An independent guide to Val Thorens
This overview of the Val Thorens ski area covers all the sectors - Plein Sud (3 Vallées), Péclet, Moraine, Grand Fond (Montée du Fond), Rosael/Orelle, Caron, and Boismint.
Boismint is nice to visit first thing in the morning. Moraine has two medium easy blues, and spectacular views from the top of Col. Plein Sud is great for afternoon sunshine, and the party bar, the Folie Douce. Some of the best snow can be found on the north-facing slopes in the Caron and Grand Fond sectors. Rosael overlooks the Maurienne Valley, and has a different feel to the rest of the Val Thorens ski area.
Read an overview of the Val Thorens ski area here.
Val Thorens has 27 lifts (32 including those in Orelle), and 77 pistes totalling 150km. It is part of the 3 Valleys, together with Les Menuires, St Martin, Méribel and Courchevel, with a total of 600km of pistes.
Plein Sud means south facing (literally, fully south). The Plein Sud piste, accessed by the Plein Sud and the Pionniers chairs, is wide, and has snow canons all the way down. This means that it usually has good snow cover. It's one of the most popular pistes in Val Thorens, too, because it gets sunshine for a large part of the day, and the Folie Douce - a café/bar with DJs and live music - sits at the top of the piste. It's also a route to Val Thorens from the other valleys.
Towards the end of the day, Plein Sud can get very chopped up, especially in warm spring weather. It is often busy. In 2017/18, a new blue run was made to take some of the pressure off Plein Sud - Corniche.
Corniche is more like a green followed by a red, so it probably catches a few people out when they reach the steep part at the end.
From late April onwards, you can see marmots off to the side of Plein Sud, emerging from hibernation.
To get higher up in this sector, take the 3 Vallées chair, or the fast Funitel des 3 Vallées (formerly Funitel Bouquetin).
These lifts give access to Méribel Mottaret and the 3 Valleys, on the other side of the ridge.
There are also various runs back towards Val Thorens on the near side of the ridge - easy blues Pluviomètre and Mont de la Chambre, tricky red Chardons, and the black run Goitschel.
Goitschel is named after Marielle Goitschel, who together with her sister Christine, was a French ski champion. People sometimes say Goitschel is too easy to be a black run, and it can be when it has winter snow and is newly pisted; on the other hand, towards the end of the day, or when the snow conditions are not ideal, it can be challenging.
New in 2011/12 was Triton, a short black run that joins up with Pluviomètre.
This sector of the ski area is broadly west facing, which means it gets the sun in the afternoon. There's a restaurant, Les Aiguilles de Péclet, at the top of the Funitel.
The Funitel Péclet is one of the resort's most important lifts, giving access to 3 red runs, as well as a blue and a black. If you're skiing with children, sometimes they're frustrated at having to take their skis off, and carry them through the building at the bottom. The journey takes 8 to 9 minutes, but you arrive at 3000m, with a view of the glacier, and some great skiing/ boarding options.
Of the reds in Val Thorens, Lac Blanc is probably the easiest, and has reliably good snow - snow canons mean that it almost always has a good base.
Béranger is steep, and often has a few rocks at the very top if you turn right straight from the lift. There is now a second arm of Béranger, without rocks - go a little way along the track towards Tête Ronde, then turn right. Béranger rejoins Lac Blanc part way down.
If you turn right at the top of the lift, there is a track that leads you to the other side of a ridge, where it splits into two pistes: Tête Ronde (blue) and Christine (red).
Tête Ronde is a favourite - not too difficult, and it can be skied fast if it's not busy, with some great winding corners in the lower half. Please be careful, though, and never put other people in danger. It rejoins Dalles at the level of the Chalet de la Marine.
Christine is named after French ski champion Christine Goitschel. It is about average difficulty for a red, with the steepest part about two thirds of the way down. It brings you out close to the bottom of the Moraine chair.
