At 2,300m above sea level, Val Thorens is the highest major ski resort in Europe. It has the second longest ski season in France and is always the last to close for the season in the country. Situated at the top of the world’s biggest ski area, the Three Valleys, there are lift and piste connections to some of the most famous resorts in the world like Meribel and Courchevel. Perhaps the only resort that offers a zip wire between pistes, it is great for a snow guarantee and has lots of apartments offering ski-in/ski-out accommodation. A lively town with a good après scene both on and off the piste along with a huge choice of restaurants, shops, and off-slope activities. Accommodations range from family-friendly apartments right up to five-star hotels with Michelin starred restaurants.
Approximate Transfer Times
Skiing in Val Thorens
As Val Thorens is Europe’s highest ski resort within the world’s largest ski area, you’re well placed to maximise your slope time, particularly given that the majority of Val Thorens’ properties remain ski-in, ski-out.
The resort’s hub where its pedestrianised heart meets the snow front is the Rond Point des Pistes, an area often thronged with beginners making the most of the gentle nursery slopes here. There are 150km of runs in total surrounding the resort, a respectable amount for any major international resort, but of course Val Thorens also offers fast easy connections to all other parts of the Three Valleys and its world-beating 600km of runs, depending on the direction you take.
Val Thorens’ ski slopes almost entirely surround the village with multiple choices available to you each morning, depending to some extent on whether you wish to stay in the local ski area or head further afield towards one of the other sectors of the Three Valleys. A wide slope runs down the edge of the resort with various lifts radiating off taking you to wide open slopes and bowls to enjoy to the max.
Beginners have that perfect terrain by the Rond Point des Pistes so don’t need to venture far to get started and will even find some of the carpet lifts operate free of charge. They can then progress on to runs like the recently created Deux Combes green or the slightly more demanding blues accessed from the Pionniers or Plein Sud chairlifts. Intermediates have the widest choice of terrain with dozens of great cruising blues and steeper reds to entice them. The Peclet gondola leads up to a choice cut of precisely this type of terrain. You can also head to wide sunny slopes in that unofficial ‘fourth valley’ of the Three Valleys, the Maurienne above Orelle. There’s also the usually quieter Boismint sector to explore. Val Thorens has invested heavily in state-of-the-art gondolas and fast, comfortable chairlifts over recent years with the result that it now boasts one of the most impressive networks in the Alps to whisk you back up the slopes.
For experts the main attraction in the local area is the off-piste skiing, with a huge choice of terrain and many famous runs. There are nine black pistes with some of them especially challenging. Freestylers are of course not forgotten with a phenomenal 70,000m2 Snowpark which attracts skiers and boarders looking for the best jumps, rails and boxes of all shapes and sizes from other resorts in the Three Valleys.
Val Thorens is very well placed for exploring the wider Three Valleys with another 450km of skiing to enjoy seamlessly connected to the 150km of local slopes by fast, modern lifts. There are essentially three different directions in which you can head – over in to the Meribel Valley (and from there on to the Courchevel Valley); down towards Les Menuires and on to St Martin de Belleville or across towards the lift down to Orelle and the Maurienne Valley (the unofficial ‘fourth valley of the Three Valleys’).
All of these connections are very quick and easy to access usually with a choice of routes from the resort involving a couple of successive lifts and normally you can be in another of the Three Valleys, or down further in the Belleville Valley, in 30 minutes or less. This means you can easily ski over to another resort for lunch and spend the day exploring its slopes before heading back to Val Thorens by the end of the day. If you are venturing far however, particularly to the furthest reaches of the Courchevel Valley, it’s important to leave enough time to make the lift connections back.
The biggest single chunk of Three Valley piste to be accessed comes if you take the Pionniers and then the Three Valleys lift towards the Col de La Chambre from where you can ski down in to the Meribel Valley. From here predominantly red runs lead down towards Mottaret and there’s easily enough skiing for a week in the region. But having skied down you can opt to take a couple of gondola lifts up to Saulire and from there down in to the Courchevel Valley. On a good day with clear slopes and no lift queues that’s all possible in about an hour, but it’s good to start early.
