centre by the Solaise cable car or the Solaise Express high-speed chairlift, and most of the ski schools meet at the bottom of this area. It's possible to cross over from Le Fornet to the Solaise on the Leissières chairlift.
If you want to enjoy some gentle rolling pistes to get the legs warmed up then head over to the Bellevarde side of the mountain, and take a few laps of the beautiful green Grand Pré piste and the blue Club des Sports pistes off the top of the Grand Pré chairlift. Normally a place for fantastic snow and only a few skiers (including some beginners), with nice conditions all day long it can be the perfect spot to start or end the day.
This area offers a wide range of skiing because it has slopes facing three different directions in a triangular shape bowl. The East facing slopes face Val d’Isère itself and include Épaule du Charvet and the ex-Olympic Face which are steep pistes reserved for good skiers only. Santons is classified as a blue run for intermediates, but be careful on this slope as it runs through a narrow valley and can get extremely busy and full of moguls by the end of the day.
Finally, the West/North West facing slopes offer an excellent view of the Grande Motte, Grande Casse and Mont Blanc. This area includes many long and gentle slopes which lead down to La Daille (Diebold and Verte) as well as more difficult options for intermediate skiers. Orange piste can be accessed from the top of the Olympique bubble or from the top of the Funival from La Daille. If you love moguls then the best piste in Val d'Isère to head to is the Épaule du Charvet. This steep black ungroomed piste has the biggest moguls in the Val d'Isère valley and is definitely a leg burner.
Bellevarde is accessible via the Olympique cable car or the high-speed Bellevarde Express chairlift from the town centre. From La Daille, the Funival, La Daille bubble or the Étroits chairlift will take you there. It is also linked to Tignes by the Tommeuses and Borsat chairlifts.
Le Fornet is a quiet part of Val d'Isère and has some easy long, open and often empty pistes and is guaranteed good snow since it has glacier skiing up to 3,456m. The area has 1,500m of vertical descent along blue runs all the way from the top of the glacier to the bottom of the resort at 1,930m. The Cascade red piste (off the top of the Cascade chairlift) is a particular favourite of ours and always seems to be in top-notch condition. Another favourite is the gully Piste L. Accessible from the Solaise Express and just a short ski away from the bottom of the Glacier chairlift, this lovely blue piste is a gully all the way down to the Laisinant chairlift and can be great fun with kids.
Le Fornet also has some of the most easily accessible and best off-piste, with runs like Point Pers and Col Pers delivering nearly an hour of off-piste skiing for less than a twenty-minute walk. Off the side of the piste under the Cascades chairlift, there is a gentle wide open powder pitch that due to the altitude and quiet nature of the area stays fresh longer than most other areas in Val.
Connections to this area are via the Fornet cable car from Le Fornet village, or on the Leissières chairlift from the Solaise area.
Tignes ski area
There's loads of skiing to be done in Val d'Isère and once you've finished there, there's a whole load more to be done across the area.
The main resort sits on the edge of Le Lac at an altitude of 2,100m, and the lower villages still boast altitudes of 1,550m and 1,850m. Above all of this is the Grande Motte Glacier which rises to a lofty 3,450m and is accessible not only during winter but in the summer too - yes, you can come summer skiing in Tignes.
Beginners are highly unlikely to leave the slopes of Val d'Isère to travel here, but for intermediates and advanced skiers and snowboarders the areas to explore are numerous. Tignes has a number of extremely challenging and advanced pistes, with a host of 'naturide' (ungroomed) black runs, steep black runs and some reds verging on being a black.
The Tignes ski area can be split into four areas:
- La Grande Motte Massif
- Palet/L'Aiguille Percée
- Les Brévières
The Grande Motte
The Grande Motte is the highest massif; a mass of rock, ice and permanent snow cover on the glacier at the highest point. It is the only part of the ski area which is open in every season. It can be accessed by either the Funicular railway (which runs in all weathers, taking approximately 3,000 skiers an hour) or by taking the Lanches and Vanoise chairlifts, then finally the Grande Motte cable car. The scenery is absolutely stunning at the top be sure to stop long enough to look across the mountains at the Vanoise National Park, the Grande Casse (3,852m), Mont Blanc (4,807m) and the Grande Sassière (3,747m). Skiing on the Grande Motte offers a good choice of wide open blues and some more challenging reds. It can often be deceptively cold on the glacier, and not always conducive to learning as some of the slopes can be steeper than expected.
