High and Wide – a week in Val Thorens
Après ski announcements don’t come much more euphoric than ‘you are on top of the world!’ and this is certainly how we felt during our sun-drenched week in Val Thorens this season (13th-20th March).
I was pleasantly surprised by the vast array terrain and facilities Val Thorens holds. Val Thorens is a purpose built resort sitting at 2300-2400 metres altitude. As our transfer bus dropped us off I realised immediately that Val Thorens was a layout of large concrete buildings of different shapes and sizes depending on their age. The aesthetics are unlikely to entice those looking for a ‘chocolate box’ Savoyard village but, whatever the resort lacks in appearance it makes up with functionality and when, being honest, do you really go to a ski resort to study architecture? Or to ski?
Simply put, Val Thorens is placed at the head of the Belleville valley. The stunning teeth of L’Aiguille de Peclet which look down on the resort village, act as a reminder of the vertical ascent still available at this altitude. Furthermore, the surrounding slopes are as wide as they are high with sweeping pistes rolling across the bowl within which Val Thorens sits.
We stayed at the Chalets Altitude & Chalets Val 2400, which are located in the higher part of the resort. This gave us the desirable pleasure of skiing straight to the back door and skiing via a short walk across the road in front. The easy commute to the slopes meant the plan of action for the day was laid in advance for how best to set off – in general these plans were based on how much the après ski had affected our sleep the night before.
In particular, we found two great options to start the day. The Funitel Peclet was a favourite with the rolling red runs, Christine and Tete Ronde; a sure fire way to warm up. From here you have the option to funnel through to the village base and pick up one of the many lifts accessible from here. Should the legs be in need of a gentler awakening then a trip up the Plein Sud or 3 Vallees 1 lifts is in order. From the summit of these lifts you have the choice of wide blue runs to ease the legs into a day on the mountain.
Once the body was suitably warmed up, the games truly began. The high-speed and extensive lift system of Les 3 Vallées will move you around this vast area quickly, begging the question, what do you do? Some of the options which gave us endless debates were the following:
Q1. Do you head in the direction of Méribel-Mottaret and explore Les 3 Vallées in full?
This option allows for a detour to Mont Vallon along the way and its generally quiet red slopes with lots of hidden gullies and surprises.
Q2. Do you make the journey down the Belleville valley?
This option opens up the possibility of La Masse which offers some great cruising blue/red pistes on the front face. Over the back of La Masse there is a world of off-piste to be explored which winds back around into the lift network.
Q3. Do you take the Caron and Cime Caron lifts?
These lifts will take you to an amazing 360 degree viewpoint where, on a good day, you can view over 1000 summits across France, Italy and Switzerland. From the viewpoint you can also decide to head into the Maurienne valley down towards Orelle. This area is often forgotten about by the majority of skiers and as such offers some of the least crowded slopes around.
Q4. Do you want to you want to get airborne?
If so, the refurbished snow park by the Plateau has a selection of graded jumps and rails from green to blue to black. These well laid out jumps are great way of building up confidence, should an alternative to carving slopes be your thing. In addition, there is a jump onto an airbag where (for 2 Euros for 1 jump or 12 Euros for 10 jumps) you can try the tricks you’d never normally try, without the fear of injury.
Answering these questions constantly gave us a headache, a headache we would much rather have than not.
Off the slopes, Val Thorens’ action is far from over. New for the 2009-2010 season, is a highlight to the après ski scene that most Val d’Isère skiers will be accustomed to. La Folie Douce is a high energy sun terrace where live music is played from 3pm-6pm every day. The unique sounds and live saxophone create an infectious après ski atmosphere where dancing on tables is the norm and smiling people abound. The culmination of La Folie Douce is that the lifts have closed and you make your final run of the day in a beautiful sunset run (weather permitting). Fortunately the Chalets Altitude & Chalets Val 2400 are located directly at the base of the run home from La Folie Douce.
In the resort itself, there is an abundance of off slope options. Below our chalet was a bar called the Red Fox where they have good fun bar staff, some of the lowest prices for food and drink in Val Thorens, and possibly the most questionable karaoke list* in the Alps (*verification needed). In the main resort area of Val Thorens, you can find favourites such as the Frog and Roastbeef and the Saloon where the night can continue into the small hours, if you so wish.
As an alternative to skiing and après ski we tried a unique feature. Val Thorens is home to the longest toboggan run in France. Starting at 3000 metres and at 6km at length there is plenty of velocity, relative danger and fun to be had. This was even more fun than I had imagined and I would highly recommend the care-free to give it a go.
The above features alone were enough to keep us happy for the week but on a cloudy and wet final day waiting for our transfer bus we stumbled across the newly refurbished bowling alley. Inside is a relaxed atmosphere with an internet cafe, games area, lounge area as well as bowling alleys. At 11 Euros per game (this reduces if you play more than 1 game) it makes a great way to enjoy the day if the weather isn’t so kind outside.
Once the bus arrived and signalled the end of our high-energy week at the highest resort in Europe we slept peacefully all the way home.
Food in VT is very average, though not too expensive. If you’re just after a week of Savoyarde nosh (as we were), then most places will set you back 60Euros for 2 people including a bottle of wine. Note I didn’t say ‘nice’ bottle of wine. The local wines are rank – though I didn’t get a chance to try the Chignin.
Best food was the rostis at Le Choucas – genuinely tasty and different. Also good were the couple of trad-looking places either side of Le Choucas, and the Indonesian pork ribs at Bar Kinabalu. Give the big mexican in the town centre a wide berth – service and food sucked. The standalone place next to the Malaysia nightclub was good for Raclette.
Nearly all run according to the standards of French ‘service’, definitely a 5/10 resort. Go to Zermatt instead, beats VT hands down, on every count.