Another option from the top of the Funitel Péclet is to ski down to the Glacier chair, a slow 3-man. It takes you up to a black run, also called Glacier. The terrain has changed a fair bit over the last years, as the glacier has dramatically reduced in size. The run will soon have to be called Rock.
The top of the piste is steep - this is a no-fall zone, or if you do, you won't stop until a good deal further down the run. Lower down, it becomes easier. The main reason to do Glacier is for the challenge; the main reasons to loop round and round on Glacier are if it's the only place above the clouds, or the only piste which still has fresh, cold winter snow when the snow on the other runs is in the melt-freeze cycle.
Lower down in this sector is a black piste called Cascades, under the Cascades chairlift (named after the ice fall to your right as you go up, see photo above). It's the resort's classic mogul run. Eric Berthon, the first moguls World Champion in 1986, used to train here, and asked the resort never to piste it, so it would always have great bumps. That tradition continues.
The Moraine sector, lift, and piste are named after a geographical feature, a glacial moraine on which the lift's pylons stand. A moraine is a glacially-formed accumulation of unconsolidated debris (soil and rock). This one appears to be a lateral moraine. In winter 2017-18, a new telecabine replaced the old chairlift - see what's new in 2017-18.
Top of the Moraine telecabine
These slopes face north west, which means the snow is usually in good condition. On the other hand, they stay in the shadow for a large part of the day, so it can be cold. The area is not recommended when the wind blows from the south east. A south easterly is the worst wind for Val Thorens anyway, because it is usually dry, so it doesn't bring snow, but blows it away, down the Belleville valley. Moraine is one of the sectors worst-affected by a south easterly, as the wind is funnelled into the little valley, and howls down it. Riding the Moraine chairlift in these conditions was no fun, but an indoor telecabine lift should be an improvement.
Moraine is one of the pistes where you're sometimes put in danger by reckless skiers and boarders.
I raised the issue in 2017, writing that out-of-control skiers were a problem the resort would have to try to solve. Some go too fast for their abilities. 'When you factor in the increasing popularity of the Val Thorens ski area, and perhaps alcohol in some cases, it's likely to result in collisions, and it does. There has to come a point where it's not enough just to deal with the consequences.'
On Friday 1st March 2019, a British skier was killed on Moraine after colliding with another skier at high speed, then hitting a signpost.
I don't know all the details, and I'm not blaming the person who tragically died.
I do suggest that it's clear that there's a problem of excessive speed, and at the moment nothing at all is being done about it. Other accidents could well happen. The runs where I feel most in danger when skiing slowly are Moraine, Pluviomètre, Cairn, and Gentianes.
If skiers or boarders put others in danger, there should be consequences - whether warnings, or taking away their lift passes. I don't know whether it would be down to the lift company employees who are responsible for security, or a police matter.
In good weather, the Moraine piste, a blue run with snow cannons, is a favourite for early intermediates, and anyone finding their ski legs at the start of the week, as it's wide and not too steep. Its sister run, Génépi (no snow canons), is perhaps marginally more difficult. The Caribou restaurant is part way down Génépi.
(Génépi is an Alpine flower, which is used to flavour a liqueur of the same name. The liqueur is similar to absinthe and Chartreuse, and is a taste that can be acquired if the individual concerned is sufficiently dedicated. It is based on vodka or pure grain alcohol, with chopped, dried génépi flowers added for taste, aroma and colour. This flower is from the genus Artemisia, commonly called wormwood in English. It is native to the mountainous areas of France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland, and grows high up in the Belleville valley. It can be harvested in July and August - or you can buy it in tea-bag like sachets).
From the top of the Moraine telecabine, you can go higher up, on the Col chairlift. This is slow, and can be cold in poor weather. The arrival is tricky - make sure to move away from the chairlift quickly. On a fine day, the view from the top is unbeatable. The red run down (also called Col) is steep at the top, and can be icy. It's usually pisted every other night.
With north-facing slopes, this sector usually has excellent skiing. It can be very chilly at the top when the weather is cold.
