Jon Ein, Marchay’s Chairman, lived in Paris for many years and is an avid skier. While in Europe, he tried different mountains but kept coming back to Val d’Isere. Now living near Washington, DC, Jon goes back to Val d’Isere every January and recently returned. Here he shares his favorite places and tips, and tells us why skiing Val d’Isere is his Alpine «happy place ».
What’s so special about skiing Val d’Isere?
Val has that perfect trifecta of incredible skiing, great food and hotels, and a really local, unpretentious atmosphere. You can often find two out of three of these, but its rare to find all three.
Tell us about the skiing.
First, the terrain is huge. There are 71 chairlifts between Val and connected Tignes. Jackson Hole has thirteen, by contrast. You can ski there for a week and not scratch the surface of the skiing offered. Second, it’s high and on a glacier so the snow is reliable. They also make a lot of snow. Third, it’s best in class on and off piste. Skiers of all levels or motivation can find skiing that’s right for them.
What’s the best time to go?
By New Years, there’s usually good snow, and you can ski late into the season. They close in early May generally. When I lived there, I used to go until mid-April, although that’s getting riskier with climate change. Anywhere between Christmas and US Spring Break is a great choice.
OK, it’s France, tell us about the food.
Where do I start, so good. It’s not just France but Savoie so they love their cheese and charcuterie; they aren’t fooling around. In town, Loulou’s opened in the Airelle hôtel with a huge terrace outside slope side. Many of our members go to Loulou’s in Paris in the gardens of the Tuileries so imagine that in the Alps. I also love the restaurant (and bar) in Le Blizzard hotel; great food in a warm buzzy atmosphere. The roasted chicken comes covered in black truffles and is carved table side. Le Blizzard bar is also a very happening place for drinks or après ski. Also at Blizzard downstairs is La Luge for raclette. Val used to have some amazing raclette restaurants which have closed, so La Luge is now very busy and it’s small, so you need to book in advance. In Fornet by the lift, there is Table d’Edmund, which is two star Michelin. You can go for lunch or dinner. I didn’t go because I don’t like to eat that formally when I’m on a ski trip.
And on the mountain?
The restaurants on piste are even better in my opinion. Just so many options. The « musts » are Fruitière, next to Folie Douce, which those who have been to Courchevel will know. There’s also a stylish Italian in the same structure called Cucina that was ok but has incredible views. La Signal on the Fornet side is also great, and I really like Edelweiss, very cosy, which is down from Signal towards town. Le Soli is also very cool; half is a bar and warm up area, but through a door is a small, usually packed Savoyard restaurant with a roaring fire and good food.
On more thing I would say about the restaurants, as a wine lover, is that even pretty chill restaurants have great wine lists. They not only have large selections of French wines, but they have age on them because the owners have been collecting them for years. This is a huge plus for wine drinkers, compared to US restaurants at ski mountains especially which will have average wine or maybe good wine that is generally too young to really enjoy.
Let’s move to the hotels, a serious topic at Marchay.
My Marchay advisor, Valentina, suggested I stay at K2 Chogori, which opened last year. It is the first hotel outside Courchevel, where the Capezzone family that owns K2 have three hotels. I am so impressed by this hotel. It has become one of my favorites anywhere. The design is sort of modern Tibetan, with ash wood and fur accents that just work. The quality of everything they do is amazing, from the super heavy, hand carved doors, to the huge welcome basket with local products, to the thick towels to the luxurious and well appointed pool/spa area. Just every touch point at the hotel is well thought out and done with a view to maximum comfort and quality, which is a sign of a passionate owner. Most significantly, the service is impeccable and, because it’s small, they know every guest in house by name. I just feel great when I’m in that hotel.
My second choice for our members, and for certain members I would say first choice, is Les Airelles, which opened pre-pandemic. This is another family owned group that also owns Chateau de Versailles, which our members love, and another favorite hotel of mine, Chateau de la Messardieres outside St. Tropez. In Val, they took over a prime, Alpine building right at the base of the mountain where the lifts converge. It is ski in but not really ski out. It is more traditional Alpine than K2 and also bigger (41 rooms and suites vs 21), with the aforementioned Loulou’s and a Matsuhisu, which opened in the bar area this year. It also has a large spa area and kids club. I would say people who want a bigger footprint and more action at the hotel, for kids for example, might prefer this. But it’s important to choose your room carefully, which your travel advisor can help do.
Other good choices are Le Blizzard, where I stayed all the time back in the day, and Baume de L’Ours. Blizzard is fun and very nice, but not at the luxury level of K2 and Airelles just because it is older. Baume was the first hotel to bring a little Courchevel luxury and glamor to Val, and it’s still a great choice, but even though it is ski out, it’s a little out of the way so you would be taking the shuttle more if you were staying there.
Finally, I would say there has been a lot of construction of top quality chalets for rent so that’s also a good option for families or groups traveling together. The owner of Blizzard has created some private chalets I hear are fantastic, but I haven’t seen them.
What is there to do besides skiing?
If someone in the group doesn’t ski, I do think they would have a good time walking the town, relaxing at the hotel, and meeting the crew on piste or at Loulou’s for lunch. You can also organize other activities if you’re ambitious like a helicopter to a private mountain restaurant, or dogsledding.
Who should go to Val d’Isere?
I feel strongly that if you have a week or more, it is much better to ski in Europe than the US, especially if you live on the East Coast. Logistically it is not much harder than getting to Aspen or Taos. I fly direct DC to Geneva on United and then its a 2.45h drive. One could also fly to Zurich and have many amazing ski places in both Switzerland and Austria within two hours. Once you are there, the experience is just better in all the major areas: ski area and quality, food, hotels, culture, and charm. Also, except for Switzerland, European ski resorts are much better value than the US. Skiing Val d’Isere costs $70/day for lift tickets vs over $200/day in Vail, for example. Instructors, rentals and hotels are also much less.
The reason is the big US resorts have been bought by private concerns and control all the services for profit maximization. The better restaurants are more expensive in Europe, but the quality merits the prices so that is value, too.
No, just a shout out to Valentina for planning a great trip as she always does for me. I really appreciate it.