Val Thorens has always had quite a good offer for beginners simply because its high altitude means that all season long it’s very convenient for first-timers to get on the nursery slopes without the hassle that can be the case at older, lower altitude resorts.
However, the resort moved its services for beginners up another notch a few years ago when it spent 1.5 million Euros on what it describes as a 40 hectare ‘cocoon’ for beginners complete with the latest state-of-the-art roof-covered conveyor lifts, providing very easy uplift on the slopes with the luxury of weather protection if it’s snowing. The conveyors also make the Cascades chairlift more accessible, getting first timers to their first green and blue slopes more easily.
Val Thorens has also got round another problem faced by beginners who learn to ski in the world’s biggest resorts – that they may have to pay a high cost for a lift ticket, compared to that of a small resort, despite the fact they’re unlikely to make use of many of the lifts and runs. Val Thorens has created a special pass for beginners offering access to nine ski lifts at 50% off the regular day pass rate.
The numbers speak for themselves really – more than 200 blue and red runs from your slopeside ski accommodation. Some 600km of piste. 180 lifts to get you back up the slopes. More than 1,900m of vertical between the top and the bottom of the ski lifts in the 3 Valleys. Runs up to 12km long. There’s simply no bigger lift-served area on earth and no-one better suited to enjoy it all than a regular recreational skier like you and I.
You will want to explore the full region of course and the high speed lift network and piste layout is so good you can cross from one side of this vast area to another in a few hours in each direction, but you are likely to get distracted by the dozens and dozens of great runs along the way.
If you do opt to stay closer to home there is a pass for the local valley only, which still offers more skiing than 95% of the other resorts you’ll find and saves you about a fifth on the full 3 Valleys pass price. High speed uplift is provided by high capacity funitel gondola lifts and you’ll find the runs getting steeper the further up the slopes you go. The high altitude means the snow is almost always good, and the only minor down side of the high altitude is when the weather turns bad and you realise there’s no tree cover to dive in to.
The local slopes around Val Thorens are predominantly easy and intermediate standard terrain, although there are eight black runs, the toughest arguably the 3km long Caron run down from the Cime de Caron lift. Of course, travel a little further afield and the choice quadruples with more than 32 blacks in the wider Trois Vallees.
There is also the option to head off piste with a guide or in a special ski school class. The resort is famous for its powder once you get off the beaten piste – the quality of the snow typically better and longer lasting than in most resorts because of the altitude, the glacier and the often north facing slopes. There are runs for all ability levels from complete beginners to the seriously obsessed, with the Lac du Lou run one of the best known, involving a 1400m vertical descent.
Other popular areas include the glacial zones of La Vanoise, one of the most beautiful off piste tours in the 3 Vallees, or the huge Maurienne flank on the backside of Val Thorens. Day-long excursions and multi-day tours are available on demand from the resort’s High Mountain Guides (+33 (0)6 89 29 23 36).
Snowboard / Freestyle Skiing
A major resort for boarders, Val Thorens has recently added a new snow park on the Plateau sector which is easy to reach using several different ski lifts. The park has five zones (beginners, intermediates, experts, an 800m long boardercross and a ‘Jump Air’), altogether covering 70 hectares and filled with a huge range of modules including bumps, whoops, rails, boxes, a table top, wall ride and a big air jump where riders land on a huge inflated mattress after getting airborne.
For beginners, the snowpark contains six jumps and six rails providing an easy learning area for all. The intermediate snowpark has bigger features including three rails, three boxes and six jumps while the expert’s snowpark, used for training by some of Europe’s best riders, has six big rails and a wall ride as well as some huge kickers. The boardercross course is 800m long, a fun area with raised bumps, whoops and jumps.
One of the few leading resorts that has absolutely no official cross country trails to offer visitors. If you want to stay here but ski cross country you’ll have to head back down the mountain in the morning to a neighbouring resort. The closest trails are a 28km loop that links St Martin de Belleville with Les Menuires down the valley.
Val Thorens Average Snow And Weather Conditions
Val Thorens, Europe’s highest ski resort, actually guarantees snow cover with a cash back offer on your lift ticket if any other European ski area is offering a larger number of open linked pistes. The guarantee applies to packages of 6 days or longer and certain exclusions apply.*
The guarantee has rarely been called in to force because it’s a bit of a no-brainer really – Europe’s highest ski resort, with its own glacier ski area, until recently open for summer skiing and boarding in July and August, isn’t likely to have much of a snow cover problem in winter. 99% of the terrain is located between 2000 and 3230m, and just to make doubly double safe Val Thorens has more than 350 snow guns covering around 40% of the slopes.
*For full details of the Snow Guarantee visit the Val Thorens website.