Welcome to the ultimate guide to high altitude ski resort Val Thorens. Europe's highest by some distance and one third of the enormous Trois Vallées ski area, Val Thorens provides endless skiing for all abilities and ski-in, ski-out accommodation from November to May.
The Ski Resort
Val Thorens claimed the gong for the “Best Ski Resort in the World” last year for the third time in four years since the World Ski Awards got going... So it must be at least three times better than second place, and it delivers. The snow-quality and sheer scale of the skiing terrain, the blend of affordable and luxury bars, restaurants and accommodation, and the pioneering and innovative nature of the resort’s founders, all contribute. The village is purpose built and lively, with the old concrete breezeblocks thrown up in the 60s and 70s largely reclad, and new developments sticking to that sympathetic Savoyarde style.
In recent years, Val Thorens has undergone something of a transformation, with an increasingly discerning and wealthy clientele drawing in a clutch of high end hotels, luxury self-catered accommodation and gastro restaurants to rival any Alpine destination. The first five star hotel opened in Val Thorens five years ago, yet it now boasts four and the world’s highest altitude 2-Michelin Star restaurant (le Jean Sulpice), with investment continuing to flow into making this the world’s premier ski resort.
The Skiing (oh, the skiing)
When Pierre Schnebele originally proposed building Val Thorens in the late 60s, locals didn’t believe it possible, such was its extreme remoteness atop the Belleville Valley. Fast forward almost 50 years and Val Thoren’s altitude provides season-long, snow-sure skiing on a mind-boggling scale. Val Thorens itself boasts 140 km of groomed piste and this extends to 600 km when les Menuires, St Martin de Belleville, Méribel and Courchevel are all taken into account. With 99% of Val Thorens’ pistes above 2000m, snow quality and reliability is unrivalled throughout the alps and exceptional skiing is available right at the extremes of the winter season.
For beginners, a gentle set of nursery slopes around the Rond Point des Pistes provides an excellent training ground, with greens and blues off the Deux Lacs and Cascades chairs well positioned for graduation to the piste-proper. Meanwhile, expert skiers face overwhelming choice, with an outstanding range of off-piste tracks, the least exposed and quietest of which can be found around Les Menuires, or over in Orelle. Freestyle skiers flock to the world class Plateaux Pistes terrain park that splits into four levels of lunacy, and the World Cup ski and boardercross, accessed from the top of the Deux Lacs chair, entertains boisterous amateur competitors with that beat-your-mate-or-the-holiday-is-ruined spirit. And if all this isn’t enough, The Alpine Signature Superpass now gives access to Les Trois Vallées, Paradiski (Les Arcs and La Plagne) and Espace Killy (Val d’Isère and Tignes), a cool 1,325km of skiing, with 6day passes available from €348.
The Après (hint: its good)
Val Thorens is an après heavyweight. On the piste, its own incarnation of La Folie Douce gets things going with its sun-drenched, south-facing mega-terrace; expect DJs and dancing on tables from early afternoon. La Folie Ratrack, a snow-groomer turned food-truck just off the terrace, provides the perfect foil, with burgers, meats and cheeses on hand to soak it all up. Meanwhile, across the mountain and served by a gentler green run down into the village (fair warning, the run down from La Folie can prove treacherous) lies 360 Bar, La Folie’s’ lesser known but equally enthusiastic partner in crime.
Upon successful negotiation of the cursed ‘last run of the day’, the VT institution that is Café Snesko keeps everyone dancing, with live Danish music from 5.30pm daily and bar staff dishing out Fiske shots with abandon. At the other end of the sophistication spectrum, Le Zinc wine bar has a huge selection of wines complimented by delicious charcuterie and of course, live music. For the foodies, there are numerous eateries around the village from fast to gourmet and once fed and watered, Val Thorens serves up a host of extracurriculars such as yoga, dog sledding and the world’s highest altitude ice driving rink, zipwire and toboggan run.
Resort altitude: 2300m
Highest point: 3220m
Area: Les Trois Vallées
Best spot for…
Après: 360 Bar / La Folie (we cannot and will not choose)
A quiet drink: Le Crewzer
A lavish meal: Jean Sulpice or L’Epicurien
A rave: Malaysia (sorry)
Casual meal: La Maison
Posh coffee: Aurelie’s Chilled-Out Tea Room
Transfer: 1hr 30 - Chambéry Airport | 2hr 30 - Geneva Airport