Skiing in Val Thorens
Most of the skiing in Val Thorens starts from above 3000m and is largely intermediate, though there is tougher skiing around the Glacier and Cime Caron lifts, plenty of interesting off-piste between the marked trails and some superb high-mountain, lift-accessed itineraries.
Val Thorens Ski Area Overview
The resort of Val Thorens is built on the west-facing slopes on the east side of the valley and the skiing stretches across the western flanks, with plenty of north-facing slopes, meaning good snow conditions are virtually guaranteed here.
Col de la Chambre
This is the ridge accessible from Meribel (via the Cote Brune lift) and Les Menuires (from either the Bruyeres 2 bubble or Mont de la Chambre high speed chair) as well as from Val Thorens’ Plein Sud and 3 Vallees lifts, so it’s something of a crossroads. At the top there are a lot of runs to choose from, but the signposting is very good, so you should not end up in the wrong valley by mistake unless there’s a white-out (in which case take care). Beginners and less confident intermediates can descent into Val Thorens on three blue runs; Pluviometre, Plein Sud and Corniche. All of them are gentle and require fast schusses if you don’t want to do any pushing. You can also do part of the journey on black runs or red runs. The blacks are not very steep but can be testing because they are not groomed regularly and mostly face South, so they can be icy.
Glacier du Peclet
Above the resort there are some enjoyable, mostly West facing, red and blue pistes from the top of the Funitel Peclet Funitel, an impressive, modern, comfortable, queue-eating 25-person gondola with seats. This ascends from just below the resort, so most people staying in Val Thorens can ski down to it. The top of the lift is at 2945m but advanced skiers will want to ascend even higher by taking the Glacier drag, which will take them above 3000m, and gives access to a steep black slope with plenty off-piste to the sides. There’s more off-piste below the Funitel. From it’s top there is also a special piste for sledging.
Pointe de Thorens, Col de Thorens and Col de Rosael
The greater proportion of the skiing is accessed from the collection of chairs, bubbles and cable cars starting from below the resort base and reaching up to 3000m (usually in two stages). These service the broad North-West facing flank between the Pointe de Thorens and Col de Rosael. Underneath Pointe de Thoren,s the Col chair rises to 3133m, giving access onto the Chaviere Glacier. Across the flank most of the skiing starts from above 3000m and is largely intermediate, though there is plenty of interesting off-piste between the marked trails. At the Col de Thorens and the Col de Rosael you can descend into the mysterious fourth valley (“Maurienne Valley”) heading twoards Orelle..
Cime de Caron
Cime de Caron is a mountain of two halves. The first half, traversed by the Caron bubble, is a long, gentle North-facing, blue run which usually has excellent snow and is perfect for novices graduating from a nursery slope. The second half, covered by the huge, emblematic Cime Caron cable car, is anything but gentle. In times past, Cime de Caron was the highest point in the Three Valleys, and it is still a legendary summit with excellent views on a sunny day – allegedly you can view a thousand summits in France, Switzerland and Italy. Beginners and less confident intermediates can descend back down in the cable car, but advanced skiers are spoilt for choice. The red and black runs heading back to the cable car base station are deservedly popular as are the plentiful freeride opportunities between these pistes. This is also the starting point for long off-piste itineraries into the Vallon du Lou and the the Maurienne valley. The black Combe de Rosael piste which also descends into the Maurienne valley is not to be trifled with: parts of it are steep, and often moguled and icy too as it’s South facing. Ther is one drawback to skiing in this area, however. There is almost always a queue for the Cime Caron Cable car.
The most deserted skiing in the resort area is usually on the much underrated reds and blues in the Boismint sector, between its eponymous lift and the Plan de l’Eau chair. This is also another jumping off point for itineraries into the Vallon du Lou, and for these you don’t have to queue for a cable car.
