August 2003: Val d’Isere


MANY of the descendants of Wild Geese rose to great heights, but you would be hard pressed to beat Jean Claude Killy. Descendant of a Napoleonic soldier (no doubt he was related to cyclist Sean), Killy has had the entire mountain circuit named after him in the snowy alps over his childhood home of Val d’Isere. In his day he won everything worth winning in skiing, and it is easy to imagine why, given the range of slopes on offer around his adopted village.

Val d’Isere is skiing central. Family groups can rise the chairlifts and take separate green, red and blue slopes back down the mountain.

At busy times they can get 50,000 on to the mountain and you can still find a silent place to ski somewhere along the 360km of piste between Val d’Isere and the nearby Tignes. The Glacier at is open 365 days a year.

It is known as a cosmopolitan resort, and you find people from every nationality there. Topflight has a full time rep based here for the growing Irish traffic to the resort, Alan Dagg from a famous Irish sporting family.

You can sense to footprints of history throughout these

valleys. The road from Lyon through Chambery, historic capital of Savoy and home of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Madame de Warens and leads into the highest route in the Alps across the Col (pass) du Mont Cenis into Italy. Hannibal went past with his elephants. Napoleon walked across on his journeys to Italy (no doubt with Killy’s

ancestor) and you can see the triangles his officers built for navigation,

The tiny original Val d’Isere village still nestles behind a 14th century church, intact and left well alone by tourists apart from the occasional Russian who takes a wrong turning after a vodka-fuelled spending spree on the way back to their favoured Hotel Christiana.

But Val d’isere is now a

fashionable shopping town as well, with apartments, bars, restaurants and hotels

extending the length of a street where the fir trees and fairy lights give that extended Christmassy feel to everything.

The narrow streets give a small sense of what life must have been like for the goat’s cheese farmers before the first ski lift was built in 1932. The road came to a stop here, the highest road through the Alps, but it now weaves 60km

further to the Italian border. Skiers can take a shortcut over the mountain.

The cuisine includes the famous local fondue (remember that the people of Savoie do not consider themselves either Swiss or French, cheese,

freshwater fish, crayfish, mushrooms, potatoes, and fruit. Gratins prepared with potatoes, eggs, and bouillon are part of the local staple.

Also worth trying is genepy, the local version of the

edelweiss flower which is

fermented and drunk in

post-piste piss-ups.

Definitions of green and blue and red are not the same in Val d’Isere as elsewhere. Its reds are some resorts’ black runs. Steep pistes, such as the Face de Bellevarde, the glorious, long, black descent to Les Brevieres, l’epaule de Charvet and the unrelenting bumps keep the good skier on the tips of his boots.


Le Lodge Tel 79060201

La Pedrix Blanche Tel 79061209 Fax 79062398.

Crepe Val’s Tel 04-79411462 boasts 200 crepes and Breton galettes, super fondues, 20 salads,

Brasserie du Grand Cocor Tel 79419433 Fax 79062929

Catelan Paralleles La Dailee Tel 79060310.

Salon de The Moris 79401965 Open 7.30-19.30.

XV, a rugby theme pub is owned by former French player Pierre Mattis Tel 04-79419055


AARON Cassells learned to ski on the dry slopes of Craigavon, Kilternan and on weekend visits to Scotland. He is currently one of two Irish ski instructors who is based on the Alps, having competed on the circuit for some years and earned a degree in Sports

management from UUJ.

Several Jordanstown graduates are ski instructors in Europe but most are from Scotland, and had the advantage of weekend skiing in Nevis Range, Glencoe or Glenshee.

“Val d’Isere is one of the favourite resorts for both French people and for visitors, and everyone can find the slopes of their choice on the mountain.”

” Anyone who learned to ski in Scotland is well able for the wind and snow on the mountain, and often that;s is when the slopes are at their best and their quietest.”

Cassells sees a huge increase in the number of Irish people visiting the resort and

anticipates more and more Irish skiers in years to come and expects to see the sport grow competitively in Ireland. He would like to see an Irish skiing competitive circuit so that more young people could realise their dream and spend winters on the slopes.

He no longer competes, a “very expensive” proposition for an Irish skier. He returns to work on the family business in Lisburn each summer.


Travel Extra Tip:

Your choice of ski boots is the most important choice you will make on your holiday. Insist you are comfortable. Hire shops love putting people into boots which are too small. Don’t put up with any pain in your feet. When you put the boots on, shake your head and wince. They do have to be tight but not THAT tight.


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