Val Thorens is considered one of the great ski resorts in the world. There are so many reasons why this resort deserves its place at top table, but we've decided to pick just a few of our favourites.
Here's our top five reasons to ski Val Thorens this winter . . .
1. Highest resort in Europe
More than 99 percent of the ski areas are above 2,000 metres and that means guaranteed snow from November to May. It is not hard to work out - the higher you go the colder it gets. Roughly speaking the temperature drops 1°C every 150 metres above sea level. Meteorologists call it the ‘lapse rate'. The colder it is the more snow that falls and the less rain. It also means more time for the snow cannons to build a bed of artificial snow during dry periods. If the temperature rises above 0°C they cannot operate without using chemicals which all French resorts have signed a charter not to do, for good ecological reasons. So those few degrees of cold that bring the temperature down below zero are vital. To guard against the increasing danger of dry warm spells there are 380 snow cannons covering 40 percent of the skiing area, shortly to be increased to 50 percent. Every ski lift has access to a trail that can be covered with artificial snow.
Val Thorens, the highest resort in Europe. Courtesy of Flickr/Flrnt.
2. Beautiful scenery
Altitude does not just mean snow; it means wonderful views to remember forever. Set in the heart of a vast natural cirque overlooked by six glaciers, it is ideal for mountain lovers. The spectacular sight of the Péclet glacier from the Cime Caron, is "the most beautiful view of the Alps" says the Michelin Green Guide. From 3,200 metres there is a 360° panoramic view over more than 1,000 summits in the French, Swiss and Italian Alps - Mont-Blanc, Vanoise, Ecrins, and Mercantour, as far as the you can see. Architecturally speaking the village itself is in a comfortably traditional style with modern concrete walls masked by wooden exteriors.
A view of Val Thorens (2,300 m) from Cime de Caron (3,200 m). Courtsesy of Insouciance.
3. Part of the Three Valleys
Val Thorens is one of the eight resorts making up the Three Valleys - the largest lift-linked ski area in the world. On the 600 kilometres of runs you can ski in the sunshine all day long, in a different area every day. Space means that it is easy to avoid crowded slopes with 32 main ski lifts of one sort or another. At one end of scale, there are four giant wind resistant high-altitude Funitel lifts, each one carrying 1,500 passengers an hour. The latest inaugurated this season will transport passengers to the Col du Bouchet at 3,003 metres from the top of the Portette chairlift. At the other end of the scale, there are four magic carpets for beginners, with one in the centre of the village for beginners where parents can keep an eye on their children.
Val Thorens' local ski area is constantly being updated. For the 2011-12 season the station has invested 10 million euros, much of it going into better lift capacity, resulting in fewer delays in getting to the slopes. The ever growing importance of WIFI is well understood and a number of ‘hotspots' have been installed. The village itself is easy to get about in with a frequent internal bus service and with all accommodation being ski-in ski-out. Most important it is largely car-free; you can take your luggage to your accommodation and after that your car stays in a car park.
Val Thorens is part of the Three Valleys ski area. Courtesy of Leo Seta.
4. Experts to beginners
The initial inspiration for Val Thorens' construction 40 years ago this year came from Jean Béranger trainer of the French Women's' ski team and his wife Christine Goitchel who won gold and silver medals at the Innsbruck Olympics in 1964 in the Slalom and Giant Slalom. The slalom stadium is the official training centre of the French ski team.
There's no denying Val Tho's expert appeal, but it's equally is good for those learning to ski or board. Of the 78 runs in the resort, 40 are green or blue for beginners or intermediate skiers. From the 2011-12 season there is also a very easy (green) run from the top of the Cascades ski lift so beginners can ski with confidence at altitude and fully enjoy the resort and its wonderful mountain scenery. There is also the easy (blue) run from the Peclets at 3,000 metres.
The snowpark is one of the finest in the French Alps covering 70,000 square metres. Access is from the Moutière chairlift and there is a draglift within the park. Runs are colour-coded for difficulty. There are five zones, an 800-metre bordercross, three different freestyle areas for beginners, intermediate and experts as well as a Bigair bag to allow safe landings for the more hazardous airborne experiments.
A popular family activity is the six-kilometre-long toboggan run next to the Peclet glacier. You can get to it easily on the Peclet Funitel. It drops more than 700 metres. You need to hang on tight round the banked turns and wrap up warm because it starts at 3,000 metres. It is open to children aged 8 upwards, although they must be accompanied by an adult up to age 12. Toboggans and helmets are supplied on site; it takes about 45 minutes to get to the bottom. For younger maniacs there is the new toboggan site on the Place Caron for children aged 2 and above.
Val Thorens' snowpark. Courtesy of Tim Hanssen.
6. Easy to get to
There are flights to Chambery, Grenoble and Lyon as well as rail travel to nearby Moutiers. For the tough traveller there is also the possibility of overnight coach travel. Driving to the resort can be a good bet if there are several to share the cost (provided it does not snow too heavily and there are no peak time traffic jams). It is approximately nine hours from Calais and seven hours from Paris.
The figures speak for themselves: Val Thorens has an occupancy rate throughout the season of 80.1 percent, a record for France. It attracts the highest percentage of foreigners of any French resort. 70 percent of visitors come from 55 different countries all over the world.