Orelle, Bouchet, and the Maurienne Valley
The mysterious “Fourth Valley” of the 3 Valleys is accessed by either crossing over from Val Thorens at Col du Thorens, Col de Rosael or Cime Caron, or riding the 3 Vallees Express bubble up from the small ski resort of Orelle in the Maurienne Valley. The base of this lift is the hamlet of Francoz, just off the N6 Autoroute and not far from the Modane Tunnel linking France and Italy. The official ski area starts at the top of the 3 Valleys Express: there are no pistes going down all the way to Francoz and Orelle. The main attraction of the valley for skiers is the Pointe du Bouchet, whose Sommet des Pistes is now the highest lift-accessed point in the Three Valleys at 3230m. This gives access to red runs at the top, blue runs at the bottom and off-piste opportunities off the back onto the Glacier du Buchet. Taking a guide is strongly recommended. For non-skiers there is a zip-wire.
Les Menuires and St Martin de Belleville
Skiers from Val Thorens can reach Les Menuires on skis from either the Col de la Chambre (see above) or from Boismint via the flat-ish Boulevarde de Cumin or via the off-piste itineraries from Boismint and Cime Cron into Vallon du Lou. Return on piste is via the Col de La Chambre, although off-piste skiers can get to the bottom of the Plan de l’Eau lift in Val Thorens’ ski area via itineraries from the Pointe de la Masse (guide recommended). St Martin is further down the valley, and easily reached on skis from Les Menuires by using the lifts and pistes on the East side of the valley (IE: the Meribel side). There are also about 5 buses a day connecting St Martin, Les Menuires and Val Thorens. See the saparate Les Menuires and St Martin de Belleville guides for the skiing available here.
Meribel, Courchevel and La Tania
The three valleys have excellent lift and piste connecetions between them, so most intermediate level skiers and above will be able to start off from Val Thorens and reach anywhere in Meribel, Courchevel or La Tania and return within a day. But don’t start too late, or get sidetracked, and keep an eye on the lift closing times. It’s an easy return journey on skis but a long and very expensive one by road.
Beginner Skiing in Val Thorens
Beginners in Val Thorens are well catered for, with free magic carpet lifts, good nursery slopes, and gentle blue runs with nearby. But in bad weather they might want to take the bus to Les Menuires.
In good conditions Val Thorens is perfect for beginners, with nursery slopes situated right next to the resort and a pleasantly progressive network of blues expanding out from the resort centre. Snow conditions are also often much better than they are in resorts at lower altitudes, and that helps beginners because it’s much easier to learn to ski on crisp snow than it is on ice.
Beginners also don’t need either to buy a lift pass on their first day or to master the art of riding a drag lift. There are two sets of magic carpets called Castor & Pollux (in the Plein Sus sector) and Musaraigne and Campagnols (in the Peclet sector), which are both around 200m long and free of charge. The Roc drag lift (when they’re ready for it) is also free to use. And when they want to explore beyond the nursery slopes there is a special beginners pass which is half the price of the normal adult Val Thorens-Orelle local area pass – see Val Thorens Lifts and Ski Passes for more information.
But in poor weather beginners can get very cold, disorientated and frustrated by the lack of visibility, so they might want to move down the vlley to Les Menuires with a good value ‘Beginners ski pass‘ above the Croisette which includes lessons and access to 16 lifts.
Ski Schools & Ski Lessons in Val Thorens
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Intermediate Skiing in Val Thorens
Val Thorens has some of the best reds in the Three Valleys; Les Menuires offer excellent motorway skiing.
Pretty much all of the mountain in Val Thorens is accessible to stronger intermediates, who have no reason to fear the steeper slopes of Cime de Caron. Following that to the base of the Caron bubble gives you access to the Boismint chair and several of the best reds in the Three Valleys. This is an excellent choice when you’re heading down the valley towards Les Menuires.
On the main western flanks, the high runs are typically slightly steeper and generally blessed with excellent snow. The red Col is a particularly fine run, if a little short. The lower ones tend to be slightly flatter and are excellent cruisers and confidence-builders. The Peclet glacier offers a nice array of mainly reds and the corresponding blues on the Méribel side of the valley are very characterful, particularly Pluviomètre and Mont de la Chambre, which is an alternate route down to Les Menuires.
Les Menuires and St Martin have some excellent groomed trails for intermediates. Pramint and particularly the longer Jerusalem (which, if you carry on down Biolley to St Martin gives you over 1000m of vertical) are marvellous reds on the wings of the resort. 3 Marches is a great run to take at speed and Allamands has a nice mix of humps and switchbacks. Most of the reds from the Becca chair and the Mont de la Chambre are suitable for relatively confident intermediates and the Masse is worth visiting for the views from the top alone.
