The snow-covered ski slopes of Val Thorens, France
Photo by Joan Oger  –  Link

Val Thorens

France

As far as ski towns go, it's fair to say that Val Thorens, in France, doesn't do things by half. The highest ski resort in Europe, it's linked into the continent's largest ski area, has two snowparks, an ice driving track, and even a 100km per hour zip wire. Off the slopes it's a foodie's dream, has a thriving apres-ski scene and is home to the largest nightclub in the Alps.

The skiing and snowboarding

Val Thorens has approximately 140km of runs of its own, but links in with other resorts in the Belleville Valley to ensure that there are a good range of runs on offer for all abilities. Its major pull, however, is in its access to the wider 3 Valleys network, which has 600km of runs, and more than 180 lifts linking eight different resorts across - you guessed it - 3 valleys. Within reach are the classic crowd pleasers of Meribel and Courchevel, giving you the opportunity to ride these resorts without necessarily staying there.

It's with intermediates and advanced snow lovers that Val Thorens really comes into its own, offering more runs than you could hope to ski in a season, with a mix of casually cruiseable and slightly spicy reds, as well as a few just-about-manageable blacks and off-piste itineraries. That said, it has a lot to offer first timers too with state of the art practice facilities including carpet lifts, as well as gentle blue runs to slide down, standing or otherwise.

If you're feeling confident and you don't mind falling over, then try out one of Val Thorens' snow parks. The Fun Slope features 50 obstacles over 900m, including snow tunnels, bridges and spirals, and is suitable for all ages and abilities; leave the Snowpark to those that really know what they're doing as it features some hairy tables, rails and boxes of varying (and much bigger) sizes.

At 2300m, with many lifts reaching over 3000m, Val Thorens is a safe bet when it comes to snow coverage and should satisfy even the most demanding of powder hounds, although it can get busy when snow is patchy in neighbouring resorts.

And the icing on the cake? More than 100 of the hotels in Val Thorens are ski-in, ski-out.

The resort:

Admittedly, Val Thorens is not the prettiest resort in the Alps; it's built to serve the needs of the skiset, so lacks the chocolate-box charm of Kitzbuhel or the winter wonderland feel of Val d'Isere. But what it may lack in quaintness, it more than makes up for in practicality, with low traffic and extensive provisions for when the weather does have an off day, such as a sports centre and a spa. For those willing to brave the cold, there is also the opportunity to ride a toboggan or go sledging with dogs.

This practicality also extends to Val Thorens' huge selection of restaurants and bars, which offer something for every taste and budget. For good food in a cosy setting, try La Grange, which serves up salmon, steak and pasta, alongside sensational desserts. For a special treat, seek out Les Explorateurs, the town's Michelin star restaurant. Over 40 bars and three nightclubs, ensure that the resort's apres-ski is remains lively - don't miss the famous La Folie Douce, which claims to be the highest open-air club in Europe. You don't have to be drinking to join in the fun though, as the resort also offers a large range of additional nighttime activities, including bowling, a cinema and weekly live music events.

Three Valleys: the important numbers

  • Base: 2300m
  • Summit: 3230m
  • Ski area: 600km
  • Lifts: 180
  • Lessons available: Yes