Val Thorens: Piste of the action
Nick Trend has great ideas for a perfect day's skiing at Val Thorens in France
The highest resort in the Alps, Val Thorens is used to excellent snow. But this year -- though it arrived later than usual -- the conditions have been exceptional.
The resort has had one of its best-ever seasons, and if you are after good-value accommodation, direct access to the lifts and a huge range of on and off-piste skiing, look no further.
A purpose-made development, it marks the high point of France's Three Valleys ski area.
It sits at 2,300m, surrounded by a spectacular amphitheatre of mountain ridges served by 150km of mostly red and blue pistes that weave down from the lift tops and curl away to the resort of Les Menuires, a few hundred metres below.
That's plenty of piste for a gentle family holiday, but this is also a serious skiers' resort.
The lifts connect directly to the Meribel and Courchevel valleys and, in all, there are some 600km of piste -- far more than you could explore even in a week of energetic skiing.
Get to know the pistes around Val Thorens. Much depends on the weather, and which lifts are open, but good starting points that give access to the longest, most scenic runs are the Peclet or Portette/ Thorens lifts.
La Marine (halfway down Dalles from Peclet or Cascades; see chalet-val-thorens.com) is a lovely traditional chalet with mains from €25.
The similarly priced Les Aiguilles de Peclet, at the top of Peclet, has superb views.
In good weather, aim for Cime Caron (3,200m), which has the longest descent in the resort (red) and the most challenging in Combe de Caron, or even further to the Pointe du Bouchet in the Orelle Valley, at 3,230m.
At the end of the day, cross over to the east side of the resort on the Plein Sud lift. Here you can can enjoy one of the liveliest après-ski scenes in the Alps.
From 3pm, the terrace of the Folie Douce mountain restaurant (lafoliedouce-valthorens.com) becomes a heaving party with live music and dancing.
On the same site, La Fruitière restaurant is a much quieter and refined lunch spot.
La Chaumière serves good pasta, steaks and plats du jour, with a menu skieur from €17 (valthorens-lachaumiere.com). For serious clubbing, Malaysia (lemalaysia.com) is the place.
For many skiers, there is enough variety in the Belleville valley (which includes Les Menuires and St Martin de Belleville), but with the entire Three Valleys terrain a couple of lifts away from Val Thorens, it is fun to spend a day exploring further afield in Meribel and/or Courchevel.
Head over the ridge from Val Thorens (Plein Sud and 3 Vallées 2).
Shoot down the long sweeping red on the other side to the bottom of the Mont Vallon bubble, and you have 1,200m of uninterrupted vertical descent down Campagnol and Ours into the forested slopes of Méribel Mottaret.
Cruise through the trees on gentle Truit and then take Tougnète lifts 1 and 2 to the Tougnète ridge.
From here, some of the fastest, most fun and least crowded pistes in the whole Three Valleys (Pramint, Pelozet and Biolley) will take you down to pretty St Martin de Belleville.
Tuck into salads or excellent burgers at the convivial Le Dahlia (0033 479 002 827) opposite the St Martin lift.
If it's sunny, you will want to stay on the Les Menuires side using the St Martin, Roc les 3 Marches 2 and Mont de la Chambre lifts. But the pistes here can be crowded, so cross back to the Meribel valley and use the Côte Brune lift.
Treat yourself to Oxalys, where the chef, Jean Sulpice, has just won a second Michelin star. Menus from €64 (restaurant-loxalys.fr).
Don't buy a Three Valleys lift pass for the week unless you want to use it more than twice. Buy one or two one-day extensions (€24) as and when you decide to use them.
If you hire a car, make sure it has snow chains.
Save on lunch costs by taking sandwiches. There are decent picnic shelters at the top of the Plateau and Moûtiers lifts.
The best off-piste areas are the Face Ouest (access from Peclet) and the Lac du Lou valley; you need a guide for both.
ESF (esf-valthorens.com) offers a full range of classes.