Early intermediates are better off in the St Martin area as the blues above Les Menuires can get very crowded with through traffic. Grand Lac is a pleasant blue under the new Granges chair.
Advanced & Expert Skiing in Val Thorens
Both Val Thorens and Les Menuires offers some steep blacks and excellent off-piste.
While most of the piste skiing in Val Thorens is not as steep as elsewhere, there are a few notable exceptions. Combe de Caron is a long and winding black with a precariously steep start and Combe Rosael is definitely the most challenging route into the Maurienne valley and was, until recently, an itinerary. Similarly the black under Cascades was previously off-piste and is an excellent bumps run.
On a clear day, however, it is the off-piste which is the real draw. Most of the mountain is skiable terrain so there is plenty to do between the pistes, though you have to watch out for rocks. The north-facing slopes along the main flank are all easily accessible. For longer runs, the old itinerary from the top of Cime de Caron that drops down 1300m to Lac du Lou is beautiful and challenging in equal measure. Alternatively drop-down 2000m of vertical through the Gébroulaz Glacier from the top of the Col chair down into Méribel.
In the Maurienne valley the new Bouchet chair has alleviated the need to walk from the top of the Col chair to access the Glacier du Bouchet. This, one of the most glorious stretches of off-piste in the Alps, is now easily accessible from the top of the Sommet des Pistes down the 930 metres of vertical that was briefly the black Pierre Lory, before the steep start claimed too many casualties.
The Glacier drag lift near the top of the Funitel de Peclet lift serves a short, sharp and very enjoyable West-facing black run with plenty of off-piste opportunities to the side. There is further off-piste below and raound the Funitel itself (keep an eye out as you go up in the lift).
Boismint offers an alternative way into the Vallon du Lou, with different routes and views to the Cime Caron ones.
There’s also plenty of great skiing for experts in Les Menuires and St Martin. All of the upper runs on the Masse are of a good pitch though only two are officially marked black, of which the Masse itself has a good steep shoulder at the start. In good conditions, Dame Blanche is also a fine run and Rocher Noir can develop good bumps. Across the valley, Leo Lacroix is steep, narrow and bumpy and the shorter runs of Pylones and Étélé can be challenging.
However, it is the off-piste which is the real draw here. The mountainside is largely unpisted from above St Martin all the way across to the outskirts of Les Menuires and there are many different routes that drop down to the villages that dot the road between the two. The area underneath and skier’s right of the St Martin 2 chair is particularly good for progressing off-piste skiers.
The Masse is also a haven for off-piste, with great runs coming down under the Masse 2 bubble and the Lac Noir chair. Best of all, though, is the serene itinerary overlooking Val Thorens, which drops off the back down onto the Vallon du Lou and winds back around the mountain on the Boulevard Cumin.
Boarding & Freestyle in Val Thorens
Les Menuires has a snow park that is excellent for learning as the jumps are marked in difficulty.
Val Thorens has a snow park complete with half-pipe and a network of jumps and rails as well as a separate boardercross over in the Maurienne Valley. In Les Menuires there is a snow park that is excellent for learning as the jumps are marked in difficulty like the pistes and there are 8 slides and rails, 4 big airs, 2 table tops and a quarter pipe. There is also another half-pipe near Reberty.
Val Thorens Mountain Restaurants
Val Thorens’s mountain restaurants provide lots of self-service options in the valley, but also some absolute gems with roaring open fires or lovely sun terraces.
In Val Thorens the Chalet des 2 Lacs has a roaring open fire and cooks a mean Tartiflette. Along the Boulevard Cumin on the way to Les Menuires is the beautifully positioned, small and traditional Chalet les Sonnailes and La Ferme, at the top of the Doron chair, is good value and has a lovely sun terrace with great views back up the valley towards Val Thorens. In St Martin Le Montagnard is a very small converted old barn serving beautifully presented modern French food. Alternatively, try Brewskis for traditional English pub grub and home-made pies.