Don't expect a pristine Alpine village. In Val d'Isère, traffic roars to the town center. Clusters of cheap restaurants, crêperies, and more than 125 stores and outlets line the road. Since 1983, some of the worst of the town's architectural sins have been corrected, thanks to tighter building codes and greater emphasis on traditional chalet-style architecture.
Access to Val d'Isère, less than 9.5km (6 miles) from the Italian border, is inconvenient and time-consuming, and parking is a nightmare during busy seasons. But despite the commercialism, the town hums with the sense that its visitors are here to enjoy skiing. And few other European resorts can boast as logical a layout for a far-flung collection of ski slopes.
Val d'Isère is the focal point for a network of satellite resorts scattered around the nearby valleys, including the architecturally uninspired Tignes (2,066m/6,778 ft. above sea level), whose layout is divided into four resort-style villages. The most stylish and prosperous of the villages is Val Claret; less fortunate and successful are Tignes le Lac, Tignes les Boisses, and Tignes les Brévières.
Guarding one entrance to Val d'Isère is La Daille, a resort of mostly high-rise condominiums and timeshares. At the other end of town is the medieval hamlet of Le Fornet, the departure point for gondolas crossing a mountain ridge to the Pissaillas Glacier and another network of ski trails, the Système de Solaise.
All of these satellites lack the cachet and diversity of Val d'Isère's nightlife and dining. Public transport (the Train Rouge) can pick you up and deposit you at the departure point to the terminus of virtually any ski lift or trail in the region.
Val d'Isère is legendary for its "death-defying" chutes and its off-piste walls. These slopes are for experts, but the intermediate skier will also find open snowfields. The best place for intermediates is Tignes, with its wide variety of runs, including the Grande Motte (3,345m/10,974 ft.). Skiers find enough variety here to stay 2 weeks and never revisit the slopes that stretch from the Pissaillas Glacier far above Val d'Isère to Tignes Les Brévières four valleys away.
There are only a few marked expert runs; the more accessible off-piste areas lure experts from all over Europe and the United States. Most of these runs can be reached after short traverses from the Bellevarde, Solaise, and Fornet cable cars in Val d'Isère and the Grande Motte cable car in Val Claret.
In winter, half-day, full-day, and 2-day ski passes (lift tickets) sell for 32€, 44€, and 76€, respectively.
At least a dozen ski schools flourish in winter. One of the largest and busiest is the Ecole de Ski Français, or French National Ski School (tel. 04-79-06-35-76; www.esf.net), with 250 guides and teachers. Somewhat more personal is Snow Fun (tel. 04-79-06-16-79; www.snowfun.com), with 60 guides. Purists usually gravitate to Top Ski, galerie des Cimes (tel. 04-79-06-14-80; www.topskival.com), a small but choice outfit with 24 extremely well-trained guides catering exclusively to Alpine connoisseurs who want to ski off-piste (away from the officially recognized and maintained trails).
Officially, the resort's sports activities slow down or stop altogether between early May and late June, and from early September to mid-November.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.