Follow GoNomad’s own Kent E. St. John down the snowy slopes of the Alps and roam with him as he strolls through the charming, wine-filled French ski villages of Val d’Isere and Chamonix.
The music of the French jazz band Vitamine gets feet stomping, or perhaps it is the night’s chill washing down the steep French Alps that make movement necessary.
In any case, the international crowd smiles as one when the band plays “When the Saints Come Marching In.” It is the tail end of April, yet steady snow has been falling over the last several days.
After a long raucous cocktail party, we headed into the beautiful restaurant Fruitere for the hearty dishes developed to combat hunger high in the French Alps.
The band followed us in and soon everyone was dancing on the dinner tables; the Alps have worked their magic. Energy flowed as fast as the occasional avalanche seen from the center of Val d’ Isere.
Many seemed to forget that to get to Fruitere we rode up the mountain on the La Daille lift, through a cave.
The plan was to ski back after the party with torches to light the way, but the silky white Savoie wine won, and I thumbed a ride on a snow cat down the slopes; plenty of time to ski the next morning and I wanted to use both of my legs.
While both Val d’Isere and Chamonix are renowned for great skiing, they are at opposites in experiences. The feeling at each is unique unto itself, part of the joy of skiing in the French Alps.
Booting Up in Val d’Isere
On my arrival in Val d’Isere I noticed immediately that one is there to ski and as much as possible. True there are restaurants, bars and shops galore, but it is the slopes that rule. In fact there are twelve slope-side restaurants alone, but diners are decked in ski gear, a sure sign.
The clop of ski boots can be heard just about everywhere, even in a disco. The resort is actually two as Tignes can be reached and skied on the same pass. The whole package is named L’ Espace Killy, after French skiing superstar Jean-Claude Killy.
Speed is king in Val d’Isere, and the face of Bellevarde seen from the lifts is a constant reminder; many important downhill and giant slalom races have been won and lost on the B.