Val Thorens ski resort is not only the highest village in France's famous Three Valleys (Trois Vallées) linked ski area, it's also the highest ski resort in Europe; snow conditions are reliable throughout a long season and its great range of local and linked slopes, ample amenities and rocking nightlife allow it to make a strong case for being one of the best ski resorts in the world.
Some 99 percent of Val Thorens' slopes are over 2,000m, occupying a huge cirque crowned with six separate glaciers at the head of the Belleville Valley. It's a stunning location when the sun is shining, but can be a bleak and exposed place when the weather closes in. The treeless landscape means there are no sheltered spots, and high winds and/or heavy snowfalls can force the lifts to be shut down for periods.
Nevertheless, this is a world-class ski resort - with some seriously luxurious places to stay - and is surprisingly big and busy for such a remote location, with no lack of services or facilities, a lively après ski scene and good nightlife, and plenty of terrain to suit skiers and snowboarders of all abilities.
Its dependable snow conditions and long season make Val Thorens an especially good destination for early or late-season ski holidays.
Val Thorens - Ski Map & Pistes:
Much of the accommodation in Val Thorens is ski-in/ski-out or only a short stroll away from the pistes. The heart of the village is focused around the top of a short slope equipped with a canopied conveyor-belt surface-lift, which enhances the ski-in/ski-out convenience. The main access road through the resort is bridged by a couple of pisted footbridges that funnel a through-route piste via this area, so slope users can simply glide through the middle of the resort to access all areas.
The spacious nursery slopes along the lower 'front' edge of the resort are also equipped with canopied conveyor-belts, which shelter users from blustery weather and are easy for beginners to use.
Val Thorens' ski area fans out over seven distinct sectors, including the mostly blue-classified slopes of the Col de la Chambre, where links towards Meribel-Mottaret and Les Menuires are situated. The high Peclet sector directly above Val Thorens, offers a handful of good long reds plus a glacial black, while the narrow Pointe de Thorens sector at the head of the valley provides access to epic off-piste routes but also has a lovely long red-into-blue cruise back towards resort.
The principal twinned Rosael and Cime de Caron sectors form the bulk of the area, filled with wide high-altitude blues and reds plus some testing mogulled blacks. The 'fourth valley' sector of Orelle, over the watershed in the Maurienne Valley beyond the col de Rosael, boasts the highest lift-served point in the entire Three Valleys; and finally the usually quieter Boismint sector that overlooks the Vallon du Lou and runs down to Plan de l'Eau at 1,800m, the lowest point in the Val Thorens ski resort.
Depending on your ski level, there are different ski pass combinations available for the three ski areas accessible from the resort: Val Thorens - Orelle (150 km), La Vallée des Belleville (300 km) and Les 3 Vallées (600 km).
Val Thorens - Off-Piste, Backcountry & Ski Touring:
Val Thorens is one of the most stunning areas in Europe for off-piste skiing and ski touring with access to seemingly endless fields of powder snow in breathtaking surroundings (when the weather's not closed in). Experienced off-piste skiers should try the descent from the Gebroulaz glacier towards Méribel or Pralognan and explore some beautiful off-piste skiing on the Maurienne side.
Other popular off-piste routes include Lac du Lou from the Combe de Rosael black run from La Masse and down the Vallée des Encombres. All of this is best explored with a mountain guide or through the many ski schools offering excursions.
Val Thorens - Restaurants, Bars & The Town:
Val Thorens is a big, purpose-built resort village, but a compact one nonetheless. Its wide streets and covered walkways are pedestrian friendly and it has a good selection of shops, supermarkets, cafés, restaurants, bars and pubs, plus plenty of indoor facilities to cope with any inclement weather, mostly located in or around the big central Galerie Caron complex that houses a shopping mall and leisure centre.
The leisure centre has a spa, swimming pool, a gym and fitness suite, squash courts, multi-sports hall plus a children's fun-park area. Several hotels also have spas that are open to non-residents.
Other leisure options include ten-pin bowling, games arcades, and a cinema. For more active fun there's snowmobiling, mountain biking on snow, paragliding, paintball, an ice driving circuit, and an epic 6km toboggan run from the top of the Peclet gondola.
Après ski is very lively, with two big mid-mountain venues - the Folie Douce and Bar 360 - banging out music from mid-afternoon until the lifts close, plus more than 40 bars & pubs around the resort, many of them lively from late-afternoon right through to well after midnight. There are also a couple of small nightclubs, plus one big subterranean live gigs venue/nightclub - Malaysia - which is billed as Europe's highest club.
Val Thorens - Ski Hire:
You have plenty of choice when it comes to ski hire in Val Thorens with multiple outlets - many offering online discounts - including Intersport, Sport 2000, Skimium, Chamois and Zenith.
Val Thorens - Ski School:
It's France, so the ESF is the big player in Val Thorens, offering its full range of group ski lessons and individual classes. You could also seek out Oxygene, Prosneige and Ski Cool. The SkiBro platform can also help you find instruction that's right for your ski holiday.
// HIGHLIGHTS //
Chambery (1hr 45)
Moutiers (35 mins)