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  • Writer's pictureRaúl Revuelta

La Face de Bellevarde Racecourse (Val d’Isère)

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

This winter "The Critérium de la Première Neige à Val d'Isère" celebrates its 68th anniversary. Since 1968 the event is a key stop on the Alpine Ski World Cup calendar.

The Men’s Giant Slalom and Slalom events of the Critérium de la Première Neige will be held on 9th and 10th December 2023. The Organizing Committee is working to prepare a fantastic and unbelievably icy slope for this weekend races.

December 9th Giant Slalom 1st run 9:30 CET - 2nd run 13:00 CET

December 10th Slalom 1st run 10:00 CET - 2nd run 13:00 CET

Alpine Skiing World Cup, World Championship, and Olympic Games. Only a few ski resorts can claim to have hosted all three and the racecourses on which the events of the three competitions took place can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The face of Bellevarde, in Val-d'Isère, is one of them.

Skiing first came to the isolated village of Val d’Isère in the 1930s. Years later, in 1948, Henri Oreiller became France’s first-ever Olympic ski gold medallist securing Val d’Isère its place on the ski map of the world.

In 1955, race organiser Louis Erny and Charles Diebold, who was in charge of sport in Val d’Isère at the time, ran their first competition here. They hosted it in December, -with the first competitions of the season not starting until January, they capitalized on the opportunity to introduce a new First Snow Critérium to round off the pre-season training courses, to be the first large meeting of the skiing season, and they named it the Critérium de la Première Neige. 55 skiers took part in the first edition of the race, mainly French, with Jean Bourdaleix being named the Critérium’s first winner and local skier, Firmin Mattis, taking the lead in slalom and combined.

The long-term objective of the event was to shine a worldwide spotlight on the resort and its challenging terrain, thus turning it into a top-level alpine skiing destination.

Initially, the races took place on the Solaise before the action switched in future years to the Bellevarde for both the men’s and women’s competitions.

Since 1968, when the Critérium de la Première Neige was officially recognised as part of the FIS World Cup, no less than 180 World Cup events have been contested on the slopes of the French resort. For the past 67 years, men and women racers have given their all on challenging slopes that have earned a legendary reputation. Every year, the resort hosts two spectacular weekends of skiing, and it comes as no surprise that Val d’Isère has organised more World Cup races than almost anywhere else in the world. A great many skiing champions have hailed from Val d’Isère, and its Club des Sports has trained some of the biggest names in skiing: Jean Claude Killy, Marielle and Christine Goitschel, Firmin Mattis, Patrice Bianchi, Ingrid Jacquemod, and Anémone Marmottan. Today, Val d’Isère Club des Sports, the most decorated sports club at the Winter Olympics, is proudly represented by Victor Muffat Jeandet and Clément Noël.

The racecourse

La Face de Bellevarde in Val d’Isère is one of the most iconic and challenging racecourses on the Alpine Ski World Cup Tour.

The track was built to host the Men’s Downhill at the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics. Designed by Swiss Olympic Downhill champion Bernhard Russi, his idea was to design a course that was technical and demanding enough to satisfy the competitors, but which could also offer the public and the television cameras spectacular views of the most critical passages. The imposing slope of 1000 meters of vertical drop faces the village of Val d'Isère, guaranteeing an impeccable view of the race.

A renovated racecourse hosted all the Men's events in the World Championships; and the technical events for women (GS, SL). Since then it has been the spectacular setting for the World Cup Men’s Giant Slalom and Slalom races.

Face de Bellevarde Facts

Start altitude: 2,300m (GS), 2,065 (SL)

Finish altitude: 1,850m

Elevation difference: 450m (GS), 220m (SL)

Length: 1,192m (GS), 591m (SL)

Maximum gradient: 70%

Minimum gradient: 15%

Average: 39,69% (GS), 36,43% (SL)

La Face de Bellevarde in Val d’Isère is steep, hard, with a lot of terrain. Even in good conditions, this hill is not easy to ski.

But there is one athlete that mastered the Face de Bellevarde no matter the conditions: Giant Slalom king Marcel Hirscher. He won five times the Giant Slalom in Val d'Isère (2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2018).

Val d'Isère is an international ski resort located in the Savoie, recognisable by its charming Chalet architecture. People come to Val d'Isere with precisely one purpose in mind: to Ski. Val d'Isere offers to the skiers one of the most incredible Ski Paradises in the Alps: the Espace Killy, the Val d'Isere and Tignes combined skiing area, named in honour Jean-Claude Killy a magic skier, racing for Val d'Isere who won 3 gold medals in the 1968 Olympic games. 300 kilometres of slopes are served by 89 modern lifts. A playground for every skier with two glaciers (Pissaillas Glacier in Val d'Isere and the Grande Motte in Tignes) and 154 runs as well as some magnificent and easily accessible off-piste opportunities.

Val d'Isère became a ski resort in 1934. At the time one could only ski on the "Front de Neige" area as it would take a whole day and a pair of seal skins to reach the top of Solaise. The pioneer ski school was created two years later. The first cable car, Solaise, was inaugurated in 1942.


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