Location: Val Thorens

Type of trip: Package

Date of trip: Last week of January 2004

URL of resort: http://www.valthorens.com/

Resort Rating: Excellent (5/5)

Trip Rating: Excellent (5/5)



Arriving in Val THorens during the biggest snow storm for six years meant no worries on the snow front. Highlights Riding 18 inches of on-piste powder as first person down the Boismint cruisey blue piste Exploring the lift-line off piste of the Peyron lift in the fourth valley. Lingering in the late afternoon at the top of Col enjoying the Alpenglow before descending deserted pistes.


Booked an apartment with Erna Low so got the channel tunnel deal. Left Haywards Heath at 8pm, Tunnel at 21:30, Arrived at Moutier at 8.45pm. The normal 45 minute drive up the Belleville valley took three hours due to the storm. Snow was present down to about 500m so the valley road needed chains from the first hairpin. Problem was that people were pulling over to put chains on. Others were overtaking them and then getting into problem and stopping to put their chains on. Result: three lines of cars on a road for two! Stalled for over an hour and had to wait for the local police to restore order and move offending cars out the way. Cost of travel The cost of driving from Calais to Val Thorens (and back) was £195 for petrol (2.5 litre estate car) plus £85 in tolls, ie a total of £280. Four in the car so about 70 each.


Pierre et Vacances Temple du Soleil complex. Bit of a monster with five blocks. Hall of Residence feel, Right next to piste. Average apt, been recarpted last year so not too scruffy. Great view over the snowpark. Complex has ski shop, supermarket and pub in it. As VT is so compact no problems getting around

General Conditions

We arrived in VT during one of its most significant dumps of snow ever. The white stuff was even evident down the Isere valley below Moutier which is only at 500m. Indeed, snow chains were needed at the first of the hairpin bends on the 36km approach road to Val Thorens that rises up the Belleville valley. The snow continued until Tuesday and its impact was very evident throughout the week.. Higher lifts and pistes were closed until they could be dug out and avalanche controlled. In the resort, the diggers and trucks were kept busy all week clearing away the massive accumulations. Mid-week, clear blue skies accompanied the gradual opening of the lifts and pistes. However, cloudly conditions and light snow returned for Saturday.

Boismint: great morning runs

With an avalanche risk of Category 5, proper off-piste was a no-no until Thursday when it started to drop finally reaching Category 3 on Saturday. Even inter-piste off-piste was discouraged. However, this was no hardship due to the wonderful dumps on the pistes. Every night, the pisteurs put their piste-bashers through their paces and prepared for the next day. After they had gone to their garages the snow would gentle layer a blanket of powder over the corduroy pistes. So, on Tuesday morning I was first down the Blanchot blue piste off the Boisemint lift. Wide, wide and covered in fluffy stuff.it was more than the first warm-up run of the day. Half awake, floating through turns silently, this was the way to approach the coming day. Most runs offered decent snow even when scrubbed by riders and skiers and the remoter ones continued to offer powder pockets to turn in at their margins through the rest of the week.

Plan d Eau: don't forget this gem

If off-piste was out of bounds then I had to develop other challenges. After studying the piste map and its accompanying lift data I identified pistes that allowed a vertical kilometre of decent. VTís lowest lift, Despite Val Thorens being marketed as Europeís highest resort, at 2,300m, it ski area extends down below that height. In particular its Plan d Eau lift has a base altitude of 1800 thus allowing several such 1,000m descents. While one expects such grand descents to start on narrow mountain peaks, Plan d Eauís most immediate 1,000m decent is the red Boismint piste which just three quarters the way up one of Val THorenís slopes. To access it take the Boismint lift and turn right at the top. . The piste breaks away straight ahead as the blue curls down towards the lift. Descending the red piste there is a superb view straight down the Belleville valley to be admired as you make the 1,013 m descent to Plan d Eau. I managed it non-stop but at the cost of burning thighs as it a good 20 degree gradient over much of its short length. Fortunately at the top of the Plan d Eau lift a new mountain cafť has opened which offers Ďservice rapideí from an outdoor counter. A quick hot chocolate and its back on the piste.

Le Grand Verticales

Plan d Eau is also the terminal of a much longer decent in alwas. A decent 1,300m decent can be made by departing from the top of the Col lift, the most Southerly of VTís lifts and X km away . Start at 3,100,m and enjoy the glorious but short red Col piste. Sidle past the lifeless crevasses of a glacier and then pitch down the wide steep piste. . After passing to the left of the Col/Moraine lift station tend left and tuck to take you on to the blue Genepi piste. Its short steep sections and wide shallows allow a racing decent that carries you past the Portette lift to your right and into the cauldron of the Chalet d Thorens. Despite this being a crossroads of pistes you can still belt through it as there is room for all. The speed maintained here is critical as the next piste is the green almost flat Combe de Caron, otherwise known as the Golf Course. Tucking through here is slow but necessary but the reward is a gradually steepening as it approaches the main crossroad of pistes in VT. Avoid the main part by tending left and cutting down the wide, wide piste between the lifts and the fenced-off ski nursery. This section has a reasonable gradient despite its flat look and will allow you to maintain speed. Then a small reward is given as one passes under the Deux Lac lift. Often dismissed as a liason, this part of the piste is steep enough to make some large radius carving turns on your way to the lift complex of Cairn/Moutiere/Bosimint. Tend right and dive down onto the the Boulevard d Cumin which starts immeadiately right of the Boismint lift entrance. Donít be put off by the boulevards name and reputation. Yes, it is essential a very long traverse down a cat track to Les Menuires but fun can be had on the way down to the Plan d Eau lift. A couple of double hairpin bend combinations give good sport and after them itís a short run in to the Plan d Eau liftís entrance. A skier friend tucked from Col and got to here in just six minutes. I took my time due to flat life and counted 550 turns. Either way this is a great decent mixing all styles of riding, short swings, carving, tucking and traversing. Other 1300m plus descent to here can be made by eparting from any of the three other 3000m plus hight lift terminals in VT. From the top of the Glacier chairlift would make a straight line decent that incorporates the dashing red Berenger piste. Departing the Grand Fond top station would allow a choice of routes down either in the shadow of the Cime de Caron or a more winding route down via Chalet d Thorens and through the town. The quickest decent would be from the summit of the Cime d Caron at 3200m. Chosing either its black or red run, such a decent would then allow a high speed tuck down the blue Cairn piste to reach the Boulevard Cumin. Arriving at Plan d Eau from the summit would give a decent of 1,400m.