Around the same level as the departure point of the Moraine chair is another chairlift, Portette. From the top of the lift, you can take a red, Portette, under the chairlift, or traverse to the right on Fond, towards Plateau.
New for 2011/12 was the Funitel de Thorens, from the top of Portette. It has 2 lots of 2 x 33-person cabins, and whisks you from 2795m up to 3003m in a jiffy. If you want one of your own, you need to have €6.5 million to spend.
Three new pistes have been added to the Val Thorens ski area, from the top of the Funitel de Thorens - Asters, a red, which links back to Génépi, in the Moraine sector, Chocard, a blue that runs under the funitel, and Lory, a blue which takes you into Orelle.
(An aster is a flower, and the aster Alpinus has lilac petals and a yellow centre. A 'chocard' is the most common type of crow seen in Val Thorens. It has red legs and a yellow beak, and is also known locally as a 'choucas'; the name in English is Alpine chough).
For the 2013/14 season, a new zip wire was installed, which opened in February 2014, running from the top of the Bouchet chair to the top of the Funitel de Thorens (€50).
La Moutiere is one of the lowest chairs in Val Thorens. It gets busy sometimes, and once you're down there, there's no alternative for getting back to resort. It tends to be unreliable, and stop at times. Turn left at the top, on Linotte, and you have access to a blue, Hermine (that takes you back to the bottom of the chair), and to a green, Deux Lacs; you can also get to the area which has Les Chalets (a blue run), the ski cross or boardercross, and the second slalom stadium (Stade 2). Under the Moutiere chair, there's Arolle, a black that's rarely pisted, so becomes a bumps run.
A stoat in Val Thorens
(Linotte is a type of bird, linnet in English. A tete de linotte is a bird brain, someone who is lost their ability to think. Hermine is an ermine, or stoat. Arolles means Swiss pines, or Arolla pines).
A linnet in Val Thorens in summer
If you go straight on from the top of Moutiere, you come to the two parallel Plateau draglifts, which take you to the top of the snowpark. Or, at the side of the snowpark, you can just descend Plateau, a blue run. The Moutiere restaurant is close to the bottom of the Plateau drags.
Funitel Grand Fond
A little further on, there's the Funitel Grand Fond. It's a fast funitel lift (no seats), and from the top (3000m) if you look to the north, you'll see Mont Blanc. You can also look south east towards the Maurienne valley. The easiest run down is Niverolle (then take Fond to get back to resort). The reds are Variante and Médaille. You can also take a track to the right towards Rosael.
A niverolle is a snow finch - not a true finch, but a type of sparrow.
Niverolle, or snow finch, in Val Thorens
This sector is also known as Orelle (which is the little town down in the Maurienne valley), and the Fourth Valley. (A gondola brings people up from Orelle, which has cheap accommodation). It has a different feel to the rest of Val Thorens, and a different view, looking towards the Maurienne valley, and resorts further south, including Les Deux Alpes. It's run by a separate lift company (the STOR), so technically a different ski area, but covered by a Val Thorens pass (and, of course, a Belleville or Three Valleys pass).
It gets a lot of sunshine, the pistes are usually well pisted, and it can be a little quieter than the rest of Val Thorens.
The main run down this side, Mauriennaise (not mayonnaise), is a joy to ski or board. A blue run, Gentianes (not to be confused with Gentiane in Val Thorens), that's more of a path than a piste, snakes around it, crossing it from time to time.
There's a restaurant, the Chalet Chinal Donat, at the bottom of Mauriennaise.
From the restaurant, you can either take the Rosael chairlift back towards the Val Thorens side, or head up the Peyron chair (which is a new, faster chairlift for the 2013-14 season).
Peyron chair, Orelle
The blue under the chair, also called Peyron, is easy-peasy, and very pleasant. If you go higher up from the top of Peyron, on the Bouchet chair (also slow), you're on the highest lift in the Three Valleys, with its summit at 3230m. Beware, though, the red down, Coraia, is steep at the top, and can be difficult in poor conditions. A little further down, there's a split between Coraia and another red, Bouchet.
