©village-summer-2|Yann ALLEGRE

Pioneering village Once upon a time there was Val d’Isère…

Some villages have a soul, an atmosphere that charms you at first glance. Like Val d’Isère, where every building and every narrow street is shrouded in history.

It all began in 1888 when the very first hotel opened in Val d’Isère. From 1930, the skiing trend arrived in Val d’Isère and instantly made it a choice destination. The post-war period saw the emergence of wintersports, and Val d’Isère became a world-class resort thanks to its exceptional ski area and the authentic charm of the village.

Pioneers & visionaries Birth of a resort

Having fallen in love with Val d’Isère during his first stay in 1929, Jacques Mouflier was convinced of its potential as a resort. The mayor, Nicolas Bazile, thought this was impossible because of the harsh climate and the remote location of the village. But when the two men met in 1931, plans for the resort began to emerge.

From 1932, the development of public infrastructures paved the way, with a post office, power supply, running water and the building of an approach road, as well as the first hotels.

In 1936, the first tourist office was created to represent all of the resort’s business activities. A planning scheme was approved to ensure the characteristics of the village would be safeguarded, splitting the municipal territory into two zones (sports activities and real estate).

In 1937, two ministers got stuck in a storm, the same year that the Iseran pass opened. That was how Val d’Isère became a household name in France.

Destiny of a mountain village that became a world-class ski resort.

Creation of a ski school Tackling the slopes!

During the winter of 1932-1933, a handful of tourists took skiing lessons from two Austrian instructors. But four enthusiasts from Val d’Isère were quick to pick up the ‘snowplough’ technique taught by the Austrians, and the first ‘Vosge-style lessons’ were delivered by Charles Diebold.

Over the winters that followed, the youngsters of Val d’Isère broke away and started teaching others to ski. The first French ski school, ESF, was established during the 1936-37 season with around a dozen instructors.

In 1937-1938, the central training school opened in Le Joseray and attributed the first instructor certificates. The Chamois de France exam was born.

Equipping the ski area Mountainous development

In 1938, the Société des Téléphériques de Val d’Isère was founded and a vast infrastructure programme announced, with a long-term ambition to create 34 kilometres of slopes at elevations of between 1,850 and 3,300 metres, that would allow skiers to cover the entire distance without once removing their skis, taking the same lift or sking down the same slope!

Work started in May 1939 and the Solaise cable car was completed in December 1942. After the war, the installation work continued and extended higher up the mountain. By the early 1960s, the ski area was equipped with around a dozen ski tows and two cable cars.

History of the ski slopes of Val d'Isère

Learn the full story behind the Val d’Isère ski slopes from two outstanding articles produced jointly with Skipass. From explanations about the names of the slopes and the first lift installations, to individual stories and archive images, relive the history of our legendary resort. Happy reading!

Pole planting High-level competition ski resort

‘Première Neige’ Criterium

In 1955, Val d’Isère Sports Club decided to host a competition at the beginning of December, to attract skiers in training. From the 1960s, the French ski team’s results encouraged skiers from across the world to add the Criterium event to their competition programme. A stage of the World Cup now takes place on the Oreiller-Killy slope, and another on the legendary Face de Bellevarde run.

Albertville Olympic Games

The initiative was launched during the 1981 Criterium by Jean-Claude Killy and Michel Barnier (MP for Savoie and President of the Departmental Council). Albertville’s candidacy, announced in 1982, was the third to be submitted by France, after those of Chamonix in 1924 and Grenoble in 1968.

Val d’Isère has hosted four ski races on the Face de Bellevarde slope, the men’s downhill, giant slalom, super-G and combined.

Downhill Skiing World Cup

11 heats were held in the Bellevarde and Solaise sectors, providing an opportunity for large-scale works to redevelop the Face de Bellevarde slope, create the Rhône-Alpes slope in the Face de Solaise sector and build a press centre and finish stadium. The 12-day event was a huge popular success, totalling more than 20,000 spectators!

Anecdote  Pole planting 'French Fried Vacation 2'

If you’ve seen this French film (original title ‘Les Bronzés font du Ski’), you may remember the famous scene when Jean-Claude Dusse tries to get the hang of using his poles. Well, his instructor was not an actor, but a real-life ski instructor. His name was Fernand Bonnevie and he came from Val-d’Isère. He died in 2013 at the age of 98. In the old village stands his chalet and it has a name, ‘Le planté de bâton’ (= pole planting)!

Le Fornet A hamlet perched at 1,930 metres

In terms of authenticity, the hamlet of Le Fornet has stood up to the test of time. From here, skiers can reach the highest summits by taking the Fornet cable car, built in 1972 to allow access to the Iseran sector and the Pissaillas glacier.

The mountains that tower above Le Fornet offer a fabulous playground for off-piste fans who won’t be able to resist the desire to ski on the most beautiful virgin slopes. There’s plenty of choice among the green and blue slopes too, to keep less experienced skiers happy.

Le Fornet is also the starting point of a number of trails, including the Pont Saint Charles route. In summer, seasoned hikers can explore via the Malpasset gorges to reach the Prariond refuge, and even the Galise pass and the Lose pass, to visit the Italian side.

Origins of the name

The name Le Fornet comes from the lime kilns (‘four à chaux’ in French) of which there are still traces on the banks of the river Isère, upstream from the village. Le Fornet may be a peaceful place to live nowadays, but the mountains haven’t always been kind to its residents. Indeed, the village originally stood downstream on the left bank of the Isère, until it was destroyed by an avalanche. The villagers quickly took the decision to rebuild it further upstream. Inscriptions found on the framework of the old buildings date from the first constructions of the new village to 1750. In summer, the ruins of the old village become visible, now known as ‘Le Fornet d’en bas’ (lower Le Fornet).

An estimated 70 residents live all year round in Le Fornet. It isn’t the highest village in France but is among the top five. Many of the original inhabitants’ families still live in the village and a multitude of chalets are also rented out during the winter season. If you ask the older generation what they like most about Le Fornet, they’ll reply without hesitation “the tranquillity”. For many years, Le Fornet has had an authentic feel and that isn’t about to change. That’s a promise!

☀️Summer season: June 29th to September 1st, 2024 ❄️ Winter season: November 30th, 2024 to May 4th, 2025
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