Val Thorens is a resort that likes being in the record books. First up, there’s the altitude. At 2,300m it’s the highest resort in Europe, with 99% of its slopes above 2,000m and a top elevation of 3,230m, meaning it boasts one of the longest seasons around, starting in November and lasting all the way into May.
Next up; the pistes. It’s part of the largest connected network in the world: the Three Valleys. Over 600km of lift-accessed terrain awaits you, from Meribel’s trees to the shady couloirs of Courchevel. But if you don’t fancy travelling (or fancy saving a few pennies on your lift pass), VT’s Belleville Valley has plenty to offer itself, whether you’re after steep glaciers or untracked powder valleys.
And if being the highest and largest ski resorts wasn’t good enough, the Val Thorens brethren have chased a few more records: the 6km toboggan run from the Péclet Funitel is the longest in Europe, while their latest addition, the Tyrolienne, is the world’s highest zipwire, transporting riders a distance of 1,300m between the Three Valleys peak at 3,230 to the Val Thorens crest at 3,000m. Not for the faint-hearted.
Okay, so it’s not the most charming of resort towns; straight out of the architecturally-challenged 1970s, and that high, exposed setting is not our favourite place to be hauled up in during a mid-winter storm. But the past few years has seen a touch of class to those semi-pedestrianised streets, with five-star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants popping up all over the place. In fact, it’s pretty easy to see why our guide, David Mitchell can’t tear himself away…
MEET THE LOCAL
David Mitchell has lived in Val Thorens since 1997, and is the only British ski instructor in the resort (working for ESF). You can also catching him reading the weather forecast in English for the local radio station Virgin Radio Val Thorens / Les Menuires.
BEST RUN FOR A WARM-UP
?If you’re up at 9am on the dot, start with the Plein Sud chair – it’s always the first to open, and the blue back down to the village is a nice, gentle start to the day. Otherwise, head to the Boismint chair. The Blanchot piste catches the early-morning sun, and is an easy, wide blue that’ll help you find your ski legs.
TO FIND FRESHIES DAYS AFTER A STORM
?If you don’t want to venture too far from the piste, there’s usually plenty of powder to found from the side of Col de L’Audzin, Les Cristaux and Combe de Caron (all accessed from the Cime de Caron gondola). If you’re looking for something away from the crowds, the Vallon du Lou, also accessed from Cime de Caron, is hidden away from pistes or lifts, and descends all the way from 3,200m down to 1,800m, so there’s always plenty of powder for everyone. Or try the Combe sans Nom – it’s much quieter than Vallon du Lou, and in early May 2013, we even came across a chamois there!
FOR FREERIDE FORAYS
?One of the best things about VT is the easy-to-access freeride on offer. The Belleville Valley is a hotbed for this kind of thing, with excellent itineraries from the Lac Noir chair down in Les Menuires. Try Geffriand, with its snowy, north-east faces that break out into woods, or, if you have skins, the Col de Fenetre. For a full day out, the route down to Pralognon, following glaciers, tight couloirs, pillow lines and trees is a classic, though you’ll need to fork out for a taxi to get back to the Three Valleys network. Be sure to get a guide, try Timy Theux (timytheaux.com) or Alain Stevenet (alainstevenet.com).
THE BEST THING ABOUT LIVING IN VAL THORENS IS…
That the skiing is right there, on your doorstep. Wherever you stay, you’re guaranteed mountain views, and being the highest resort in Europe, we have good snow and a long season. I like how compact the resort is too – you can walk everywhere. Although it does mean you can forget about your car for several weeks and end up with a flat battery…
DON’T LEAVE VAL THORENS WITHOUT?…
Trying out the 6km long toboggan run – they say it’s one of the longest in Europe and everyone raves about it. Although, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never done it myself, but there’s still time!
FOR MOUNTAIN BITES?
Head to Chalet de la Marine (chaletmarine.com) – it’s not cheap, but it’s great. The upstairs is a sit-down restaurant, and the tartiflette there is second to none. Don’t skip out on dessert, either – the pastry chef is one of the best in France.
FOR CHEAP EATS IN TOWN?
The bakery Sucré-Salé is one of Val Thorens’ best kept secrets; heading there for lunch is much cheaper than any mountain restaurant, and you can chose from pizza, quiches, paninis and pastries. In the evening, Café Péclet is reasonably priced and has the best chips in resort (hand-cut and homemade). I translated their menu, so if you spot any mistakes, let me know!
FOR AN APRES-SKI TIPPLE
?Folie Douce, on the Plein Sud piste is easily the most popular. They have a DJ, singer or saxophone player most nights and it’s packed full of table-dancing revellers until the lifts close. In resort, Café Snesko is reliably lively, with dancing and general Scandinavian craziness.
FOR LATE-NIGHT DANCING
The Frog & Roastbeef pub is a home-from-home for many British season workers, and popular with holidaymakers from the UK. But if you want a more international vibe try Le Monde. For a proper club experience head for the gargantuan Malaysia, with live bands until the early hours.
PISTES AND PASSES
Pistes/lifts: 600km/180 (Three Valleys)
150km/29 (Val Thorens)
Advanced: 11 %
Lift passes: €44 per day for Val Thorens; €53 for the Three Valleyswww.les3vallees.com / www.valthorens.com