Growing up, we alternated between La Plagne and Val Thorens for our family ski holidays. Both of these resorts being at high altitude, we knew that there was likely to be snow. At the time, we really didn't mind which of the two we went to, as long as there were pistes to challenge us and Apres Ski suitable for our teenage selves. I always remember Val Thorens being the best for activities and La Plagne for the quieter alpine atmosphere, this year we returned to Val Thorens and where I thought it was great before, now it's even better!
Val Thorens - The Resort
Val Thorens is the highest resort in Europe, at 2300m, which means that there will be snow. I have visited in January and all the way through to April, every visit the snow has been fantastic and even days with fresh powder in April. The resort is made up of many different hotels and apartments and unlike some of the lower resorts, you don't find chalets and private accommodation on the outskirts of the resort. During the time between my last visit and now, the resort has undergone a facelift. The concrete fascias of the hotels from the 1990's are no more and they have been transformed into a traditional alpine resort with lots of wood and beautiful carvings.
Within the resort there are a variety of facilities for families, that include a bowling alley, swimming pools, as well as ice skating, one activity that can't be missed 6km toboggan run down the slopes (more on that later!) The central plaza has a fantastic tourist office which is helpful providing advice on services in the resort and the main office of ESF Val Thorens Ski School where you can book classes, private groups or guided tours of the Val Thorens or Les 3 Vallees ski areas.
Although not pedestrianised, there were very few cars within the resort. Day skiers have a car park just outside of the resort entrance to park their cars. With the resort being much more compact than Les Menuires there is no need for shuttle buses. From experience, in a lot of the hotels the ski locker room exits onto the slopes, perfect for a ski to the door vacation.
Skiing in Val Thorens
As the highest resort in Europe, as well as being one the of the resorts in Les 3 Vallees, the largest ski area in the world, whatever level of skiing you have there is plenty to keep you busy. From nursery slopes near the resort centre, which have magic carpets to transport you back to the top (no more sidestepping up the nursery slopes!), long wide blue runs and daring red and black runs from the top of the world, all of the family will find something that will challenge their skills.
The fun slope a 900m long piste for families and beginners, is everything fun you can imagine doing on skis when you were a child. There are tunnels, bumps, dips and jumps. As soon as J and T got to the bottom of it, they wanted to get back on the lift and go down it again. They just couldn't wait!
Here's a little secret I've never really liked French food well apart from the bread after a bad experience when I was 8 or 9 with fish soup. However, I went out of my comfort zone and I have been converted. With a 1 fork Michelin restaurant that you ski to the door from a gentle blue run off the Cascades chairlift to family restaurants that have been passed down generation to generation, there was food for all the family to enjoy. Traditional French food specialities such as Crozifelette and Fois Gras neither of which I would have considered previously converted me and I now look forward to trying more of the specialities. Unlike travelling to France as a child when there were no "kids menus", children are welcomed to the restaurants and catered for with mini meals from the main menu as well as more traditional kids meals.
Off Piste Entertainment
The resort has a variety of off piste activities - ice skating, swimming, bowling etc... as you would find in most resorts. But that isn't the extent of the fun off piste. How about dog sledging, ice diving or paragliding which are all offered in the area. Without a doubt though you can't miss the toboggan. Six kilometres down the mountain on a sledge, the longest sledging route in Europe! Children under 10 must be accompanied by an adult sharing a sledge so we doubled up. Once you have the sledge, a little practice before taking the cable car to the top of the mountain.
From there you join the toboggan run down and off you go! Let me tell you, we did this in a snow storm where you couldn't see what was coming next. I don't know if that was scarier than being able to see what drop would be around the next bend or not. The kids and I screamed all the way down and as the family we met at the top told us "It's bonkers, but you'll want to do it again and again!".
We got to the bottom and I couldn't wait to do it again. Unfortunately, by the time we made it down, it was closed. It takes around 45 minutes to an hour so check the closing times as chances are you will want a second go. Next visit I'm booking it in advance and you won't see me for the snow spray.