22/12/2011 | by jcattlin
- Resort Top: 2300m
- Piste/run/trail top:
- Piste/run/trail bottom:
- Pistes: 78
- Beginner Pistes: 40
- Intermediate Pistes: 30
- Advanced Pistes: 8
- Gondolas: 8
- Terrain Parks: 1
- Halfpipes: 1
- Boardercross: 1
- 1 day: €41
- 6 day: €188-€241 (area)
- Season: from €765
Food and Drink Prices
- Pint of lager: €6
- Cheeseburger & fries: €6
- Pizza: €12
- Airport: Chambery – 75km
- Train: Moutier – 35km
- Bus: Val Thorens
Well I Never!
Val Thorens used to be part of Italy until the Treaty of Turin in 1860 when Emperor Napoleon III took back the Savoyard region. Apparently he was keen to create a disco dancing resort with one of the largest terrain areas in Europe.
Val Thorens, built in the beginning of the 1970s at the end of the Vallee de Belleville, sits at 2300 metres – making it the highest resort in Europe. Because it’s purpose built, it’s also very convenient, with a lot of the accommodation backing onto one piste or another. Unfortunately, like a lot of the French villages from the 70s, the landscape of Val Thorens is littered with what Prince Charles would call “monstrous carbuncles.” Also, the ‘convenience’ of the layout means that you may well step out of the bathroom in your apartment 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 riders paradise.
Cheaper than the neighbouring (and linked) resorts of Meribel and Courchevel, it has over 600 km of pistes up to altitudes of 3200m, one of the best parks in France and some amazing freeriding. La Folle Douce, the open air club near the Plein Sud chair at 2400m, has kick-started the après scene here. 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 out of 5)
In recent years things have improved massively on the park front. These days, the season kicks off in early December with snowboard week, where the park is already up and running in great shape. 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 25metes in length. A progressive quaterpipe shaped like a pirate ship with gap to rail options through the centre shows a little of what they are capable of.
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 four 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 out of5)
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 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 ‘4th 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.
THE PISTES (4 out of5)
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 ski 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 has just 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 PARTIES (5 out of 5)
La Folle Douce, son of the famous mountain bar in Val d’Isere, is an open-air club 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.
The Red Fox is another good hangout for happy hour, which (as at the Frog) runs from 4.30 to 6pm. There are so many bars on this road it can be hard to choose, but if you fancy a bit more of a Dutch or Swedish ambience try the Viking, the Tango, or Café Snesko. O’Connells has a quieter atmosphere, and it is worth checking out the Rhum Box, with its vast array of 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, Le Baramix or The Underground, where you can keep going till it’s time to hit the slopes again.
“You may well step out of the bathroom in your apartment to find a smiling family waving at you from a passing chairlift!”