The L'Aigulle Percée/Palet massif is accessible from Val Claret by the Tichot chairlift and from Le Lac by the Palafour. There are a number of cruisey intermediate blue and red runs here, including a host of fantastic blue runs that can either be made into a long rolling piste by heading all the way back down to Le Lac or slightly shorter by doing a few loops of a chairlift higher up. Taking the Grand Huit chairlift up and heading down the Percée Neige blue piste you will find this run to be quieter than others in resort and with stunning views over the Tignes Valley it is one to head to. For spectacular views head up the Aiguille Percée and enjoy the famous 'Eye of the Needle' rock formation and take the lovely long Corniche blue piste down to the top of the Chaudannes chairlift.
Although there’s not a huge selection of blacks, you can try La Sache, an exhilarating 10km long black run from the top of the L’Aiguille Percée through a spectacular valley to Tignes Les Brévières. It provides some fierce moguls and challenging skiing. Alternatively, Silene is a black naturide piste under the Marais lifts, not always open, so check first.
From the top of the Aigulle Percée chairlift if you head to the right there is some off-piste that you can tackle - but be warned the route down can leave you stranded at the bottom not knowing which way to go, so make sure you plan extremely carefully.
The Tovière sector provides links with Val d’Isère, and is accessible by taking the Aeroski bubble from Tignes-le-Lac or the Tufs and Bollin chairlifts from Val Claret. You can enjoy a number of gentle blues and more challenging reds, particularly the Combe Folle which leads into the mogul covered, steep black Trolles piste down into Le Lac. This area tends to be busy as it is the link with Val d'Isère and the whole of the area.
The lowest part of the Tignes ski area, Les Brévières is a nice little sun trap from early on in the morning, making it the perfect resting point for a spot of lunch on a sunny day, especially in the warmer months of the season. The pistes in this area mainly consist of easy wide blues and slightly more challenging red runs. There is some lovely off-piste skiing to access here, handy in a white-out as there's plenty of trees.
There is also a snowpark at the top of the Grattalu chairlift, giving riders the chance to try their hand at some freestyle jumping, rails and big air. The features here are not that big, so it's a good place to head to if you've not much park riding experience.
Probably the best freestyle feature that Tignes has to offer is its halfpipe. This sits at the base of the Les Lanches chairlift at the top end of Tignes Val Claret. The pipe itself is impressive, not many resorts in France have one.
Rather uniquely Tignes also has a vibrant summer ski scene with snowparks up on the glacier, well-groomed pistes as well as gentle nursery slopes. It attracts ski teams, racers and freestyle skiers and snowboarders from around the world.
When is the ski area open in Val d'Isère?
The winter season usually runs from mid-December to mid-April, with any early lift openings depending on snow conditions (check Ski Lift Opening Dates for this winter's schedule). Your holiday will be very much determined by the weather and snow conditions, and therefore the time of year you choose to visit is important. If it's sunny pistes and a cold glass of wine on a mountain restaurant terrace, come in March or April. If your perfect ski break is about quiet slopes and lots of fresh snow, then January is the time to come. Or if you want numerous activities organised for your children during their school holidays, February is for you.
Whenever you choose to come, as long as the lifts are open, the local pisteurs will make the best of the snow (real and/or artificial), and groom the pistes to perfection so that you get the best possible conditions.
Beginner areas in Val d'Isère
There are two nursery areas in Val d’Isère – one in the centre of the resort and one in La Daille at the bottom of the pistes.
Beginners area with three free lifts accessing two green pistes and a gently sloping area that's perfect for building confidence.
Smaller nursery area with two short lifts at the bottom of the Bellevarde funicular. A good beginner route here is from the top of the Borsat Express down to the Fontaine Froid via the gentle green run Génépy.
Several wide and easy green pistes here for practising what you've learnt in your lessons. Take the Solaise Express, then a short rope pulley takes you across the flat piste and you'll be able to access the Glacier and Madeleine chairs. There's a designated beginner area over here and the runs around these chairs are nice and easy.
Take the free shuttle out of the centre of Val and then the Fornet cable car followed by the Vallon de l'Iseran bubble to the base of the glacier. From here you have a selection of rolling blue runs around the bubble and back down to the resort. The pistes are quieter here but just as good.
Advanced areas in Val d'Isère
There is a fabulous range of terrain for intermediate and advanced skiers, with 25 black runs to test yourself on, you are not short of finding a challenge in this ski area.
Val d'Isère has a number of challenging steep and deep pistes that are great for the advanced skier. There is the world-renowned 1992 Winter Olympics downhill run called 'The Face' (pronounced 'fass'), which took Patric Ortlieb (Austrian former World Cup alpine ski racer and Olympic gold medalist), a mere two minutes to ski from top to bottom (we don’t recommend you try and match it!). You can challenge yourself with the Épaule du Charvet, the Face or the S.