Homage to the Fourth Valley

While not a member of the 1,000m club, the decents into Val Thorens Ďfourth valley are both classics. The black Combe d Caron piste curls round the mountain and then through a breach that leaves one at the top of a south facing sustained pitch of 30 degreee steepness. Itís tempting to just contemplate the view down to Plan Bouchet or the distant jagged peaks of the Ecrin rather than look down and down to pick the spot for your first turn. However, the run had just opened and was not yet moguled. A dusting of snow on top of a hard but not icy base gave great chance for edges to bit and swinging turns to be made in the decent. Watch out if you head right off the piste to play in powder. In it's bottom quarter the piste swings left. If you keep going down offpiste you can get tangled in some low cliffs and bluffs. There are routes through but it was a bit of a surprise to come across them when I was expecting to ride back to the piste It ends as it joins the red Mauriennais piste. This red is often known by the name of the lift that serices it, Rosael. Once a solitary piste dropping from the Breche de Rosael it now shares its valley with two new lifts. Together these lifts make this hidden valley worthy of a days attention, well worth the short hike or skate from the top of the Grand Fond life to the breche, a narrow breach in the rocky ridge dividing the valley from Val Thorens. Maurienne piste must be my favourite piste in the world. It may not offer the extreme vertical of Argentiere or the distance of Davos but it has the core constituents of a good novel. It has a great beginning, plenty of fun middle and a good ending. Marching through the Breche leaves one standing at the top of a widening piste crossed by the Rosael lift just before it arrives at its terminal. At 3000m the snow is always in fresh condition, teased by the winds or novel powder. The piste drops away leaving you appreciating the view ahead. Dive down and carve a long left turn and pop in a few shorter radius swoops before turning right for the first steeper section. Half way down this steep a cat track blue piste crosses. Despite the usual huddle of stopped skiers here, this track gives a nice little lip to launch off and maintain speed as you swoop down into a flatter piste that swins left and right in lazy Super G turns. Donít turn too much as speed is needed for a mighty set of S turns that allow massive carves to be incised. Look up to the right and watch for those decending from the black Combe d Caron piste which joins here. Flowing out of the S leads one on to another steep section this time more sustained and very wide. Short swing or bounce over bumps in high speed traverses but rember to tuck towards the bottom as you must race across the flattest section of the piste. It is always exhilerating to ease of the turns, point the board down the fall line and let it run. This plateau is where the Pierre Lory itinery joins from the left. Swing to the right and pass through a relatively narrower section. On the right the cat track blue tangents away giving another lip to launch from. The main piste bear left and into its final short steep section. Some try and straight line it as the final finishing straight gradually levels out from it. Tuck and race for the lift. As you reach the end of the lift building Hook right round the corner and into the lift. A hockey stop and itís a choice to ascend Rosael and repeat or to bear off to the Peyron lift and explore its pleasures. The decision is best taken on the terrace of the Plan Bouchet refuge. Which despite its mountain survival origins does a fine French lunch. Mauriennais challenges the boarder to use all their skills to conquer its straights, steeps and swoops. It deserves close attention.

The 'new' lifts in the Fourth valley

Plan Bouchetís terrace allows contemplation to the newest part of Val THorenís ski area. Two new lifts now access the highest point in the 3 Vallees and access three new pistes. The lower lift gives its name to the Peyron piste which loops across the lift line in a very lazy and wide S. In between there is a plethora of off-piste posibilites all within hailing distance of the lift or piste. The Peyron blue starts off with a loop right that allows speed to buld before entering a seriers of S bends linked by short wide sections. Not steep enough to allow linked large radius carving turns the technique for moving through these bends is to simple bomb along and cut the apex of each with the turn. Speed maintained, you then enter straights that allow long tucks bearing left or right before coming across a short sharp steep section. What a wonderful designer nature is. This little accelerator allows one to cruise across a final flat and back to the lift. So, do it again? Well, why not explore the obvious off piste below the Peyron lift. Rapidly tracked-out there is a natural route through this navigating a serious of bowls. It wonít be long before this is a piste, but it does give a flavour of how early skiers must have picked their way down the Alps creating the pistes we today use. The more adventurous off-psiter can stick below the lift line and try their hand at a short corridor of steep snow cambers right to left between a cliff and a drop. In full view of the lift, tight turns will get you down it and into a final bowl. Rember to bear left rapidly and traversre out to save height. Continuing down will only lead to a very flat ice-coverd lake and a walk out to the lift 300m away. Avoidable. Saddly the top lift that reaches the summit of the 3 Vallees was closed on my visit. Pisteurs had only dug-out half its runs. North facing like Peyron , this liftís two reds will should give magnificent riding or skiing through to the end of Val Thorenís long season in May. Both reds loop away from the lift line and follow the natural fall line of small valleys before converging at the top of the Peyron lift. What lies between them in terms of off-piste must wait!