Les Deux Alpes lies between Grenoble and Briançon in a remote corner of the Dauphiné, just over an hour’s drive south-east of Grenoble. Les Deux Alpes is one of the largest and most snow-sure ski resorts in the Southern French Alps. Its biggest asset is its high altitude, which allows skiing to continue throughout much of the yea
Best known for having the largest skiable glacier in Europe, Les Deux Alpes also boasts one of the world’s greatest on-piste vertical drops: an exhilarating descent of 2268m, rideable non-stop all the way.
Combine Les Deux Alpes main assets – guaranteed snow cover, long cruisy runs – with 200km of pistes served by 44 lifts, and you should have a near perfect resort. Les Deux Alpes is a pleasing venue for any powder hound on a mission when the snow falls. Due to the sheer size of the place, intermediates will find more than enough to keep themselves occupied, but Les Deux Alpes is not the middle of the road paradise that exemplifies so many ski areas
Les Deux Alpes’ skiing is characterised predominantly by well-groomed blue and red cruising pistes, mostly confined to a narrow backbone of glacial ridges high above the tree line. Despite this linear layout, it contains a good variety of terrain: ranging from sheltered powder-filled bowls to raw glacial summits, and from easily accessible beginners’ snowfields to seriously exposed off-piste routes.
The resort is suited to all levels of skier and rider. However, lower intermediates should note that on the main mountain the gradient is ‘reversed’. Some of the easiest skiing is higher up – both on and around the glacier. The benefit of this is that complete beginners can learn against the panoramic backdrop of the High Alps rather than on a shaded slope tucked away on the outskirts of a village.
From Les Deux Alpes village, a choice of lifts gives main mountain access. The most important of these is the Jandri Express gondola that ascends all the way up to the foot of the glacier. From the outset it’s important to realise that this is an unusually shaped mountain. Some of the most difficult runs are at the bottom, while the top is largely given over to easy blues.
There are two distinct ski areas, rising on opposite sides of the town: the compact Pied Moutet sector to the west was the original local ski hill, although it now feels remote from the now much larger main ski area over on the eastern side; there’s one chairlift linking the two areas from east to west, plus one piste linking from west to east.
Mont de Lans is the lowest part of the ski area, a short chairlift ride and a red run from the rest of the system and 5 km from the main resort by road.
On the eastern side, the wide and gentle slopes closest to the town centre house bustling beginners’ zones and children’s snow gardens, but rise very steeply to the ridges overlooking the resort, meaning that almost all of the home-run routes are graded black. These tend to get icy and moguled too, which adds to their masochistic appeal at the end of a long ski day.
The upper sectors are much more varied: here you’ll find further beginners’ zones, gentle inter-sector traverses, steep-sided coombes, plus Les Deux Alpes’ excellent snowpark and exciting in-bounds freeride features.
The iconic Glacier sector covers the uppermost reaches of the domain, yet its spacious dome-shaped summit slopes are as accessible to novices as they are to advanced ability visitors; it is also the starting point for a multitude of epic off-piste itineraries, and links into the -experts only- La Grave ski area.
The resort is home to plenty of good off-piste terrain and there’s more to be explored nearby in Saint Christophe and, of course, the freeride paradise next door that is La Grave.
Local highlights include the three short but testing Grand Couloir chutes, accessed from the Bellecombes chair, the Pic du Diable off the same chair, (plus an hour’s hike!), the Chalance bowl, the long descent from the Dome glacier, and several unpisted itineraries into the La Fee valley.
Les Deux Alpes has some great terrain for a snow heavy season. The maintenance of the area is mainly good. But compared to other major French resorts like La Plagne, Tignes, 3V there is less snow-making particularly higher up. So, in seasons with less snowfall it will suffer far more quickly. Another point worth noting is the lack of variability in aspect of slopes. Almost everything is on a north facing valley, or north facing. This means a lot less sun, which is again fine on good snowfall seasons, but will make for lots of unrelenting ice if there is a warm spell and freezing thereafter. Also, because the area is on a north valley, you will find the dominant winds run directly uphill a lot of the time, particularly in the popular Toura area where their park is.
Les 2 Alpes is in the Isère region, south-east of Grenoble and accessible via budget flights into Lyon, Grenoble, Marseille and Nice, plus Cuneo and Turin.
If you want to get the most out of your winter sports holiday, then Val Thorens is the place to be. Val Thorens has a warm, welcoming atmosphere and a breathtaking natural environment. All ingredients are present here for an unforgettable world-class winter sports holiday. It is a pleasant and friendly place where both beginners and advanced winter sports enthusiasts can indulge themselves. The ultimate goal: to fully enjoy the high-quality slopes and superb snow conditions.
