Oh La La! Val Thorens you’re a Star!
Weaving back down the mountain pass from Val Thorens, our heavenly-high base in the clouds for a week, a clear blue sky, I feel happy, yet so sad to leave the perfect ski conditions behind. May was less than two weeks away and yet at the highest resort in Europe we were skiing powder as fluffy as cotton wool, on almost empty runs. Just over two hours back to Geneva., our Jam Transfers Mercedes minivan speeding us back to the airport in luxury. The journey is as picturesque as any postcard; the lush green meadows in stark contrast to the snowy peaks fading further into the distance.
Val Thorens is a destination that can only be described as idyllic. With over 600 km of slopes, the resort offers a plethora of runs for beginners, intermediates, and experts alike. It forms part of the Three Valleys, the largest linked ski area in the world, providing endless opportunities for those who seek them. It’s easy to ski across to Meribel and then on to Courchevel for those with an insatiable appetite for new runs. All the slopes are beautifully groomed, with no queues for lifts – a big bonus for such a popular place. The resort’s north-facing position ensures that the snow remains in excellent condition for longer, and there is always plenty of it.
But skiing isn’t the only activity on offer. Val Thorens is a winter wonderland of opportunity, with a range of alternative winter sports, including snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and ice skating. It’s a family playground, filled with adventures to enjoy together. Snowtubing was our favourite. The two prepared slopes sat directly opposite our hotel. Flying down the slope on an inflatable ring, at speed, was a definite crowd-pleaser. If you’re a thrill-seeker, there’s an incredible zip wire; the highest in the world, running at over 3,200 meters above sea level. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, so I politely declined the invitation! I can, however, imagine how soaring through the air, the panoramic views of the mountains and valleys below, would more than take your breath away!
The resort’s pedestrian-friendly center provides a safe and convenient environment for families with young children and is home to numerous shops, creating a bustling atmosphere that caters to all ages. Most importantly, Val thorens is a ski-in ski out resort. Skiing direct to and from your door is a luxury worth paying for when skiing with kids.
Having spent my childhood on skis in France, notably across the valley in Courchevel, I must admit that with my own children, I had been drawn to the lesser-known, smaller, more intimate Austrian resorts. Where my children, as toddlers, didn’t need miles of slopes but instead great facilities and a safe, family feel. As they have grown and they are starting to give me a run for my money on skis, it didn’t take much to lure me back to my skiing roots. I’m a Francophone through and through.
Val Thorens is unquestionably a number one destination for families in France and our home for the week, the hip, comfortable and superbly situated Hotel Marielle. A four star gem complete with huge sunny terraces which offer the perfect place to relax with a drink or eat a delicious lunch watching the world ski by. Also, it’s steps away from the ESF (Ecole du Ski Francais) meeting point. The iconic national ski school, where I learned to ski, far too many years ago than I care to remember, is an institution in its own right and offers childcare from 3 months old in their nursery, perfect for families with very little ones and easy for pick-up and drop off for lessons.
The hotel, named after Marielle Goitchel, the French ski champion, is perfectly appointed for a week on skis. Arriving in the foyer, not only were we greeted by warm smiles, professional staff and chic surroundings but with floor to ceiling windows framing a jaw-dropping view of the extensive slopes beyond.
Accommodation options are particularly suited to families. Cosy room with muted colours and sumptuous fabrics give a clubby feel and easily fit a family of four. Our kids adored the bunkbeds that felt like private dens, cleverly built in, thus giving adults and children their own living spaces, whilst still being in one room. Balconies with views overlooking the ski-slopes are well worth the extra cost.
Once unpacked, we only needed to step out of the lift to the ‘By Skiset’ ski shop where all the equipment that we needed was efficiently organised, with the help of a very futuristic ski boot machine, that you stood in to detail the exact shape of your feet to fit your boots. I was impressed! The hotel’s spacious ski room and lockers on the lower ground floor made getting ready to leave in the morning an absolute joy.
Next door to the ski room is a zen-like spa to ease away the aches after a long day on skis. Offering sauna, hammam and Nuxe massages and treatments; the iconic beauty brand best known for their Huile Prodigieuse, it was a space worth visiting whilst the children either played football upstairs in the kid’s area or Pac Man on the hotel arcades.
Back to skiing, which simply has to take centre stage here. It’s been so many years since I skied in such a vast ski area. I am a firm believer in always learning. Ski techniques change over the years and us Brits don’t live near any mountains, so make the most of your time on the slopes and get a private lesson if you can. The other options that I’d highly recommend from experience are Oxygene Ski School and BASS. It’s worth bearing in mind that both ski schools offer lessons in the nearby resorts too.
Oxygene is a French, family-run ski school with an international heart. Looking for an instructor who speaks Ivrit, then look no further. With a history that dates back to 1991 and the resort of La Plagne, their business has grown from strength to strength on the back of their top quality, totally personalised offering. Their class sizes are smaller than average too,
British Alpine Ski School on the other hand is British through and through. Looking for a corporate ski trip or an intensive course with the instructor’s instructor, then head to BASS. We had the pleasure of skiing a morning with Steve, one of the original founders. My nerves evaporated instantly in his presence, instilling a confidence that lasted over the duration of our trip. In a resort linked to others by lift, it’s also a great luxury to have a knowledgeable guide. We made it to Meribel with the hope of skiing Courchevel left for another trip.
The late season week was over far too soon; a testament to what’s on offer and a reminder why France remains such a popular destination for skiers. Pick any off-peak week into May and you are likely to find yourself in paradise.
BASS britishskischool.com +33 6 19 77 85 57
ESF ski-school-valthorens.co.uk +33 4 79 00 02 86
Oxygene Ski School oxygene.ski +33 4 79 22 67 51
Jam Transfers jamtransfer.com 0808 1641 413
Val Thorens valthorens.com/en/