Three Valleys Part 1 – Val Thorens
After recently welcoming Tom Clark into the blog family for 2016/17, he takes us through the trials and tribulations of buying a holiday home in the Alps, throughout this winter season. His recent piece is his 3 part series – Three Valleys, starting off with Part 1 – Val Thorens.
Over the next three blogs I will be taking a closer look at to the mighty Three Valleys ski area in France, both in terms of what they offer on the slopes and my thoughts on the area as a place for a holiday home.
With over 600km of pistes, it is one of the world’s largest ski areas. Having a few tips on where to find the best runs can come in very handy, especially if it is your first time there! Hopefully these next three blogs help you find some great action while out on the slopes this winter.
I will start by looking at Val Thorens and the lesser-known fourth valley, Orelle. Val Thorens is a purpose built ski town constructed at the beginning of the 1970s. It is also the highest resort in Europe sitting at 2300 meters. That is both a good thing and a bad thing, but we’ll get to that!
Because it is purpose built most the accommodation is either on or very near the slopes, which is great, particular given the altitude, however the downside is that because of the wonderful 70s architecture, in parts, VT looks like something out of a Siberian wasteland. This is changing with newer developments providing a more traditional appearance, but being located so high in the alpine, devoid of trees, VT feels incredibly isolated. If you hang to dreams of an idyllic mountain retreat, then Val Thorens may not be best location!
Val Thorens has 27 lifts and 71 pistes. This gives you about 150km of snow-covered playground. Good times!
So where to start? Well the huge Cime Caron lift is definitely a highlight; the views up top are amazing! Getting here early will help to avoid what can be maddening queues during peak times. The Cime Caron also gives you great access to Orelle albeit by the challenging (and rocky!) Combe de Roseal piste. A gentler entry into Orelle is from the Grand Fond lift and this offers blue and red run access into the ‘fourth valley.’ From here you can take the Bouchet chair to the highest lifted point in the Three Valleys at 3,230m. When I have visited Orelle it has been quiet and a nice place to venture in the early morning, before moving onto more challenging pastures as the day progresses! It is normally well pisted but with plenty of side-country available. It is the quieter and often unknown part of this giant ski area, while still providing fantastic access.
Looking back into VT, Cime Caron has some good options heading back to its base and I found the black, Combe de caron and the red, Col de l’audzin good to hit in the morning. If you’re checking out this side of the resort it is also worth heading down to the Masse 2 lift and giving the Fred Covil piste a slaying!
Moving onto the middle of the resort, on a sunny day take a trip up the Col chairlift to ride down the Col red run on the Glacier de Thorens. Although, be warned, if the weather is bad I would strongly avoid going up here. The visibility can be terrible but worst of all this is not the quickest of chairlifts. This equals bad times in the freezing cold! The top of Col gives access to a number of excellent backcountry itineraries that are worth checking out, including the ride down through the Glacier de Gebroulaz. The terrain is heavily glaciated so book a qualified mountain guide to take you on your own private powder-finding mission! Another red run to check out is Christine, which is accessed off Funitel Peclet lift.
The far left hand side of the resort gives access into the Meribel valley, but there are a whole host of good runs to check out before venturing to Meribel! I personally prefer this side of VT although you will inevitably find yourself cruising down the blue Plein Sud. This can be particularly busy around lunchtime and at the end of the day, so keep your wits about you! Plein Sud also gives access to the famous Folie Douce and if you like a crazy après party, I would head there! The Pioniers chairlift also gives access to the top of the piste so pedestrians can access the bar…this may also come in handy if skiing down is out of the question after a few too many light refreshments!
On this side of the valley there are a couple of runs down into Les Menuires that are worth checking out. These include 4 Vents accessed from the Bruyères lift and Allamands accessed from Roc Des 3 Marches 2. There is also the BK park to get tricky on (VTs other park is the Plateau Park accessed from the Plateau chair).
But despite all the epicness available in and around VT, the real treat of this valley is located down toward Saint Martin De Belleville. For me the run Jerusalem is one of the best runs in the entire Three Valleys. It is an easy rolling piste that is not overly challenging but offers spectacular views. Luckily, it has always been very quiet whenever I have been on it making for a magic run. It is a bit awkward to get to so I imagine most people don’t make the effort. What’s more, the off-piste to the left of Jerusalem is sensational in powder conditions. The red run to the right, Pyramit, is good too but I would avoid the blue to the base of Saint Martin de Belleville, especially if on a snowboard as it flattens right out. The only price to pay for accessing Jerusalem is the miserable Saint Martin 2 chair that is slow and very long! If conditions are bad this is not a happy place! Although I have done it time and time again, just to get my hands on some more pow in and around this area!
Val Thorens also has a large beginners area at the bottom of the Cascades chairlift. There are four magic carpets serving a gentle slope and there is access to the Plein Sud blue via the Three Vallées 1 chair, perfect for when you’re ready to progress your riding.
VT is a sweet place to ride and it is a bonus having this playground if for some crazy reason you grow tired of the Courchevel and Meribel Valleys. The one thing to watch out for with VT is its height. While this guarantees snow-cover, giving it an uber long season, it is well above the tree line so if the weather sets in it can be a white wilderness, making it is easy to lose your way. What’s more, this can make transfer days difficult for obvious reasons. It is really in bluebird conditions when VT comes into its own as it reveals itself as a powdery paradise and as I mentioned earlier, when those conditions arrive, get down to Jerusalem!
With all that wintery wonder considered, where do I start with the pros and cons for this valley as a place for ski pad?
The Three Valleys as a whole is without doubt an expensive part of the Alps and higher prices come with that in the headline resorts such as Val Thorens. However, if you are prepared to look at some of the lower resorts or on the outskirts, then prices are lower. For example, if your heart is set on having access to Val Thorens, then Orelle and Saint Martin De Belleville provide great access with lower property prices. With that being said, I find Val Thorens just to have a totally different feel to it than the remainder of the Three Valleys and that personality clash always seems to put me off!
I stay in the Three Valleys regularly and always find Val Thorens to be far busier compared to the rest of the area, even during quieter times such as January. It also seems that each run is some sort of path for the fallen with pistes quite literally littered at times with fallen snowsports enthusiasts. This is all bit too stressful, when you just want to get away from it all and enjoy the beautiful vistas, particularly when you consider what else is available in the Three Valleys.
For me, price has been the main factor that would rule out VT but Saint Martin De Belleville is a particularly charming village and offers great options and that is the area I would consider. With that being said, given what is available in the Meribel and Courchevel Valleys, I think there are plenty of other all-round options for a second home and I will delve into this in the next two blogs.