PlanetSKI In Val Thorens For Its Opening
18th November 2021
Last modified on November 22nd, 2021
The highest resort in the Alps kicked off its season at the weekend. The French resort plans to be open until the beginning of May. PlanetSKI is in the resort for its opening – we’re finally back on the slopes and making some turns. UPDATED
It is the traditional way that we like to start our winter ski season at PlanetSKI – the Val Thorens opening weekend – and this time round we have been looking forward to it more than ever.
PlanetSKI reporter, Chris Moran, is in the resort reporting on what it is like to be back on snow and how the resort celebrates….
Words and Pictures, Chris Moran:
Update: Sunday PM
You can catch the whole of my rolling blog below as I arrived in the resort early on Saturday morning to enjoy the opening weekend.
In this update I am reporting on my chats with many people across the past 48-hours – locals, resort officials, random people on the lifts, the technicians in ski shops and those people out on the slopes.
There are some interesting developments for the season ahead in Val Thorens.
The most obvious is the enormous new sports centre which is not quite completed yet, but is a huge construction site slap bang in the middle of town.
You cannot help but notice it from every cafe or restaurant with a terrace.
It’s not finished yet, but the outline of the building is completed and looks quite reminiscent of Aquamotion in Courchevel.
Or the Lagon in Tignes.
Apparently they’ve thrown €25 million at the VT version.
I can imagine that by next winter or even summer 2022 it’s going to be filled with Instagrammers taking advantage of the amazing views and basking in the strong alpine sun.
Talking about new things – not open – there is also huge new gondola lift that’s about to have its ribbon cutting event in Les Menuires.
Sadly not ready for the opening weekend (because the piste runs don’t go down that far into the valley just yet – it’s still just rocks and grass), but it’s scheduled to be open for when the three valleys links together on the 8th of December.
The new €22m La Masse 10-seater gondola in @LesMenuires will open in December 2021 and will become one of the two fastest lifts in France #Les3Vallees #InfiniteMountainExperiences pic.twitter.com/es0uAJNhYZ
— Les 3 Vallées (@3Vallees_france) October 20, 2021
You can see the amazing, large black gondolas already installed, and it’s going to whisk people between the Meribel and VT Valleys and by all accounts it’s going to be one of the fastest lifts in the world.
I know another PlanetSKI reporting team of Tashie Cove & Jack Johnson will be in Les Menuires just after it opens so it will be interesting to hear what it is like.
And while we’re on the subject of new lifts, the other big mechanical news in the Val Thorens valley is that they have also massively upgraded the chairlifts (now a gondola) down to Orelle.
Now this is a really interesting move because Orelle is in the Maurienne Valley which is a real outlier.
If you’ve been to Paradiski area, then Orelle is kind of the equivalent of Champagny.
Technically it’s part of the ski area, but it’s so far on the edge of the map that it feels like its not.
Back in the Maurienne, by upgrading the connection from Orelle to VT means they’ve brought the whole village that little bit closer and actually extended the three Valley area considerably.
But what’s most interesting about this new lift is that it means you can genuinely have a Three Valleys holiday with a transfer time of around one hour.
“How do you do that?” I hear you ask.
Well, Orelle is 11 km from Modane, and Modane has a direct train link with Turin and then terminates at Milan.
So forget your Geneva, Chambery or Lyon transfers to the Tarentaise, which can often be over 3-hours or more during a busy Saturday in February.
Instead you can fly to Turin and be on the slopes in a third of the time.
And for those who prefer to go by train, there are five daily express trains from Paris to Milan.
Being an express, it has very few stops but one of them is Modane.
Right back to the slopes…
Update: Saturday PM
The opening weekend has been an undoubted success so far.
It’s just so clear that people are desperate to be on the slopes and the vibe in town, in the cable cars, and on the chairlifts is really happy.
I spoke with strangers on virtually every lift – of course the main subject was Covid and the fact that we were happy to feel like it is now in the past.
Fingers crossed it is.
Any more proof needed was the fact that the Grand Ski event (essentially a ski test) was in full swing, with the obligatory loud PA systems blasting competing techno, French rap, and even classical music.
I’ll be honest and tell you I avoided it at all costs, but mostly because I just wanted to get as much time on the slopes.
It’s been a while.
There are plenty of new things happening in VT, but sadly the current hot spell has meant that they’re not available for the opening weekend.
The most noticeable is the new freeride and touring zone.
Sadly it is shut this weekend due to the warm weather and the lack of off piste snow.
