News from the snow
Val Thorens France
Val Thorens represents the pinnacle of ski resort development to date - at least in terms of its altitude. The highest ski resort in Europe, located in a vast snowy bowl within the biggest ski area in the world, the resort and its surrounding ski area has continued to evolve since its opening in 1971. Today it can claim to be a stylish 'village' and world class ski resort rather than a clutch of rather desolate, high altitude buildings as some imagine. In contrast to that image, the resort has been constructed using local wood and stone to designs inspired by traditional local Savoie architectural tradition. More than 250m Euros have been spent in recent years in improving and expanding the resort and the local ski area. The whole has also been designed to a well considered plan giving it a compact, largely pedestrianised centre where most of the public facilities (of which there are many!) are concentrated. This investment has helped the constant popularity of Val Thorens which now attracts some two million visitors annually (placing it in the world top 20 ski resorts by popularity as well as altitude) . It also boasts occupancy rate of around 90% on average through the season, making it the envy of many other famous ski resorts. Always been ahead of the game on many levels, even being one of the first areas to offer wi-fi internet access in 2003. A year later it showed its environmental credentials by tackling smokers who drtopped cigarette butts from chairlifts pointing out the total can reach as many as 30,000 below just one of the more popular access chairs. he resort believes that apart from being a major eye-sore, they're also a major environmental hazard, with each individual cigarette end likely to contaminate a cubic metre of water. Stressing that they were not launching an anti-smoking capaign, just a "responsible disposal of cigarette butts campaign", the tourist office added a glass box that will display the thousands of cigarette butts picked up alongside an exhibition showing the long-term environmental damage caused by man-made trash. Two thousand pocket containers designed to hold used cigarettes were provided for skiers. Despite being north facing, the resort's altitude ensures it gets good sunshine with little over-shadowing it. The tourist office is open from 9am to 7pm daily (even to 4am on Sunday morning for those arriving late on Saturday night) for all information.
Situated at the top of Les 3 Vallées, the largest ski area in the world, in the heart of a natural rock and ice circus, Val Thorens offers a complete range of skiing. At 2300 metres, Val Thorens, the highest resort in Europe, is situated in the heart of a 360° Alpine Circus, orientated in all four directions, with a grandiose countryside, optimal sun throughout the day and superb quality snow from the end of November through to the beginning of May. From powder fields to perfectly prepared pistes, the 140km of the wide and varied Val Thorens-Orelle ski area is ideal for everyone: skiing, snowboarding, snow shoes.. With easy skiing around the resort, medium and difficult on the summits, Val Thorens combines “great skiing” and first tracks for the great delight of all skiers whether beginners or more expert.
Intermediate level skiers have the most choice of all with over 200 runs in the Trois Vallees categorised red or blue. Skier numbers are dispersed throughout the area making queues a rarity. Beginners will find many wide gentle slopes around the resort itself especially for them, with some lifts free for first-timers. Recent investments have resulted in the resort now boasting three six-seater detachable chair lift and a new quad down in to the Maurienne Valley on the Italian border which some claim makes the 3 Valleys now 4 Valleys! The Caron cable car has also been upgraded.
Val Thorens has some of the best ski lifts available and now operates more Funitel style lifts than any other. These are high speed gondola lifts that run on two cables for extra stability (compared to the usual one) and have large cabins for extra capacity. In 2002 a 2km (1.25 mile) long Fond 2 Funitel with a capacity of 3000 skiers per hour was added to create a new ski area at Plan Bouchet, also served by two fixed grip quad chairs and offering three additional slopes The following season another Funitel, the €4.5m Bouquetin, the resort's third, was added to the Plein Sud sector taking up to 2000 users per hour towards the 3 Vallées inter-connect.
In 2009 the resort invested more than 1.5 million euros to create a 40 hectares area for beginners, equipped with no less than four new roof-covered magic carpets. The area has been designed not only to provide first-class facilities for first timers, but also improved access to the Cascades chairlift, getting progressing beginner skiers on to more green and blue slopes.
The two twin magic carpets that have been installed and named “Castor & Pollux” represent a triple innovation say Val Thorens. In both cases a single roof structure covers both magic carpets for more comfort. The carpets are also the fastest so far installed in France, meaning more snow time, and travelling at up to 1.2 metres per second, increasing capacity to 3,000 people per hour. The carpet lifts also run in two directions, providing a ride down when needed, as well as up over the 240m length.
