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Club Instruction Holiday To Val d'Isère, December 2014

Reporter: Greg Jackson

“This is likely to be a most unusual ski trip so keep a sense of humour and expect the unexpected!!”
“As a contingency I strongly recommend that you bring your walking boots and general hiking equipment, swimming costumes, gym gear, a good book, and a willingness to be ready adapt to whatever the conditions may throw at us.”

Our intrepid organiser’s email confirmed what we all suspected. Snow conditions in the French Alps were not good, corroborated by our Val d’Isère seasonaire Barry Lewis, who thought it was the worst start he’d known, and the web cams showing lush green valleys.

So ‘expecting the unexpected’ we met at Terminal One at 5am Sunday.

The Journey
We encountered no check-in queues at all at the Jet2 desks and motored through a trouble-free journey to the resort, although the transfer time was a long 3+ hours and involved several trips around the same roundabout. The return was equally smooth and uneventful, again with no check-in queues at Geneva.

The Hotel
The Chalet Hotel Champs Avalins at La Daille is at the eastern-most extremity of Val d’Isère, where the town’s excellent free bus service terminates. In normal conditions the hotel is ideally placed to access the ‘Espace Killy’ via the Funival train or various other convenient lifts. It is integrated into the bottom section of a huge apartment block ascending up the hill. Its architecture tries to emulate its mountainous surroundings with dark wood cladding and jagged galvanised metal roof. I think the interior could be described as ‘basic’. Bedrooms were adequate size, comfortable, warm and utilitarian, each with a useless balcony but no telly or phone. The communal rooms were all far too small to accommodate the number of potential guests. The dining room required 2 dinner sittings, but in fact it sort of worked because some of us like to eat early and some later. It just meant that we did not all dine together. The bar area was petite, as was the boot and ski room. There was no lounge area so we used the dining room when it was empty. The all-British staff were excellent, attentive and helpful. It all added to a cosy atmosphere and we adapted cheerfully to the snug conditions.

The Food
Breakfast was comprehensive, with a choice of continental, ham, salami, cheese, fresh fruit and a cooked choice of porridge and/or any combination of full English. Very good I thought. At 4pm there was fine home-made soup, cake and biscuits with tea, coffee, fruit juice. Dinner was 3-course, imaginative menu but average quality, helped by unrestricted wine, 2 whites, 2 reds. Cheese, chocolates and tea/ coffee followed.

The Skiing
Early Sunday evening we were introduced to our TDC instructors, each of whom took on a group of 4 of us. The next morning we were to meet with our allotted leader at le Fornet, at the western extremity of Val d’Isère where the free bus terminated—a complete journey of about 20 minutes.

What were we to expect?

The only area open for skiing in Val d’Isère was the Glacier de Pissailles above Le Fornet. The Grand Motte glacier above Tignes was also open but as there was no skiable link between Val and Tignes we would have had to use minibuses. Consequently we were issued with Val-only lift passes.

The mighty Espace Killy was reduced to the size of a minor ski resort.

Monday morning—We all pile onto the bus, my group to be at Le Fornet for 9am. Fortunately the bus terminus is outside our hotel so we’re always first on an empty bus and get seats. At Le Fornet there is only one ascent open - the gondola, and it seems like the whole of the skiing population is trying to get on it. After meeting our guide we join the unbelievable crush and spend maybe an hour before we get on. Transfer on to a bubble gets us up to the pistes on the glacier. TDC have guaranteed 3 hours per day on snow and we’re ready to go for a warm-up ski. WOW! The pistes are fantastically good!

The snow is lovely! We regroup and discuss with the instructor what we want to achieve—short turns and off-piste technique. We venture off- piste into lots of excellent untracked powder snow. One drawback. There is very little base under the powder so there are occasional rocks, some visible, but most not. I was thinking Michael Schumaker! The skiing is excellent although we did ski over rocks. The instructor is very easy going but gives us lots of tips and help.

The sun’s shining and we have a really good morning skiing, mostly that lovely powder. At lunch we leave the instructor and meet up with our skiing mates in the same wonderful snow. The return bus to La Daille is a crowded nightmare.

Tuesday was the same only the crowds were worse. Luckily the glacier area was big enough to take it but the lift queues were large and slow.

Wednesday there was a development! The adjacent area, Solaise was opened at the top but was not accessible from resort level. The scary up-and-over chair connection from Fornet was the only way in. Again it was heaving, but the newly opened area offered even more wonderful untracked powder, but again with the same rock problem.

Thursday the fast chairlift from the resort to Solaise opened. That marked the end of big queues. There had not been much additional snow and the pistes were getting thin, the off- piste well tracked.

Friday saw more development! The top of Bellevarde area, which is directly above our hotel, was opened with access via a gondola from Val. Again loads of untracked powder. It was getting better and better! Unfortunately it was the last day of instruction. We bid farewell to Kieran our instructor and free-skied the rest of the day.

Saturday we went up the Funival to Bellevarde and did some deteriorating off-piste.

The week’s skiing was immeasurably better than I expected. I can’t ever remember skiing untracked powder for a week before, mostly in sunshine. TDC are excellent, highly recommended and a really nice bunch. They made the best of a difficult situation. I learned a lot from my time with them, gained more confidence and hopefully am skiing better. Bearing in mind our initial apprehension it turned out to be an outstanding week.

Thanks to TDC, Ski Total, our own heroic holiday organisers, and to all the wonderful people who allowed me to ski with them. Apologies to my skis, which suffered some nasty gashes.

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