Overview of Val Thorens, France
Written by Greg and Heather Burke
Val Thorens is the highest ski resort of Les 3 Valleys - at almost 10,500’, with some of the best above tree-line wide open bowl skiing. It’s also the largest of Les 3 Vallées – the biggest interconnected skiing in the world. Val Thorens is at the far end of Les Trois Vallées, closest to Italy, south west of Méribel and Courchevel. There are actually 4 valleys in Les Trois Vallées when you include Orelle which is part of Val Thorens skiing. Val Thorens' terrain is huge, all above tree lines just prepared trails on eight peaks between wide open bowls and ravines. Trams, gondolas, six packs and every configuration of lift launch in every direction up every aspect (Val T is a playground for SETAM lift designers). Val Thorens is incredibly scenic if not charming and quaint. You can easily reach Méribel or Courchevel in a few lifts rides– all part of your 3 Valleys ski pass, or just explore all flanks of Val Thorens extensive valley of terrain stretching to Saint Martin de Belleville and Les Menuires to skiers right, or Orelle in the opposite direction.
Don’t miss Orelle, the 4th valley and highest point (3230m) of Val Thorens where you will find great long slope skiing often in the sun, away from the busier front side of Val Thorens. Here is where you find La Tyrolienne – a crazy zip line descending peak to peak a whopping 4,300' in a swift 1 minute 45 seconds from the top of Orelle. It was too windy for us to try this wild suspended ride – Val Thorens can be windy given its high expanse. Riding Val Thoren’s front side Cime Caron tram with 360 views of Mont Blanc (at 15,774’) you can see the endless off-piste options. It's wise to hire a guide to explore the vast opportunities for fresh tracks and high alpine adventure because there is also high avalanche and crevasse risk even though the terrain appears so easily accessible by lifts and a short traverse beyond the trails. Vallons Du Lou is an amazing long off-piste run from Cime Caron own to a beautiful glacial lake. The lower elevation ski areas within Val T are Les Menuires (1850m) and Saint Martin de Belleville (1450m). You can’t miss Les Menuires, you will see the big utilitarian 70’s style bunker hotels, but the skiing here is well-groomed trails on both flanks of the valley. From here and the pretty French ski village of Saint Martin de Belleville you are just a lift up and over to Méribel, and then Courchevel in the next valley.
The views as you ski around Val Thorens of over 1,000 other Alps in France, nearby Italy and Switzerland are dramatic on a clear day. When it's dumping snow it's hard to find definition without any trees, read white out.
For more alpine adventure, Val Thorens offers snow biking, snowmobiling, tobogganing, zip-lining, paragliding, and Segway on snow. Of course, there’s our favorite: Après ski at Fahrenheit 7 on the deck is fantastic with views of the vast terrain.
What Val Thorens doesn’t have is classic French Alps cozy charm. For that ambiance, stay in nearby Méribel or Courchevel. What Val Thorens does offer: Everything you could need on ski holiday – tons of terrain, high capacity lifts, stellar views and limitless off-piste. Did we mention it's the biggest skiing in the world? 3 Vallées links 8 resorts, 6 glaciers, and 25 summits with 166 amazing lifts to handle the masses. See our review of where to dine for the best on mountain lunches at alpine chalets and huts.
Val Thorens happens to be the youngest of the 3 Valley Resorts, its 1970’s vintage, the most casual (compared to Courchevel) and likely the busiest. At only 40 years old – Val T’s ski lifts are newer, and so is the clientele. The ski resort has a mod pedestrian zone, with shopping, bars, and restaurants, and big hotels dotting up the hillside. The high elevation mountain village is at 2,300-meters. The brochure describes Val Thorens as cozy - I would say hardly. It doesn’t have the old world ski village feel of Méribel or Courchevel, nor the typical chalets you imagine in the Alps but there are a few luxury ski hotels, and otherwise good value ski and stay deals given the number and size of Val Thorens’ lodging properties. See our ski hotel reviews of Val Thorens, where to stay on the mountain, in an igloo or a 5-star ski in ski out hotel.