Purpose-built rather than chocolate-box pretty, but who cares with this much height and terrain?
In a Nutshell
Part of the vast Three Valleys lift system (alongside fellow headliners Meribel and Courchevel) giving access to a whopping 600km of piste. VT alone (when paired with neighbouring Orelle) has 150km of slopes, whilst once you add connected Les Menuires, Brides-les-Bains, and Saint-Martin-de-Belleville to the mix, you’ve got the largest (and possibly best) linked ski area in the world.
Top Lift 3230m
Ski Area 600km of piste
Adult Lift Pass (Val Thorens/Orelle): €320 for six days
It’s hard to believe now, with climate change making high resorts so cherished, that VT nearly didn’t happen. But in the late 1960s, when plans were announced to start building at the top of the Belleville valley, plenty of locals shook their heads in disbelief. “You can’t build a village up there,” they said. “It’s too high, too cold and too avalanche-prone.” A Savoyard councillor, who was also a minister, even took to national radio during the early years, after medical advice against living at such height, demanding the order should be given for fighter planes to demolish Val Thorens. Zut alors!
Solid Intermediates (and Party Animals) Will Like it Best
If you’re truly hardcore, you’re going to be in La Grave, Cham’ or wherever, getting belayed in. While for those obsessed with pure, technical piste skiing Val d’Isere (and linked Tignes) will probably get the nod thanks to best-in-class black runs like La Face.
But what VT does have, is mile after mile of beautifully-looked-after, put-the-hammer-down motorway skiing. Making it hugely enjoyable for your average half-decent week or two a year British skier. We say, it’s probably the best spot in the Alps for this sort of Euro-cruising.
Good skiers should not think they’ve outgrown it either, as returning in 2023 after a long hiatus, we were reminded just how rewarding runs like Combe de Caron and Goitschel can be, especially when allied to ultra-modern, high-capacity lifts like Cime Caron (and its new Orelle link on the other side of the 3200m peak). In fact, add in a dash of easy-to-reach off-piste – like the Geffriand or Vallee de Lory itineraries – and it’s hard to think of a better French location for a mixed group.
The season is long too (November to May, with VT often claiming ‘First to open, last to close’) while a snow average of six metres per season is just as promising. The height is a huge plus too in terms of keeping the snow of good quality, even when the season is not as plentiful as hoped, as happened in 2023. In mid-January, something like 10 days after the last decent snowfall, we were still able to find good skiing and plenty of fresh powder. Impressive.
Finally, as to the aforementioned apres, we are old and dull, so just stuck to the lively Fahrenheit Seven bar in our hotel. But stepping off the slopes, and walking around the village early evening, there’s a definite energy and Jager-joy atmosphere. Maybe not quite St Anton/Ischgl dance on the table madness, but still potential for a good rave-up.
Life gives with one hand and takes with the other. So all that useful height (great for getting/keeping snow) means you’re entirely above the tree-line. So when a storm comes calling, you can’t just divert to the usual pines/birches for definition and protection. But we say, it’s not a huge problem to wait the weather out for an hour or two, given everywhere’s ski-in, ski-out here. And they’ve invested heavily recently in projects like Le Board, a health and fitness centre with two pools, three saunas, a hammam and cold plunge pool. Cinema and all that jazz too.
As to queues and Vail resort-style lift nightmares, a place this good will always get busy. With something like a million skiers visiting every year, carding an official 1.9 million skier days. Which is, frankly, a huge number. Even for a purpose-built French ski resort. But while there’s no doubt half-term, holidays, prime weekends and all the usual will be frisky, we found all the expected pinch-points like Caron, and Point de la Masse further down the hill, easy to navigate, because the infrastructure is just so good, and quick, at taking big numbers.
Visit the Val Thorens website for all the usual need to know stuff and FAQs; get your tuition and guiding via ESF who offer a full off-piste day from €440 (for guiding up to eight people). We loved the gentle helpful, patient approach of ESF’s Stéphane Spettel – book him if you can.
Sean Newsom, who did the last VT update here was amazing on his hotels and chalets. Heaven knows he must have been thigh deep in Michelin guides and Inghams brochures. This time we’re just going to tell you the basics, i.e. where we stayed.
In the village that was Fahrenheit Seven. Just the right side of too exciting/hipster/trendy, with live music nights three times a week, plus high-season apres action on the deck. Big tick for location, ski room, bar, brekkie and the music stopping at midnight. Rooms from around €175 per night.
On the hill Trait D’Union is an off-grid dream that sleeps up to eight. So bring your pals, and worship at the alter of host Viv, who did up the pretty refuge with her late husband Jean Luc as the ultimate romantic getaway from nearby Saint Marcel. Slippers, log burner, Leffe on tap – it’s just about perfect. And right by the pistes for easy in/out. From €95 per person.
On the hill again is Lac du Lou. Friendly, easy to book/use/find, this is the ultimate beginners hut. It’s bigger than most, but the brilliant bar/common area mean it’s not without heart (Billie the cat and Alaska the Collie help with this too). Cheap enough so you can leave your stuff in the hotel and just come here for the experience/night after skiing Vallon de La Lou. We repeat, a wonderful doddle to find, right by the piste! Beds in shared dorms from €35 per night.