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Season Diary - Day 15: Val d'Isere? Completed It, Mate

Updated: Apr 9

We've been skiing in Val for the last three years. Alongside holidays here with friends, I've visited sister resort Tignes multiple times both for work and play.


(So much so that I might have even thought I was getting bored of Tignes ...)


Over the years, we've pretty much managed to ski the whole thing. From routes off the Pisillas Glacier high above Val d'Isere to Vallon de Sachet winding its way down into the lowest Tignes resort, Le Brevieres. We've also begun touring, and ticked off some amazing tours even in the few short days we've spent #FreeingTheHeel and #EarningOurTurns.


 

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Firm Favourites

Espace Tignes-Val d'Isere used to be know as Espace Killy, after French Olympic and World Alpine Skiing champion Jean-Claude Killy, who tore up the World Cup circuit in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For reasons still unknown, the huge ski area was stripped of this name in the last five years, rumour has it because of a falling out between the current mayor and the champion, although this remains simple gossip.


Regardless of local politics, the region offers staggeringly high quality skiing. Pistes run down from the Grand Motte glacier at 3,400m all the way down to 1,500m, an impressive vertical by any measurement.


The run down from the Grand Motte is easily one of my favourite pistes anywhere in the world. Starting with a gnarly black down the glacier face it turns into a fast and flat red as it runs off the foot of the glacier. A couple of nice big turns later and you are under Les Lanches chairlift, the snow having changed from ice to perfect corduroy to softening spring snow down the final stretch. This variety is a challenge of your ability, testing your technique over different snow types all whilst your thighs scream at you in agony.


Our challenge is to do the run from top to bottom in under 10 minutes. It was only this year, with a few extra days experience under my season's belt and perfect snow conditions, that I was able to get close and keep up with my friends.


 

Completed It


Over the years we have skied pretty much every piste and off piste line in the resort. Some we head back to time after time, most notably the love-hate relationship I have with the back of Cugnai, which we lap every year and who's traverse always tries to screw me over on the way out.


This year, we ticked off the final three runs. Col Pers, striking out skier's right from the top of the glacier was ticked off earlier in the week, with a hefty side step in, a few decent turns, and a hefty sidestep out, made up for by the perfect run we had down Grand Vallon on the other side.

 
 

3000 opened for the first time in any time that we could remember. A trundling, steep button lift it exists to serve a tiny strip of off piste skiing and a tunnel linking the two halves of the Solaise sector together.


Finally, we received word that the Malpasset Gorge was skiable. Stretching high up the valley to the headwaters of the Isere river, this was an area of the valley well well beyond civilisation. The road ended some distance back, even in summer, and a mountain hut is the only shelter in the region.


To access it, we took a high traverse up to Col Pers, just as we had earlier in the week. Dropping down the other side, we stayed skiers right, and found the most spectacular, perfect, untouched powder fields we had ever found. Not many people make the hike out over Col Pers, and when they do Malpasset is normally not skiable, meaning almost everyone bears left.


We passed a handful of ski tourers doing the reverse of our route and followed a pair of tracks that seemed perhaps a day old. Eventually we reached the end, where the adventure really began.


Malpasset is only accessible when enough snow avalanches into the gorge to cover the river and provide a good enough base to ski. It twists and turns around rocks and over avalanche debris down what is effectively a fast luge course. It rarely opens, with anecdotes from friends and family noting that the last time they remember it being open was a generation ago - before some of us were born, even!


We rattled into the gorge, not quite sure of what was ahead of us. Surrounded by rock and snow, our voices echoed off the sheer cliffs but somehow died in the calmness of the white. We were not flying, as the warm weather meant the snow was sticky and soft in places.

 
 

This was probably for the best, as it was narrow and windy the entire way. We dodged and ducked our way down, never quite knowing where it ended or whether we'd have to hike out.


We stopped before one tricky bit, but my friends set off before I'd had a chance to quickly gather my thoughts. Dropping down and down again, the path then shot back up, twisted right, then straightened to the left, and cut across a huge pile of avalanche debris. I barely made it across, losing control of my ski as I shot back up from the dip and barely making the swerve across the debris!


Leaving the debris behind, I rounded the corner and there ahead of me were my friends, all of a sudden 10ft above me - the track was suitably snowy that you didn't need to bootpack out, instead a bit of carried speed and a side step or two and you were out. Finished. Done.


Val d'Isere?


Completed it, mate.

 

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