The area literally and figuratively brings visitors to great heights. Whether it’s winter sports, accommodation, or après-ski. It is hardly a secret that Val Thorens has been one of the world’s top ski resorts for years. It has been regarded as the best ski village in France and Val Thorens received the top prize at the World Ski Awards for sixth consecutive times.
At the end of November – the winter sports season starts early in legendary Val Thorens – you are assured of three things. The first and the most important: an early-season relatively thick layer of quality snow. Val Thorens is the highest winter sports resort in Europe. Due to its high location (at 2300 meters), you are already assured of a good amount of snow in November. When mother nature can use a handful of help, the necessary snow cannons provide back-up. Val Thorens has a large water buffer and can therefore produce a lot of artificial snow. However, this is rarely necessary.
The second you can count on is a wide selection of accommodation; ranging from economic self-catering accommodation to the best five-star luxury hotels. The resort is only one square kilometer in size, but has appartments and hotels of different sorts and price class at its disposal. There are more than 25,400 beds for tourists. People sometimes tend to forget that Val Thorens also has many cozy chalets and chalet-style accomodation. What almost all accommodations have in common is the convenience of the so-called ‘ski-in’ and ‘ski-out’. The majority of accommodations are located directly on the slopes, so you only have to strap-on your equipment and enjoy the endless ski opportunities right in front of you!
The third and final point is that in Val Thorens you are assured of the ultimate winter pleasure thanks to the large variety of slopes, some of them legendary. So, whether you are a beginner, or seasoned veteran you are assured of enough choice to keep you busy and happy for a week.
Wide slopes at your door step
Val Thorens is a fantastic place to find your feet in as it’s packed with confidence-boosting wide, cruisy blue runs and plenty of piste for less-experienced skiers to get their teeth into. At the same time, there’s a huge range of pistes to suit even the most advanced skiers and boarders, with challenging reds and blacks, moguls and ungroomed pistes to be found. The steepest descent is the Combe de Caron. Snow parks have been created at various locations. The Val Thorens snow park can compete with the top of Europe.
The heart of the town is focused around the top of a short slope equipped with a canopied conveyor-belt surface-lift, which enhances the ski-in/ski-out convenience. The main access road through the resort is bridged by a couple of pisted bridges that funnel a through-route piste via the down-town area, so slope users can simply glide through the middle of the resort to access all areas. At the front of the resort you will find an excellent gentle beginners’ area with canopied conveyor-belts and a drag lift. The beginner’s lifts are free of charge. In general, the beginner runs are all situated right in the heart of the resort in and around the nursery slopes and lifts. Progression will be on blue runs many of which are easy and wide so that beginners can gain confidence. A gentle set of nursery slopes around the Rond Point des Pistes provides an excellent training ground, with greens and blues off the Deux Lacs and Cascades chairs well positioned for graduation to the piste-proper. Intermediates will love the grippy, confidence-boosting snow on many of the runs above Val Thorens itself. And, the best thing? You don’t have to worry as all these slopes converge into town.
Val Thorens’ ski area fans out over seven distinct sectors, including the mostly blue-classified slopes of the Col de la Chambre, where links towards Meribel-Mottaret and Les Menuires are situated. The high Peclet sector directly above Val Thorens, offers a handful of nice long reds plus a glacial black, while the narrow Pointe de Thorens sector at the head of the valley provides access to epic off-piste routes but also has a lovely long red-into-blue cruise back towards resort.
The principal twinned Rosael and Cime de Caron sectors form the bulk of the area, filled with wide high-altitude blues and reds plus some testing mogulled blacks. The ‘fourth valley’ sector of Orelle, over the watershed in the Maurienne Valley beyond the col de Rosael, boasts the highest lift-served point in the entire Three Valleys; and finally the usually quieter Boismint sector that overlooks the Vallon du Lou and runs down to Plan de l’Eau at 1800m, the lowest point in the Val Thorens ski area.
The three Glaciers, that form the crown of VT-snow bowl, comprise Glacier de Peclet which is at an altitude of 3100m, the Glacier de Thorens at an elevation of 3130m and the Glacier de la Pointe Renod at 3230m. The tops of these glacier runs offer either red or black runs down from the top, however, there are easily accessible blue runs which run down from about the halfway mark on all of them.