But it will no doubt be an incredible zone when the snow finally does come.
Along with the Crux Noire area in Courchevel, it means the three valleys now has two very large official back country areas.
Of course there are hundreds and hundreds of zones in the three valleys which are unofficial backcountry areas, but for those who want adventure but in a more calculated and secure way, then this is a good first step in direction.
The lack of snow has also meant the on piste skiing available is limited, but snow is coming next week apparently.
Another new initiative is that the igloo village is set to return on a plateau just above the village and underneath the flying fox zip wire.
But again the warm weather put paid to that idea for this weekend.
But great for those with kids who want that winter wonderland experience.
The summary so far is that the French Alpine season is officially open, and we are happy to report that skiing is back on.
I’ll be updating later so do check back…
There has been some glacier skiing already in France, but this is the first large non-glacier area to open.
I’m more delighted than ever, for obvious reasons, at being back on the slopes of Val Thorens in the second half of November as it starts its 5-month long season.
It always feel like the starting gun for the winter has begun when VT opens and the ribbon has been cut for the opening of the season.
No snow has been in the forecast for the weekend with blue sky predicted.
So it turned out to be first thing Saturday morning.
So, let’s address the immediate mask wearing elephants in the room.
What’s it like with Covid-19 conditions?
Well the reality is so far it’s not that different.
Legally, morally and by government mandate there are supposed to be protocols in place but you’d be hard-pressed to see much difference.
You’re supposed to have a pass sanitaire to buy a lift pass and it does say ‘mask obligatory ‘in certain shops, but the reality is that 90% of the people I see are just carry on carrying on as normal and there are few masks to be seen.
The neck warmer which doubles as a mask seems to be the prevailing choice.
There are further details on the official rules lower down this article.
If you’ve been to the opening weekend of Val Thorens before then you might know what to expect.
It’s the traditional opening of the French winter season and everyone is super excited.
No more so than this year after all of the lockdown confinements in quarantine period everyone is absolutely desperate to get on the hill.
Sadly the weather gods are not complying and it’s unseasonably warm but there is snow – albeit some artificial.
It is piste skiing only, with the natural snow topped up by the artificial variety.
I’m lucky enough to have been to the past 10 openings at VT and I’ve seen worse, but I’ve also seen a lot better snow conditions.
It was freezing about two weeks ago and then has been quite a warm period which annoyingly is set to end on Monday when it looks like the real start of winter is about to kick in.
But hey! I have had my first slopeside coffee of the season.
Earlier this week the resort announced which lifts and runs will be open.
Which lifts will be open when #ValThorens opens this weekend? All is revealed! #@Val_Tho #WeWillSkiAgain #Les3Vallees #InfiniteMountainExperiences pic.twitter.com/sc2pK8rWJH
— Les 3 Vallées (@3Vallees_france) November 17, 2021
And in terms of the lifts there are some really cool new additions to ski area.
They’re not running yet because they are further down the valley and the snow is not good enough yet, but can’t wait to come back and try them in the coming weeks.
Especially a new high-speed gondola in Les Menuires, which is claimed to be the world’s fastest lift.
Quite a boast.
“Skiers will be able to put on their gear, jump on a ski lift, enjoy the views on the surrounding peaks and savour the feeling of being the first people out on the slopes,” said a statement from the resort ahead of the opening.
“This year will be all about finding each other again on the slopes and in the resort.”
I’ll second that.
So, what about the resort for this winter?
- Val Thorens is located in a mountain cirque which allows you to ski in the sun all day long.
- There are 150km of pistes on the Val Thorens/Orelle domain.
- Val Thorens is located on the largest linked ski area in the world: the 3 Valleys which offers 600km of runs.
- All the accommodation in the resort is ski in/ski out.
- The resort benefits from a state of the art lift park which allows a large capacity and little waiting time.
- The resort has a new freeriding area for the 2021/22 season.
The resort is looking for a full season and has many plans as we have reported earlier:
Much will of course depend on the Covid-19 situation with restrictions in place.
In France a Pass Sanitaire is not be needed to use the ski lifts, but masks are mandatory in queues and inside gondolas and cable cars.
The health pass is needed in restaurants and bars, plus some other public and enclosed spaces.
We reported on the measures in ski resorts in France in this earlier story on PlanetSKI:
If you want to check back we will continue reporting live and direct from the slopes of Val Thorens across the weekend.
There’s plenty more action to come.
Bring it on!