It’s a dog’s life in Val d’Isere. Especially if you are a fluffy-coated golden labrador with kennels at one of the ski resort’s top hotels.
Attila the Hound, aged five, is a familiar figure in the French Alpine town. I encountered him on his regular routine: padding down the wooden steps of the five star Blizzard Hotel’s lobby, nodding to the doormen, through the automatic glass doors and into the spring sunshine. Sniffing the air he resolutely headed for the bus stop, hopped aboard the vehicle taking skiiers and boarders to the snowy slopes.
Walkies. Catching snowballs lobbed by children waiting for ski school lessons. Snacking on spicy sausages from friendly restaurateurs. Catching a return bus to lounge on the sun terrace beside the open air pool of the hotel spa complex. Snoozing. Petting.
‘He takes himself for a walk every day,’ confirmed the hotelier. ‘The bus drivers all know him, and the restaurants.’
So do the ski instructors. Our ski guru Aaron was tasked to prove you can teach an old dog new tricks. The former British squad ski racer who trained with Chemmy Alcott and now runs ski businesses in the French Alps was up for the challenge.
An easy manner and confidence-boosting encouragement – ‘come on ladies, that’s excellent, amazing!’ he’d throw over his shoulder as we tracked his every turn over crisply groomed snow. He even had us skiing backwards, skiing on one leg and skiing uphill till our knees begged for mercy and a coffee stop on the excuse of admiring Mont Blanc – highest mountain in the Alps and highest peak in Europe at 4,809m – glittering in the blue beyond.
We were a tough trio to tame: intermediates with accumulated bad habits, a lesson-averse Thirty-something, a mum who despaired of reaching a ‘plateau’ and a bus pass holding senior scared of ice – except in her G and T.
Val d’Isère, a resort that lives up to its reputation for world class off-piste and intermediate skiing for those looking to eat up the distances, all 93 miles, plus almost 100 more in the Espace Killy.
Beginners and timid intermediates should beware that some runs are classified as easy when they can be tricky, steep, bumpy and crowded at the end of the day. Take the gondola down if you’re unsure or have over-imbibed, is my advice. Kids, young and old, can enjoy the La Daille terrain park with rails, kickers and a mini-snowcross course.
The village also meets expectations of what a ski resort should be: lively, lots of live music in bars, happy hours, ski-boot dancing après ski, late night après-après ski for hard core party people plus a wide choice of eateries. Classy and chic but certainly not cheap.
We headed for the famed Folie Douce, at the top of the La Daille gondola, for crazy cabaret, live bands with DJs, sequinned dancers, and a sound system that threatens avalanches and has skiers and boarders dancing on tables. Après ski kicks off there on the mountain and there’s plenty more down in the town: rock ‘n’ roll live music at Cocorico, Dick’s Tea Bar, founded in 1979 and now an institution for disco music, and the pricier Doudoune Club which boasts the biggest parties in the Alps.
Partied out, I took Atilla the Hound’s lead to curl up in a comfy bed to dream of sausages and snowballs.
- For more information on Val d’Isère see www.valdisere.com . Accommodation: Gill was a guest of the 4* Hotel Le Blizzard (+33 4 79 06 02 07) Prices start from €230 per person on B&B based on two sharing between (low season). A six-day lift is pass priced from: Adult – €285 and child – €228.