Driving to Val Thorens in the French Alps is an adventure as it involves a non-stop steep climb up the side of a mountain for an hour. On arrival you feel like you’ve just reached the top of the world. True statement. Val Thorens is the highest ski resort in Europe at 2,300 meters (7, 545 feet). It’s also part of Les 3 (Trois) Vallées, the largest ski area anywhere offering 600 kilometers of interconnected slopes. Like most of the big brand ski areas in Europe where navigating logistics is overwhelming, insider perspective is key.
We only spent a weekend in Val Thorens and Les Trois Vallées. If you said that was your plan to any European, they’d look at you as if you were nuts as this is the kind of place to settle in for a week-long holiday. Our short visit was in part due to my excitement over experiencing the latest hotel from one of our favorite boutique brands in Europe, Sibuet, called Altapura. Read the full kid-friendly Altapura hotel review for details, but this property is just plain fun and should you venture to Val Thorens, it makes a fantastic home-base.
Unlike other ski resorts with a long list of off-mountain things to do, Val Thorens is mainly about one thing and one thing only: skiing. There’s very limited shopping and dining — the town is mostly comprised of condos and chalets. It was purpose-built for skiing and not high on charm and cultural history. Because the resort is perched at the top of the mountains in this area at the end of the road, you can’t easily drive to other resorts from Val Thorens for dinner (although you can ski to them during the day).
Given the altitude, Val Thorens has a long ski season; this year the resorts’ opening dates stretch from November 2012 to May 12, 2012. 99% of the ski area is situated over 2,000 meters. This is significant as one of the issues with many other ski area is Europe is that they are low and snow conditions vary greatly creating ski vacation risk when you book it months in advance.
To say Val Thorens has unbelievable panoramic mountain views is an understatement. You can see over 100 peaks in France, Italy, and Switzerland from almost anywhere in the resort. The persistent magical view is truly something that gives you constant pause while on the slopes … in a good way.
There’s a beginners are in the center of the resort featuring covered moving walkways instead of lifts, although it’s a mid-mountain zone and quite busy with skiers of all levels.
Val Thorens also offers kid-focused terrain in their Junior Zone. We found finding suitable all-family intermediate terrain easy here and were happiest on the Peclet Glacier with long, varied runs. They also have a full Snowpark with jumps, rails, and boxes.
Of course, the beauty of these mega-connected resorts is if you get tired on one area, you can simply ski to another. Méribel is just a short lift ride away. You just need to make sure you plan to get back to Val Thorens before the lifts close as driving takes hours. Here’s a link to the ski map of Trois Vallées — massive doesn’t begin to describe.
Val Thorens is not as family-focused as other resorts in Europe and is not best known for skiing with kids, but they’ve certainly invested in family infrastructure and are working hard to ensure that families feel welcome. They’ve developed a Family Guide directing families to the full experience here including sledding, family snow hikes, and special activities. We didn’t have time to do any of these things, but I’m happy to see some real thought has gone into programming.
My conclusion is there are other resorts better suited for very young children, but I love Val Thorens as a family ski destination for school age kids with some skiing experience.
The closest large airport is Geneva at 159 km. Unless you already have a car in Europe there is no reason to drive to Val Thorens. Trains are available but the closest stop is Moûtiers, 37 km away from the ski resort so you must find transportation for the last leg. Bus and shuttle services are available and listed on the Val Thorens website.
To fully explore this resort and those connected to it and given the isolated location, I recommend a minimum stay of four days. Ciao Bambino’s advising service can help you get best rates and room configurations at Altapura. Check out our Connect with a Family Travel Advisor page.
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