The skiing above Orelle, over the back of the Cime de Caron, is much more limited with just a handful of mostly blue and red runs but it’s worth the trip as the area is usually quite quiet with great snow. Finally there’s the routes down to Les Menuires with St Martin de Belleville below where there’s about as much skiing again as there is at Val Thorens. This can be accessed easily on the Boulevard Cumin run although boarders beware it’s a little flat in places.
Val Thorens Resort Overview
Val Thorens offers amazing views out over the French, Swiss and Italian Alps and is a very cosmopolitan resort with one of the liveliest atmospheres of any of the purpose-built ski areas. The resort is a world leader in digital media and wifi provision so there is a much more modern feel to the village than the other tradtional alpine resorts.The village itself is quite compact and mostly pedestrianised making it easy to get around and there is a free bus that loops round the resort everyday.
There are covered shopping arcades with a fair choice of bars and restaurants with Place de Caron being at the heart of the resort. This is where most people head to relax on one of the sun terraces to take in the scenery and reflect on a day's skiing.
Restaurants & bars
There are more than 50 restaurants in the resort, including a dozen mountain restaurants to ski in to for lunch, and a huge range from a converted piste basher that now servers up slopeside food, to several Michelin starred establishments. There’s a good range of dining styles on offer too. One of the newest additions, Il Gusto Bistro is entirely dedicated to generous Italian cuisine featuring both classic Italian dishes, as well as lesser- known recipes like pizza pinsa romana made using potatoes and stracciatella with saffron and parsley, or citrus marinated salmon with balsamic vinegar, pine kernels and dill.
Even up on the slopes it’s not just burgers or Tartiflette, sushi and maki are served up by a Japanese chef in the middle of the slopes at the Chalet d’altitude de Thorens. But there are plenty of traditional French restaurants to choose from too. In fact if you want to go the ‘Full French’ there are few better than L’Arbé (which is the local dialect name for a little Alpine chalet) which is themed on a 1950s shepherds summer mountain hut and a world away from modern Val Thorens. There’s a wood-fired stove, old transistor radio with classic French songs playing and even a grandparents’ room with a creaky old wooden bed. There’s a casserole bubbling away on the stove, wine and bread on the table, and everything is set for an evening of French nostalgia. At the top end of the gourmet scale the latest Michelin-starred establishment, Les Explorateurs is located in the Hotel Pashmina.
Val Thorens has both a good number of on-mountain eateries, so you don’t have to ski far to find one, and there’s also a good selection from simple ski-in shacks serving food and drink outdoors over a counter to very comfortable, sit-down, table -service options. Les Chalets du Val Thorens offer a bit of both with a snack bar serving Paninis or Belgian waffles you can enjoy on the extensive terrace, to a self-service café with freshly cooked local specialties like Tartiflette, through to a formal restaurant with its own VIP terrace. There’s also ‘Wokski’ here serving up affordable healthy Asian food. There are plenty more options with the rustic Chalet de la Marine another good choice for table service and Le Caribou, a cosy chalet-style hut with log fire another popular place, located up at the top of the Moraine chairlift.
Val Thorens boasts one of the liveliest après ski scenes in the French Alps. The resort’s compact design means most places will be relatively close to your accommodation. There are a good selection of bars where the après ski kicks off as the lifts close, but king of them all is arguably the on-mountain Folie Douce, up by the Plein Sud and Pionniers lifts, with its signature cabaret acts and table dancing. The day does end there soon after 5pm though, to ensure everyone is safely back in resort before dark.
Some of the liveliest bars, particularly popular with the Brits, include the Red Fox (karaoke), The Frog and Roast Beef (live music and happy hour) and the Sherlock, while The Shamrock claims to be Europe’s highest Irish pub. Quieter options include the Rhum Box Cafe and O'Connells. Newer venues include Le Crewszer, run by a couple of local ski instructors, which opened for winter 16-17 aimed at riders and serving beers from around the world. Driv’Inn is run by another Val Thorens local, Gérard Faggio, in the Péclet commercial centre. The theme is F1 motor racing and besides the bar, designed like a paddock tent, there are three F1 simulators where you can even do some simulated ice driving.
Most bars are open to 2am and there are a couple of dancing venues too with the Malaysia nightclub open until 4am with happy hour from 10.30pm to half-past-midnight. Some of the world’s best DJs have played here including Rudimental, AfroJack and Calvin Harris.
There’s plenty to do besides skiing and snowboarding on or over the slopes of Val Thorens. Most famous is the resort’s 1.3km long zip wire, the highest in Europe at 3,200m up. Ice driving has always been a popular activity here and recently added variants include family ice driving with children as young as age 7 able to drive cars or go karts on ice, and vintage car ice driving. Well, that’s a vintage car by Val Thorens’ time – in other words a Golf or an Escort from the 1980s! Sledging is also on offer, with the longest toboggan run in France at 6km here, as well as sliding fun with devices like Snakegliss – a kind of giant, multi-person, articulated sledge. Ice climbing, snowmobiling, winter hiking, yoga on the slopes, dog sledding, diving under ice, flying in a motorised paraglider and even mountain biking on snow are all also available.
Val Thorens offers quite a lot of activities to keep most people entertained. The large Val Thorens Sports Centre contains a long list of facilities with lots of organised classes too that include a public swimming pool, trampoline park, squash and volleyball courts and a fully-equipped modern gym. or those looking to relax there are an array of spas in many of the hotels where you can enjoy treatments and laze the day away.
The resort also has a cinema, bowling alley and amusement arcade and you can also do cookery classes and or enjoy wondering around the large specially designed artisitc space where you will find the work of various artists, photographers and sculptors.
Who is Val Thorens Suitable For?
High altitude/snow sure
It doesn’t get much higher than Val Thorens for a snow-sure resort base, up at 2300m and with the skiing continuing up to 3,200m and the vast majority (99%) of the ski slopes above 2,000m in altitude, it’s easy to see why the snow cover is normally so reliable here. In fact, the resort’s managers are so confident they actually guarantee snow cover on most of the runs for most of the season. There are more than 350 snow cannons covering 40% of the local slopes and the resort boasts the longest ski season of a ‘non-glacier’ resort in France, stretching for almost six months from late November to early-May.
Val Thorens works really hard to attract the family market, going above and beyond the normal ski resort efforts with extra attractions and events that others don’t offer. For example the decision to create a large area for younger kids within the sports centre with trampolines, bouncy castles and ball pools for plenty of full-on fun.
Along with extensive non-ski nursery care (from three months old) and multiple ski school options (from three years old) and excellent facilities like the snow village the resort’s pedestrianised centre and policy of providing mostly slopeside accommodation makes it one of the more convenient and minimal stress destination for families. Getting around on the slopes is easy too with fast, comfortable chairlifts and gondolas the norm and lots of family-friendly terrains plus added attractions like the Family fun park in the Plateaux sector. The extensive list of off-slope facilities for families including things like the swimming pool, bowling, toboggan run and even activities like family ice driving in real cars or karts all help make it a good choice for families.
Experts / off-piste
The off-piste terrain is the main attraction for good skiers and boarders and one for which the resort is famous. Guides will lead you to runs like the Pierre Lory Pass, accessed with a traverse from the Chaviere glacier which has fantastic views into the Maurienne Valley as you descend. They will also pick the best runs depending on conditions when you visit. Again Val Thorens scores highly on season-long snow quality as the fact that much of the best known off-piste terrain is in north or northwest facing areas means the snow tends to stay in better shape for longer.
The better known and more challenging Lac du Lou run, accessed from the resort’s famed Cime du Caron cable car, provides 1,400 metres of vertical. There are plenty more challenging routes still. An interesting new ski touring run, “La Camille” opened for winter 2017-18 in the Plein Sud Sector. Starting out from the resort, this mile-long route pays homage to Camille Rey, a high-mountain guide who was a major name in Val Thorens history.
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