Cugnai is a nice steep piste that is usually in the best condition in the morning, but can be closed due to avalanche risk.
Arcelle can be a bit crisp first thing, so it's worth waiting until late morning or early afternoon.
Pistes A, M and S run down to the Solaise area, S is particularly challenging and is often closed.
Advanced skiers will probably cover this area quite quickly, but it's worth the trip for the excellent conditions.
Forêt is a black run through the trees.
Signal is a steep red at the top of the Signal drag lift.
Numerous options for steep descents down to Solaise and La Daille. Conditions are usually better in the morning here.
Face has recently had a makeover to ease congestion on the run.
Épaule du Charvet has steep moguls and is only open when conditions allow.
OK or Orange are challenging runs down to La Daille.
Snowparks in Val d'Isère
Snowboarders and freestyle skiers have access to the Val Park in the Bellevarde area via the Bellevarde or Olympique cable cars or the La Daille funicular. If you are coming over from Tignes you can take the Bolin Express from Val Claret or the Aeroski.
The Val Park, as it's known, lies in the centre of the Bellevarde bowl just under the Mont Blanc chairlift and is serviced by the drag tow that runs up the side of the slalom course.
Set out in clearly defined sections according to difficulty level - green, blue, red and black. There are around 25 features including boxes, banana rail, wall, barrels, spine and there is also a section designed for riding rails with easy boxes for beginners.
Some of the kickers here can be especially shaped for shoots and competitions, so they change constantly.
There is also a small boardercross at the Borsat Express, perfect for the family.
Best Pistes in Val d'Isère
Perfect for mixed ability groups and families, the Val d'Isère ski area offers a range of pistes. With wide open runs, some steeper skiing and tree-lined pistes, you're sure to find your favourite piste this winter.
Off-piste areas in Val d'Isère
Given the size of the resort, it's no surprise there's plenty of places to head to on a powder day.
Slightly less on this side of the mountain but the Lavancher Couloir from the top of the Solaise Express is worth a look. Also from the start of Piste L follow the Iséran route to the start of the Mattis and you can drop into the off-piste anywhere along here, the closer you get to Mattis the steeper the drop in.
This side has the most off-piste to offer, with three well known off-piste areas:
- Banana - Very large vertical drop, snow heats up quickly so head here early.
- Charvet Tour - Best known off-piste in Val, again head here in the morning, it's south-facing and prone to sliding.
- Face du Charvet - Lots of challenging off-piste, high avalanche risk and stay high to avoid cliffs. The route down is full of long steep descents.
In La Daille you can enjoy a few off-piste tracks and fresh powder. There is extensive off-piste around this area which involves no walking or climbing, simply powder practise. In addition, just off the top of the Tommeuses lift, to the side of the Creux, is a pitch of moguls which come and go throughout the winter season. There are also the ‘naturide’ runs (Paquerettes at the top of the Tommeuses), which are left un-groomed for skiers and boarders to negotiate more difficult terrain. The Lost Valley run can involve picking through rocks and branches, but it is one of the most beautiful in the area and can be a lot of fun.
Tends to be the quieter side of the Val d'Isère mountains, so the off-piste here can often be left untouched, providing fresh powder and plenty of fun. The shoulder of the Petit Signal has a run from the top of the Signal lift; head over the col and traverse immediately to the left, ski down to the foot of the rock tower and a traverse to the right of this block, then ski down a few metres across a cornice to a wide hilltop. From here, head to the top of the Fornet cable car which you can see easily by this point.
Bad weather areas in Val d'Isère
There are certain runs that offer more contrast, providing vast amounts of skiing/snowboarding when the flakes are falling. The trick is to head for the pistes that are tree-lined; the trees help provide definition when everything else seems to be white.
If you're already up the mountain when the weather closes in around, head slowly down as safely as possible. Usually, the lower you are on the mountain, the more visibility there will be as the cloud starts to get thinner.
If you fancy heading out on the slopes (despite the bad weather) then one of the best areas in Val d'Isère during poor weather conditions is the top of the La Daille area, as the trees running down the pistes will provide much better visibility. Alternatively, head to the lower slopes of the Solaise like 'Piste M', which are also treelined, but can often be busy. Another great area to head to is Le Fornet as again, there are plenty of trees lining the pistes from the top of the cable car, giving better visibility and definition.
Always make sure you are prepared before embarking on any off-piste skiing or snowboarding. Check out our Avalanche Safety guide. It's always advisable to hire an off-piste guide who will have extensive knowledge of the area and the mountains.