Val Thorens ski resort is not only the highest village in France’s famous -600km- Trois Vallées linked ski area, it’s also the highest ski resort in Europe; snow conditions are very reliable throughout a long season. SkiWeather.eu ranks Val Thorens among the best destinations in Europe for that matter. Val Thorens welcomes a whopping 6 to 10 meter of snow during the winter season and its altitude means its much less affected by mid-season thaws, too. Val Thorens’ ski area is comprised of the highest and most reliably snow-sure sectors in France and makes for a superb late or early season skiing destination. In fact, Val Thorens is so sure that their resort will have snow from November to May, that they have a Snow Ski Pass Guarantee!
Where to party
Val Thorens is an après heavyweight. The après-ski in Val Thorens is considered the best in France. So, you can already start in the afternoon on the terrace of La Folie Douce, near the top station Plein Sud, where DJs play excellent music which often creates a huge party. Especially on sunny days when the south-facing, sun-drenched mega-terrace is filled with an enthousiastic crowd. Across the mountain and served by a gentler green run down into the village lies 360 Bar, La Folie’s’ lesser known but equally enthusiastic counterpart. In town you will find many après-ski venues including the famous Le Monde, where everyone is whipped up with party music. A very nice pub next door is the Snesko, there is always live music here. Furthermore, there are plenty of small bars where you can have a nice drink and want to continue for a while. Towards the early hours, Club Malaysia -which is located underground- will get you a worthy end of your party.
Off the slopes
Val Thorens is a fairly big town, but a compact one nonetheless; its wide streets and covered walkways are pedestrian friendly and it has a good selection of shops, supermarkets, cafés, restaurants, bars and pubs, plus plenty of indoor facilities to cope with any inclement weather, mostly located in or around the big central Galerie Caron complex that houses a shopping mall and leisure centre. The leisure centre has a spa, swimming pools, a gym and fitness suite, squash courts, multi-sports hall plus a children’s fun-park area. Several hotels also have spas that are open to non-residents. Other leisure options include ten-pin bowling, games arcades, and a cinema. For more active fun there’s snowmobiling, mountain biking on snow, paragliding, paintball, an ice driving circuit, and an epic 6km toboggan run from the top of the Peclet gondola.
Moving on up
In recent years Val Thorens has steadily drifted more upmarket with many new 4 and 5* residences opening, improvements to its lift system and with the local resort facility modernisation programmes too. What is striking is that Val Thorens has invested a lot in recent years in the atmosphere of the village and the ski huts on the slopes. Instead of the stone eateries, more wooden ski huts have been built, which provides more atmosphere and ambience. Another development is that many five-star hotels have entered the scene. Some examples of these hotels are Fahrenheit7, FitzRoy, Altapura and Pashmina. In total there are now over 25 five-star hotels. This brings in a different audience. More wealthy people. In recent years the so-called Val Tho has been busy getting rid of the student image and this makes it very popular with older skiers nowadays. The restaurants in the village and on the slopes capitalize on this. There will be more gastronomy.
Val Thorens has become the buzziest and most well-rounded high-altitude ski resort in the Alps. Thanks to continued investment, it’s still evolving. Bars like La Folie Douce and 360 have brought a powerful apres-ski buzz, while a new generation of upmarket hotels such as Altapura, the Koh-i-Nor, and Hotel Pashmina – as well as smart self-catering residences – are broadening the appeal beyond its traditional, budget-conscious core. Val Thorens has a loyal following. Students and twenty-somethings love the place – because despite its recent step upmarket, there’s still plenty of budget self-catering accommodation here, and the apres-ski scene is one of the best in France. The future is looking bright for Val Thorens, as it is one of the few ski destinations with a spotless snow record. In a time when climate change is affecting low-altitude ski resorts, VT is a reliable choice for a holiday without any worries. Whether it is snow condition, value for money or plain fun.
Nearest airport: Chambéry, 90 minutes (122km), Geneva, two hours and 30mins (200km). The nearest train station to Val Thorens is Moutiers which is about 45 minutes away by car or bus if you’re staying in Val Thorens. A regular shuttle bus runs from the train station to Les Menuires and Val Thorens. More info: valthorens.com
During the winter season (mid December to 1st week of April) Eurostar runs both a direct daytime and a direct overnight train from London St Pancras or Ashford in Kent to Moutiers. The direct daytime Eurostar leaves London / Ashford on Saturday mornings and arrives around 7-8 hours later in Moutiers. Cross country trains also connect Moutiers to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, changing in Lyon, which takes around 6.5 hours. If you’re coming from Lyon Part Dieu (across town from Lyon Saint Exupery airport) you can reach Moutiers on the regional trains which takes around 3 hours. If you’ve flown into Geneva, trains change either at Chambery, Bourg en Bresse or Lyon and then onward to Moutiers, which takes around 3-4 hours.
For more information on Val Thorens, Trois Vallees, please visit the official website of Val Thorens