Coraia piste, Orelle
The zip wire, which opened in February 2014, goes from the top of the Bouchet chair to the top of the Funitel de Thorens, a distance of 1300m (€50).
The return to Val Thorens from the top of the Rosael chair can also be a bit tricky, although they have made it easier in recent years by creating two blue runs, Chamois and Eterlou, as an alternative to the red, Falaise.
(Chamois and éterlou are both types of mountain goat, éterlou being the name for a male bouquetin in its second year. Falaise means rocky cliff).
A bubble comes up from the village of Orelle, in the Maurienne valley, providing access to the Three Valleys for people staying there.
View from the top of the Cime de Caron cable car
This is the jewel in Val Thorens's crown. The Cime de Caron was the largest cable car in the world when it was built in 1982, and it can still thrill visitors today.
Access to the cable car is via the Caron bubble, or a short ski from the top of the Moutiere or Boismint chairs. There can be queues for the cable car, but it takes 150 people at a time, and it's well worth going up for the view alone, on a fine day.
Cime de Caron viewpoint
You arrive at an altitude of 3200m. Straight ahead of you when you exit the cable car is a climb up to a viewing table. From there, you can see the Belleville valley to the north west, Mt Blanc to the north, the Aiguille de Péclet to the east, and Les Deux Alpes to the south. From the 2015-16 winter season, it is equipped with an 'augmented reality' telescope, which displays the names and altitudes of the peaks as you point it at them. There's also a cafe on the summit - the Freeride Cafe Caron.
View from Cime de Caron towards les Aiguilles d'Arves
All the runs down are quite challenging (but you can go back down in the cable car if you wish, and it's open to pedestrians, as you can take lifts to and from Val Thorens). The main red is Col de l'Audzin. Part way down, there's an option to turn left onto a black, Les Cristaux, which often has moguls. The main black is Combe de Caron, which involves a path followed by a couple of steep sections, before opening out, then rejoining Col de l'Audzin. You can also turn right off it, onto Névés, to head towards Plateau.
Combe de Rosael black run
There's also a black off the back, towards Rosael, called Combe de Rosael. It's usually difficult, and sometimes rocky in places.
Cime de Caron Cable car
A number of Val Thorens off piste itineraries begin from the top of the Caron.
The Boismint sector is north east facing, and gets the sun quite early in the morning, so it is worth a visit first thing.
Turn right from the top of the Boismint chair for the Blanchot, a nice blue with snow canons.
Extend the trip by taking Tétras right to the bottom of the Plan de l'Eau chair. The reds are Haute Combe to the left, and Boismint to the right (which has one very steep section part way down). Boismint links to another red, Plan de l' Eau, if you want to go all the way down to the chair of the same name.
The bottom of the Plan de l'Eau chair marks the lowest point of the Val Thorens ski area (literally, not metaphorically) at 1800m.
There are good views down the Belleville Valley from these red runs.
(Blanchot is the local word for a lièvre variable, or mountain hare; tétras is a black grouse; a plan de l'eau is a lake or pond).
There's a cafe at the junction of Blanchot and Tétras - the Chalet des 2 Ours.
Have a great time exploring the Val Thorens ski area.
The latest ski pass prices, for Val Thorens, Belleville Valley, and the 3 Valleys, plus a link to book ski passes online.
Our suggestion for quality ski and snowboard hire at fair prices - Zenith ski shop, in the centre of resort.
All the ski shops in Val Thorens, with a location map.
A guide to all the ski schools in Val Thorens, including the ESF, Prosneige, Ski Cool, Evolution 2, and Free School Attitude.
Our guide to the beginners' area in Val Thorens starts at the Rond Point des Pistes, and covers the nursery slopes, the green runs, and the Funslope, then ends with the easy blue runs. Read about Val Thorens beginners' area.
The mountain restaurants of Val Thorens - the best places for a coffee or hot chocolate, and the most attractive lunch options.