Saturday, May 10, 2008

Skiing In L'Espace Killy

From 1998/99 to 2001/2002, I visited Espace Killy for seven weeks spread over five visits. Last week I went back, wondering if the resort would seem as good, or as vast, now I have another five years' experience. I should not have worried; Val remains one of the world's great resorts.

Of course, nothing is perfect. The village of Val d'Isere is quite attractive - but overrun with cars and trucks spewing out diesel fumes. Its satellite La Daille is one of the most spectacularly ugly mistakes of the purpose-built era; rivalled in many ways only by the various Tignes stations. You can't have everything, I suppose, and at least Val still feels like a living village.

One of the great conundrums of skiing is that the better you get, the more time you spend on lifts - or climbing up increasingly more remote terrain in a bid to find that elusive thrill. Both Val and Tignes have invested a great deal in their lift system but there is still a great deal to do.

Some of their lifts are state of the art - the Funival through the mountain to the top of Bellevarde in Val, its blood brother the Funiculair to Grande Motte on the Tignes side, and some new gondolas and detachable quads in both areas. The decision to power the Funiculair by battery (particularly given the existence of a powerful hydro-electric plant in the valley) does seem strange, particularly to those unfortunate enough to be left standing, bemused, at the base station while the batteries are recharged.

Elsewhere there are still too many old and slow lifts, particularly above Solaise and Le Fornet and in the links above Val Claret and over to Aguille Persee. The Claret/Aguille Persee lift is being replaced for next season, but the Le Formet chair to the Pissailaise glacier is, it seems, there for the duration. The eco lobby seems to have prevented its replacement.

However, these are minor quibbles which only seem to matter when bright sunshine and good snow are calling, and the urge is to ski as much as possible of an amazing area - as quickly as possible.

Anyone who claims to be bored in Espace Killy is either lying or certifiable. An amazing amount of stunning off-piste can be reached from the lifts (even more, of course, for those prepared to walk) and for those whose ambitions are slightly more limited the pisted section rivals even the Three Valleys, which claim to be the largest system in the world. I have always struggled to decide which is my favourite area; I anticipate many more years of visiting each in an attempt to reach a decision. Stay tuned; the current date for a judgement is sometime in 2030.

As for food and wine, this is France. The Dacha restaurant on Solaise served me and my friends two superb lunches, washed down by the local Vin de Savoie, a Gamay in this case; Bar Jacques provided an even better dinner. Self-serve restaurants should be avoided; why serve yourself an average sandwich when you can sit down to a steak so rare it is still lowing? And treat yourself to a tartiflette, too; it helps if you are a cheese addict, of course, but this dish can turn you into one. Fitness freaks need not apply; no salad goes undressed. As I said, this is France.

No comments: