At 2,300m the purpose-built Val Thorens is not only the highest resort in the giant Trois Vallées ski area that also includes Courchevel, Méribel and Les Menuires, but the highest in Europe. Its lofty altitude means that its doorstep slopes have guaranteed snow cover from November to May.
The resort’s position at the head of the Belleville Valley, surrounded by a horseshoe of dramatic peaks, is truly spectacular. On a fine day this offers a world class winter panorama.
The terrain here suits everyone from beginners to experts. VT is not only linked into the vast network of trails across to the well-known Méribel and Courchevel valleys, but also into the neighboring fourth valley, the Maurienne.
Val Thorens has 140km of pistes of its own, and also makes a great base from which to explore as much as possible of the Trois Vallées’ 600km. A journey from Val Thorens to the far corners of the ski area, say to Courchevel, is a full day out, however it does mean more time spent on lifts and paths than on the pistes. It makes sense to spend some time concentrating on and enjoying the myriad slopes closer to home.
In 1971, when the first ugly apartment blocks rose from this white wasteland, French Olympic ski champion Christine Goitschel described it as “like living in the Wild West”. But Val Thorens has since developed into an almost attractive, sophisticated resort.
Its rivals used to argue that without a church, it wasn’t a proper village. So, in 1991 – to put an end to the argument – the village built one.
Val Thorens has 200m on its nearest pretender, Tignes, part of the Espace Killy ski area, also in France, and while this high altitude gives it many advantages, when the weather closes in on the village, way above the treeline, it can feel a little like an Antarctic expedition.
Val Thorens has an increasingly long list of “things to do besides skiing and boarding” the list is endless and offers options for adrenalin junkies and those looking to relax alike.
One of the resorts newest activities on offer is mountain biking on snow. Just after the lifts close for the afternoon, the sessions take place from 3000m up at the foot of the Péclet Glacier. Participants whizz down the 6km long “Tête Ronde”, offering a sumptuous décor of high mountains, on a blue run over 700 vertical metres.
To take part you need to be an experienced mountain biker or at least fit and capable. Bikers are accompanied down by Gérald Bigot, a qualified instructor, who will explain how to use the bike on snow including braking, turning and, pretty inevitably, falling off. Descents take around 45 minutes with a glass of mulled wine when you reach the bottom. Your bike and protective clothing are provided as part of the package.
Another way you can clock up some vertical descent, without your skis or board, is tobogganing. Val Thorens is home to France’s longest toboggan run; starting from the top of the Funitel Péclet at 3000m you descend 6km back down to resort, over a groomed course featuring banked turns and plenty of adrenaline rushes along the way! The run is open daily from 10am to 3pm and available 3 evenings per week.
If you would like something a little more chilled, then you can have a go at snowshoeing and see the resort from a different perspective. There are options of length of the walks, so it’s an ideal activity if you want a day off from skiing and boarding.
if you are just looking for a bit of entertainment after a day on the hill. Val Thorens also has a cinema and bowling alley, perfect options if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
There is also plenty of opportunity for a spot of shopping.
Most restaurants are clustered in the Rue de Caron and Galerie Caron in the centre of Val Thorens. A traditionally young following ensures a wide selection of budget and self-service eateries both in town and on the mountain – but there’s also a growing number of gourmet options, most notably Hotel Pashmina’s Michelin-starred Les Explorateurs.
John’s American Restaurant
A Danish-owned Tex-Mex, John’s American is one of the most popular dining spots in Val Thorens with a menu that includes a dozen different home-made burgers, five types of fajitas and massive steaks.
Overseen by Chef Josselin Jeanblanc in the five-star Hotel Pashmina, Les Explorateurs is a one-Michelin-starred restaurant with a signature dish of carpaccio de Saint-Jacques accompanied by vegetables with a calamondin vinaigrette and Petrossian caviar.
Le Chalet de la Marine
This place is what everyone hopes a mountain restaurant will be (but all too often isn’t). Le Chalet de la Marine is decorated with oodles of wood and has a crackling log fire, furry rugs and delicious local cuisine. It’s set on the Dalles slope up at 2,500m and has a separate yurt that can be hired for private parties. The menu is traditional meat and fish dishes with a twist, including steak tartar and fresh salmon – not forgetting the vast pudding trolley. There’s also a self-service restaurant serving good-value sandwiches and pizza, and a sun terrace.