On top of the world – Val D’Isere 2006

Without a doubt, Val d’isere is certainly one of my favourite ski resorts, I’ve been there about 10 times now, which is why I had no hesitation in booking on Gerry’s Trip again.

On top of the world (click image to see a bigger version)

It is always a fantastic week and this year’s trip certainly did not disappoint. We had 40+ people of all ages and abilities from total beginners to expert skiers, spread over 4 chalets. Snow had been sparse in the weeks leading up to the holiday, so, when, on 28th January with one day to go the snow began to fall to top up the compact slopes it was very good news.

I’ll just start by saying these are generally a collection of my own experiences and thoughts from the week.

For the past couple of years we have been travelling with YSE, who are slightly more expensive than the larger tour operator, but the service and the wine is much better.

The flights and transfers all went off smoothly and メHassell Toursモ even sent out pre-printed labels with our tickets!

With such a large party it is inevitable that the group split generally into those of similar ski ability. Beginners & improvers were having lessons, and different groups broke off and did their own thing depending on what they wanted, i.e. to ski gentle all day, to ski メsocialモ all day, i.e. to ski, stop for elevenses, ski a bit more, stop for a long lunch, ski a bit more and then retire for drinks, or to ski mental all day!!!(my preference being the latter!). The aprティs-ski venue was generally at the Warm-up bar in town, where most of the group frequented and we used as a meeting place.

The chalet I stayed in was at the lower end of the price range (quite expensive, but good food, good wine), warm, but quite compact, I think they squeeze too many people in the rooms sometimes or the rooms are too small. We had two chalet staff who did everything, clean & cook for us. The meals were very creative always consisting of canapテゥs, starter main course, desert and coffee, with unlimited labelled wine (like JP Chenet) throughout.

As far as ski holidays go, I don’t think I’ve had such a メfull onモ week for a long time.

On the slopes by 9.30 until about 4.30, a bit of aprティs-ski, dinner at 8pm with unlimited (decent) wine ミ hit the bars till about midnight, then to a nightclub (usually Dicks T-bar) until 4 or 5 in the morning!..I didn’t get more than 3 hours sleep a night all week apart from the night before I did the Tarentaise Tour which I’ll expand on shortly. The mountain air is the perfect hangover cure, it’s a shame we can’t buy it in the U.K.!!.I’ve got to say that 98 percent of the group did not adhere to such a punishing routine!

Last year, I worked out a plan to ski all the black runs in Val d’isere and the neighbouring resort of Tignes, in one day (a total of 13 black runs, 12 red runs and a few blues) ミ but we, myself and Ross Davies (Gill Hassell’s eldest son) missed the last lift by 5 minutes meaning we could not ski the last black run called the Foret (a hard one with big moguls) ミ which was a shame because the plan was to finish the day with a Stein of beer in the bar at the bottom of that run. This year I decided not to risk missing out on the beer by planning the start 45 minutes earlier at 08:30. It was again myself and Ross to embark on this day of pushing vertical limits at breakneck speed. We were first in the queue at the cable car and first two skiers down the first run on our itinerary, the Face. They had the snow cannons on all night and it had been groomed by the Piste bashers ミ it was like velvet ミ and it was an amazing run down, just the two of us intertwining the slopes at breakneck speed the whole way, the feeling was tremendous, the sound was magical and the sight was awesome. We did the run in just 4 _ minutes top to bottom (the world record is 2 minutes) ミ it seemed like we were going at the speed of sound so for the downhill racers you can imagine the g-force. One of the black runs on our Itinery had been closed due to avalanche risk, so we skied the glacier area instead, but everything else was open and we completed the day at the bottom of the Foret run with our Stein of beer (see photo).

Gill Hassell’s other son, Max, who ski’s like a demon and parties like a demon, had done the Tarentaise Tour on two previous occasions ミ I was booked onto one of those two years ago, but had to pull out due to illness. The Tarentaise Tour is a 69 kilometre mainly off-piste tour through the Vanoise national park ミ it is a very gruelling day crossing Val d’Isere, Tignes, La Plagne and Les Arcs. The conditions were not perfect; the deep powder snow had developed a hard crust, which made it even more demanding.

Me and Max were kitted out with avalanche transceivers and at 8.45 we were off like bats out of hell to ski over to Tignes to meet up with two other groups of 9 to start the tour.

Me & Max with some of our off piste group (click image to see a bigger version)

Traversing the start of the Vanoise National Park (click image to see a bigger version)

For me, the most exiting part was skiing the various steep, narrow couloirs and the North face of the bellcote ミ these all had rocks on the sides and in the middle ミ the adrenaline alone got you down these, side slipping past the rocks and jump turning with the thought that any fall would probably be your last…..The bit I didn’t enjoy was the 2km, mostly up-hill skate in the middle!!it was a bloody hard slog and I was soaked in sweat at the end of it. The scenery throughout was amazing, total serenity, we even spotted a golden Eagle overhead when traversing through the park (apparently there are 12 pairs in the park).

It was even good just to be forced to ski from 8.45 until 6, and truly feel like we deserved the beers where we finished our tour in the resort of Villaroger at the end of the day!
After dinner that night, I said I’d go out for メoneモ beer at the warm up bar!!.it was 05:00 the next day when I struggled back from Dicks T-Bar with Max. The day was a hell of an achievement, and it deserved, and got, a hell of a night!

I’ll finish with a funny story. you will remember the incident of 4 of us getting stuck in the lift in Belgium a couple of years ago. Well this time I got stuck in the bathroom in our chalet ミ the door lock spindle had gone awry ミ this resulted in much laughter and the maintenance people being called ミ I was stuck in their for half an hour with Graham Evans shouting his usual friendly banter through the door. Hopefully I’ll have more skiing to come this year ミ look forward to next year Gerry!

A well-earned Stein of beer ミ at the end of me & Ross”s メSki all the Blacks in one dayモ adventure. (click image to see a bigger version)

Max on a brief stop on the Tarrantaise tour ミ see how steep some of the terrain is. (click image to see a bigger version)

Freddie, our French guide waits for stragglers half way through our 69 kilometre trek. (click image to see a bigger version)