There are two successive magic carpets, Musaraigne (the shrew) and Campagnols (the vole) which are more than 200 m long in the heart of the “grenouillère de Péclet” area. To discover a larger area at your own pace, a special pass for beginners is available to access an area including nine ski lifts serving the easiest slopes at a reduced price of 50% off the full daily pass rate.
The French ski school, with around 200 instructors, offers tuition in all disciplines. More unusual options include the Moguls Course run by Eric and Patrick Berthon, Eric being the first Mogul World Champion. Telemark courses are also offered
Val Thorens is a good choice for families given its pedestrianised centre, family ski areas, sports facilities and excellent care and ski school facilities for babies from age three months and upwards. There is a wonderful 600 square metre area within the sports centre especially for kids including trampolines, bouncy castles and ball pools and the swimming pool has special elements for children and fun times. Add to the mix the tobogann run and new bowling and pool hall for older children and a host of family friendlty eateries and you have a winning combination.
The only negative side is that children from age five upwards pay 65% of the adult lift ticket price, not unusual in France, but children in the 5 - 10 age bracket do ski free at certain resorts in other countries, so it is a question of working out the overall price/value. There is a family discount available on the local area and full Three Valleys passes available however.
The youngest are catered for at the Creche, Snow Garden and Mini Club which includes a children's restaurant and ski playground, whilst children from 18 months of age are also accepted at the additional Roc Village which has the same facilities.
Ski lessons can begin from age three wioth Piou Piou classes organised by the French ski School. Lessons are within a special snow garden that includes moving carpert lift and ski roundabout. Indoor and outdoor activities are organised with an indoor play room. Children four an up can take their first steps on the French National ski school award scheme, starting at Flocon level. Snowboard lessons are available for children aged seven years and upwards.
The ski schools also organise special snowshoe outings for children and a weekly torchlit descent on ski for those with at least two stars at Flocon level aged five and over.
The Fitz Roy Hotel provide gourmet standard dining and in 2004 a new gastronomic restaurant, Oxalys, opened in partnership with the successful Chef Jean-Michel Bouvier and placed under the responsibility of the talented young Chef Jean Sulpice who subsequently gained the second MIchelin star in the region whilst stiull in his mid 20s. Monsieur Suplice's cuisine involves local meats, Savoyard fish and often forgotten vegetables such as Jerusalem artichokes, oyster plants and wild plants.
The latest exciting restaurant to open is l'Epicurean run by another youing chef, Emmanuel Deleuze. Here the onus is one sourcing food from the five continents and in a daring move for a restaurant in France, offers a wide selection of New world wines to accompany your meal, from Argentina, Australia, South Africa and Brazil.
Another treat for gastronomes is the regularly organised visit to a mountain restaurant to taste Savoyard specialities, followed by a torchlit descent back to the resort.
About 70% of guests at the resort are non-French, with a good proportion of those being German or Dutch, thus helping to contribute to a lively atmosphere at venues. The Malaysia has a reputation for live music and there are three official discotheques of which the Dicks Tea Bar and the Baramix are most popular.
A great place for meeting-up providing entertainment for everyone, the new snowpark is strategically installed on the Plateau sector and is thus accessed by several ski lifts. 5 zones (beginners, intermediates, experts, boardercross and Jump Air) make up this 70000m2 area filled with different fun modules: raised bumps, whoops, hand rails, boxes, a table top, wall ride and a big air…
• Boardercross: 800 metre-long fun area with raised bumps, whoops and jumps.
• “Beginners” Snowpark: with 6 jumps and 6 hand rails, this is an easy learning area for everyone.
• “Intermediates” Snowpark: an ideal playground to work on new figures (3 hand rails, 3 boxes and 6 jumps).
• “Experts” Snowpark the resorts’ showcase, this zone is the favourite training ground of the best European “Riders”. On the programme: 6 hand rails, 1 wall ride as well as a link into a big air.
• The originality of this new snow park is the Jump’Air. The aim of this new activity is to do a jump followed by a landing on a “shock absorbing stunt man’s” mattress while trying to do an acrobatic figure or to try and jump as far as possible with no danger.
The Jump’Air is ideal for learning or improving freestyle, whether on skis or on a snow board.
Sports Club: +33 (0)4 79 00 01 08