Family skiing: a small catered chalet in Val d'Isere
We test out a family ski holiday in Val D'Isere
When you are unable to see your own ski boots through the murk of a white out, it's hard not to wonder whether it might be time to head down to your chalet and see what treats your host has left out for you for tea. The temptation of a delicious home-made chocolate, carrot or banana cake, will test the resolve of the most ardent of skiers when the temperatures drop and the snow comes down. Particularly when the cake is so good - which it was (as was the rest of our food!) at our Le Ski catered chalet in Val d'Isere.
Temperatures were low but enjoyment levels were high
It's half-term week and we have braved the airport queues for some father-son bonding time. This being our first time in a small chalet we were apprehensive about how the week would unfold but it's been fantastic from start to finish. After landing in Chambery, the transfer was a dream: the efficient crew of purple and green fleeced Le Ski assistants buzzed around ensuring all our needs were met, directing us to our fleet of coaches, and on our arrival at Chalet Kanjiroba we were greeted by our friendly and - with 6 seasons under his belt - experienced host, Sam.
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First things first, he provided us with a tour of our 200+ year old, 5 bedroomed chalet that has undergone recent refurbishment, offering a beautiful balance of rustic charm and high end modern fittings. The fast Wifi and large LCDs meant we could catchup on the Winter Olympics and pick up a few tips for when we attempted the 'OK' World Cup red piste and the notorious La Face Bellevarde black piste that both descend from our closest peak and were the highlights of the 1992 Winter Olympics Games.
Kanjiroba is one of nine chalets Le Ski operate in the Val d'Isere region, two in La Daille where we were staying, and the others in central Val d'Isere. They operate in other areas too: when we booked we were asked what we were looking for (childcare is best found in La Tania, parties in Val, and their properties in Courcheval have a mixture of everything). We didn't need childcare or ski school this time, just some good food, comfy beds and plenty of skiing. We ended up in the right place!
Everything was simple. After our tour of the property Sam arranged for us to be picked up from the chalet by Snowberry, a local ski hire shop, in one of their fleet of Land Rover Defenders. Despite our early start it was already two in the afternoon but whilst our lift passes, which were ready and waiting in our room on arrival, would not activate until the morning, we were keen to get our ski legs courtesy of the free ski school button before dusk fell.
The ski area at Val D'Isere is huge, there's so much to explore
Our ski hire experience was fab - no sweating in a cramped room with an exasperated fitter throwing randomly sized back-entry ski boots from the 1980s in your direction, this rental procedure is a notch above any we had previously experienced. Each part of the process was handled in a dedicated area, so as you circle the large floorspace, your requirements for boots, skis, helmet and poles are handled by numerous staff members offering a truly bespoke service. Once finished, you are driven back to your chalet and you don't have to worry about returning your items - the shop even picks your skis up when you leave.
We played around on the beginners slope and broke in our boots for an hour or two that afternoon but it wasn't until Monday morning that the real skiing could begin! Having feasted on breakfast (Sam prepared porridge, cooked breakfast, cereal and yogurts) we took the two-minute walk to the funicular. The high speed railway, cutting through the Bellevarde mountain, was to be our transport of choice for the week, our entry point to Escape Killy, encompassing Tignes, La Daille, Val d'Isere, Le Laisinant and Le Fornet.
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With our chalet being central to all these destinations, we could experience and reach the extremities of the resort without ever being too far away from the comfort of tea (and the heated boot room - a real bonus when temperatures outside are dropping to -13!). We consider ourselves fairly accomplished skiers (who doesn't embellish their ability to the ski rental staff?) but what struck us about Val d'Isere was its ability to cater to all ski levels. Beginners can take the modern Solaise cabin lifts (with heated seats and WiFi) to a col with a variety of green and blue runs. Free local shuttles also run to the base of the mountains to enjoy the gentle and weather protected slopes at the foot of the pistes. There are loads of ski schools offering both kids' lessons and private guiding to the highly regarded off-piste areas.
Tea back in the chalet never failed to impress
Apres-ski entertainment for families is pentiful - famous clubs like the La Folie Douce, while fun to ski past in the late afternoon to gawp at the hoards dancing in Ski boots, weren't on the agenda this trip! But there's so much going on; we took the shuttle bus one evening to watch a spectacular light and firework show put on by one of the ski schools, featuring freeride skiers back-flipping off ramps amid pyrotechnic explosions whilst a train of L.E.D. suited instructors danced down the slopes.
There was carnival night, which saw a procession of giants, stilt walkers, dancers and musicians take over the streets - it's definitely worth checking the Val d'Isere phone app daily. It's great for the weather forecast and piste closures, but also offered us a suite of family entertainment for the day, including theatre productions, board game evenings, farm visits, and behind the scenes tours.
Evening ski entertainment was a sight to behold
Once back in the chalet for dinner, we were treated to an amazing variety of food and wine, and unlike other chalets we've experienced, Le Ski do not hide away the wines at the first sight of dessert. We were sharing the chalet with another father/son combo and a family. On the first night the younger kids were struggling to keep their eyes open by the end of the meal (we all recognise ski school exhaustion) but Sam was happy to be flexible with his meal times to ensure no little ones fell asleep in their Creme Anglaise! After dinner, we retreated to the lounge area, where, with the fire lit and the wine still circulating, we recounted our day's adventures, and set out plans for the next day, swapping tips on eateries and off-piste gems.
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Later in the week, one of the guests suffered a broken nose thanks to a little over exhuberance on the extra-large ramps at one of the snow parks. Thanks to the WiFi, TVs and impressive DVD collection there was plenty to do while awaiting the doctor's all clear. Another guest suffered a muscle strain and Sam quickly arranged same-day, on-site physio, ensuring the patient was back on the slopes the next morning.
It was a fabulous week and there were sad faces on the day of departure. We were up early, but with a transfer of only two hours and a midday flight, it was relatively respectable. Chalet Kanjiroba was the first drop off and last pick up point so the journey was direct to the airport. Sam had prepared bacon rolls and the remnants of his superb banana cake for the journey, which we devoured as we crept out of the Alps and back down to Chambery airport. Our BA flight back to Manchester on an Embraer 190sr was extraordinarily comfortable (its 2x2 seat configuration offered generous legroom - much appreciated by our stiff and tired muscles after a hard week on the slopes). The journey home felt flat - it had been such an amazing week nobody wanted to be home and as we approached real life we were struck with a sudden worry: what on earth were we going to eat now that we didn't have Sam to look after us?!
FAMILY TRIED AND TESTED CHEAT SHEET
When to go: Val d'Isere is pretty snow-sure being so high up, so you really have your pick. This year there's been snow from early December and it looks like the season will run and run. But there's also glacier skiing to be had at Pissaillas which even allows summer skiing in June and July
Where to stay: Our chalet, Kanjiroba, was very intimate and comfortable and would be ideal for a group of friends to take over for a week. But there are so many options available through Le Ski that whether you're after big or small, busy or quiet, child care or not, you'll find what you want.
What not to miss: Photo opportunities at L'Aiguille Percee and the top of the Grand Motte are stunning. The night time fireworks put on by ESF were amazing.
What to avoid: The snow parks are a lot of fun but during half term it's more queues than jumps so probably best to avoid unless desperate to improve your tricks. Going over to Le Fornet in bad weather is also a bit of a risk (we were lucky that the lifts re-opened after closing due to high winds) so be warned, you might end up on a bus. La Face in the afternoon can become pretty full of moguls too.