- Highest Point: 3,220m
- Descent: 920m
- No. lifts: 31
- Lift Pass: 1 Day - €61 / 6 Days - €300
Val Thorens, built in the beginning of the 1970’s at the end of the Vallee de Belleville, sits at 2,300 meters – making it the highest resort in Europe. Because it’s purpose built, it’s also very convenient, with a lot of the accommodation directly on or near most slopes. Unfortunately, like a lot of the French resorts from the 70’s, the landscape of Val Thorens is littered with some hideous architecture. Also, the ‘convenience’ of the layout means that you may well step out of your bathroom naked to find a smiling (or screaming!) family waving at you from a passing chairlift!
Some recent aesthetic improvements have been made to the buildings however, and if you’re not too fussed about architecture then Val Thorens is an unpretentious snowboarder's paradise. Cheaper than the neighbouring (and linked) resorts Meribel or Courchevel, it has over 600 km of pistes up to altitudes of 3,200m, one of the best parks in France and some amazing freeriding. The Pass Duo gives any two people who buy the same kind of lift ticket an extra €10 knocked off the price.
La Folie Douce, the open air club near the Plein Sud chair at 2,400m, has kick-started the après scene here. Along with its counter-part, the 360 Degree bar, the parties have to be seen to be believed, and there are loads of restaurants and bars at the bottom of the hill to fill the hours after dark.
The Parks - 5/5
In recent years things have improved massively on the park front. The park is usually already up and running in great shape by early December, thanks mostly to the fact that they cover the snow-mounds with tarp in the summer. The extensive snowmaking facilities allow the dedicated crew of shapers to build what is now one of the best parks in France, with kickers up to 25 metes in length.
"Take an early trip up to the Cime de Caron for one of the best views in Europe before the queues build up"
Local riders come from nearby resorts to session the line of four advanced kickers (with smaller options) that lead into the gap jib feature over the old Cime de Caron cable car, and the large hip at the bottom. From the two draglifts, a line of five smaller intermediate kickers separate the kicker areas from the jib lines. There are also beginner kickers, pole jams, tyre jibs, street rails, boxes and whoops, all of which are roped off to prevent ignorant tourists using your landing as a sightseeing spot.
The Powder - 4/5
After it snows pray for a sunny day! Due to the altitude of Val Thorens, there are few trees to ride when visibility is bad. However when it is good, it’s world-class. Beginners can try the sides of the pistes under the Moutiere lifts, whilst intermediates will love the open bowls under the Grand Fond, the couloirs of the Plein Sud or the Col de l’Audzin trail on the upper slopes under the Cime Caron Cable Car.
A trip over to the quieter ‘fourth valley’ of Orelle is well worth it as there is a great route down from the top of the Grand Fond into the valley behind. If you’re tackling this though it’s definitely best to go with a local guide. Some great couloirs can be found from the top of the Col de la Montée Du Fond area and the peak of Mont Brequin. If you take a right off the top of the Blanchot chair there’s a beautiful open powder field with a myriad of lines down to the Lac du Lou – you may have to walk for a bit to get out past the refuge lac at the bottom, but the walk from the chair to the top is so short you can’t really complain!
If you are up for more serious hiking, head left from the Col Chair, over the Col de Gebroulaz, and you can ride down through the Glacier de Gebroulaz to Meribel. Take a guide though, as you can get lost.
How To Get There
Val Thorens is approximately three hours' drive from Geneva Airport.
The Pistes - 3/5
Take an early trip up to the Cime de Caron for one of the best views in Europe before the queues build up, and head down the long, sweeping red or black runs back to the resort. If you run out of pistes in Val Thorens and Orelle, you can still ride further on down the valley in Les Menuires or St Martin de Belleville. And that’s without mentioning the other two valleys, Meribel or Courchevel. This area is massive and it’s very hard to get bored.
Val Thorens recently introduced a new 10-hectare beginner only area at the bottom of the Cascades chairlift in front of the Village. It has a gentle slope and four magic carpet lifts. Once you’ve got your confidence up try the 3 Vallées 1 chair or the Plein Sud for some steeper slopes.
The 2 Lacs, 3 Valles 1 &2, and Peyron lifts were all upgraded recently to high-speed lifts with slow loading areas, making it even easier to cover Val Thorens’ many miles of pristine piste.
The Parties - 4/5
Things have moved upmarket recently; the revamped Fitz Roy Hotel has earned 5-star status, and the similarly swanky Koh-I-Nor opened a few seasons ago. Don’t worry if that’s not your style, though – there are still myriad of less fancy places to go!
"It’s worth checking out the Rhum Box, with its vast array of (yes) flavoured rums, for something different"
The 360 Degree bar and La Folie Douce (son of the famous mountain bar in Val d’Isère) are open-air clubs that gets the party started early on the pistes. After that, revellers stagger and slide back into town, with the majority of Brits ending in up in the Frog & Roast Beef, which has a pretty good claim to being the highest pub in Europe.
There are so many bars in this road it can be hard to choose, but if you fancy a bit more of a Dutch or Swedish ambience try the Tango or Café Snesko. O’Connells has a quieter atmosphere, and it’s worth checking out the Rhum Box, with its vast array of (yes) flavoured rums, for something different. If all this choice isn’t enough to while away the wee hours you can always move on to the Malaysia or Le Baramix, where you can keep going till it’s time to hit the slopes again.