Resort Profile: Val Thorens

By adamrowden, 4 Dec '12 at 09:10

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 dropped 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 eyesore, 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 campaign, 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 overshadowing 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.

On the Slopes

If you are a bit of a speed demon then you will be pleased to know that either the black or red run from the Cime de Caron gets pisted every night. Get up to the top early, ask the pisteurs which today's special is, and hoof it for the 1500 vertical metres descent down to the Doron chair in Les Menuires. The Col, the Peclet funitel, Boismint 2 and the Rosael chair also have some nicely groomed pistes on which to fly.

If wide and sweeping runs are more your thing then you are in luck. Val Thorens has one huge vast piste running right down the front of it which takes you to a large number of lifts. Here you can grab the big Péclet gondola, which takes you east from the resort and takes you to the glacier of the same name. Once at the glacier you have a choice of red runs or a nice blue down.

You can catch the brilliant 150-person cable car to Cîme de Caron. This lift takes you up 900m in a flash. You can get to this cable car by heading across from mid-mountain, of using the Caron gondola which begins below the village. Once at the top of your 900m ascent, you have a choice of red and black pistes which head down the front face, or you can take the black run into the Maurienne.

Off-Piste

The potential is massive. The Cime de Caron, at 3195m is the start of a lot of routes. From here you can access the much vaunted 4th Valley, either by couloirs or big open slopes. If you go down the opposite face there are innumerable options, taking you down to the Lac du Lou and the Boismint chair at about 1880m.

Another variation is to climb over the ridge directly opposite the Boismint 2 chair, which is a shorter and easier way down to the lake. But a brilliant one to rip when the snow's good.
The Col chair leads to more good stuff. Thirty minutes pole off to the right and you reach the Col de Pierre Lory, which takes you into the fourth valley again. This is on glacier, so the snow stays excellent, but the main route's an easy ski, you could take your mum down it. Traverse round to the left and North facing slopes make it steep and deep. Or climb up another forty minutes to the Butcher's Shoulder (Epaule de Buchet) for something a bit more challenging.

Also from the Col, but heading to the left when you get off, a long hike, or an hour or so on skins, takes you to the Face Oueste, name sake of the Face West back country boys. This is glacier too, and steep enough to avalanche reasonably frequently. Also from this side you can approach the Y couloirs, and the Gebroulaz glacier, a route that takes you all the way down to Meribel Mottaret. One of the Ys you really want a rope for the entry, and both are pretty steep. Gebroulaz is covered in crevasses, so you need a guide, or someone who really knows the route

Living in Resort

All accommodation in Val Thorens is well positioned, so try as they might those crafty tour op bosses can't really stitch you up. Except of course with your room mate. Apart from the new Chalet de Neiges, at the top of town, most workers will live out of their chalets, which makes for less pestering.

Bars and Clubs
The Frog and Roastbeef is the British embassy, and also the highest pub in Europe. The pub was taken over last season by Dunc, Rory and Stu (all workers/bums from previous seasons) and refurbished whilst still keeping the character of the place alive. Shows all the major football matches, serves hearty pub tucker (nice price for workers) and has the best apres ski in the known world. Dancing on the tables is an every night occurrence.

Two doors down is O'Connell's 'genuine' Irish bar, owned by a Frenchman, run by a Dane, and the staff are usually Swedish. A lot of the blokes in there have pigs with them though, so I guess that counts. It's quieter than the Frog, but can be good for a change.

The Rhum Box, is a little secret, hidden behind El Gringo's Tex Mex. Flavoured rums are the main stay, usually good music is played, popular with the French, but everyone is welcomed.

Tango, is the bar of a Swedish Club Hotel. Ski in Dance Out, the signs says, and you do. Tuesday nights are Boogie nights, a Scandi fandango of sexy Swedes dressed as porn queens.

The Viking, despite its name is not particularly popular with the Scandinavians, usually its more of a Brit and Dutch affair. It's a good bar, though, does dangerously excellent toffee vodka, available by the bottle, and also houses an internet café.

There are only two night clubs, but since you can only ever be in one that seems to be enough. Dicks Tea Bar is dirty, dingy and brilliant after the pubs have shut and is almost always the seasonnaires' late drinking destination of choice. Malaysia is pricey, even by French night club standards. It mainly attracts those in their glad rags, and those really into out of date Euro-dance.

Eating Out
Frog and Roastbeef for great honest, tasty and reasonable pub grub with burgers and pies on the menu. The Tango does surprisingly good a la carte food but you usually have to eat after the guests have finished. John's Scandinavian does some of the best seafood in the Alps. There are any number of good French restaurants, of which the Scapin, the Hotel 3 Vallees, and the Chalet du Glaciers are three.

Away Days
Mostly Annecy or Chambery on the town front. Obviously you can easily ski to anywhere in the three valleys. If you know someone with a car then Espace Killy is only an hour's drive from the foot of the mountain, and you get a day free on your lift pass.

Thanks to Jonathan Trigell and Rick Greenwood for contributing plenty to this guide.

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