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Ski Season Underway in Val Thorens

The resort’s 5-month season started last weekend and PlanetSKI was there to enjoy it. We look back at the weekend and forward to the season ahead in the highest resort in the Alps.

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The resort saw 9,500 skiers and snowboarders on Saturday as the lifts fired up for the first day of the season, with a similar number on Sunday.

“We’re so happy to finally open our ski area again, welcome our clients and share this beautiful ski resort with them,” said Alix Ostyn from the Val Thorens tourist office.

“It’s been the most successful opening weekend we ever had, thanks to the great weather conditions and the enthusiasm of our die-hard fans who have been waiting to come back since March 2020.”

Image © T.Loubere OT Val Thorens

Image © T.Loubere OT Val Thorens

  • 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 part of  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 system 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 forward to a full season and has many plans as we have reported earlier:

It is the traditional way that we like to start our winter ski season at PlanetSKI – the Val Thorens opening weekend.

We have been in resort for the opening over more years than we care to remember.

First in the queue, 2013. Image © PlanetSKI

First in the queue, 2013. Image © PlanetSKI

Val Thorens Opening, 2013. First in the queue, 2013. Image © PlanetSKI

Val Thorens Opening, 2013. Image © PlanetSKI

Val Thorens Opening, 2013. First in the queue, 2013. Image © PlanetSKI

Val Thorens Opening, 2013.  Image © PlanetSKI

Val Thorens Opening, 2013. First in the queue, 2013. Image © PlanetSKI

Val Thorens Opening, 2013. Image © PlanetSKI

This time round we were looking forward to it more than ever.

PlanetSKI reporter, Chris Moran, was in the resort reporting for us across the weekend.

(BTW Chris is not in the pictures above from 2013 featuring Seb Ramsay, Lewis Panther, James Cove & Alf Alderson as he was the guy taking ’em!)

Words and Pictures, Chris Moran:

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Saturday AM

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.

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

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.

At the moment no pass sanitaire or covid certificate is required to buy a lift pass, but the situation may change.

Full details here on our round up of rules: France confirms rules for ski resorts.

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.

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

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 snow gods are not quite complying and it’s unseasonably warm but there is snow – albeit some artificial.

The last official opening of VT  in 2019 (pre-covid) the wind affected proceedings.

We were (again) in resort for the opening weekend:

But hey, the sun is out this time.

Val Thorens opening. Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Val Thorens opening. Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

It is piste skiing only, with the natural snow topped up by the artificial variety.

Image © T.Loubere OT Val Thorens

Image © T.Loubere OT Val Thorens

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

I’m lucky enough to have been to the past 10 openings at VT and I’ve seen better snow conditions, but I’ve also seen worse.

And hey, I’ve had my first slopeside coffee of the season!

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

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 I can’t wait to come back and try them in the coming weeks.

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.

In the Grande Première test village on Saturday there were 1,556 participants who tested 5,459 products in total – an average of 3.51 tests per person.

Image © T.Loubere OT Val Thorens

Image © T.Loubere OT Val Thorens

I’ll be honest and tell you I avoided it, 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 all available for the opening weekend.

The most noticeable is the new freeride and touring zone.

But it will no doubt be an incredible zone when the snow does come.

Along with the Crux Noire area in Courchevel, it means the Three Valleys now has two large official back country areas.

Of course there are 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.

Image © T.Loubere OT Val Thorens

Image © T.Loubere OT Val Thorens

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.

It should be great for those with kids who want that winter wonderland experience.

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

 

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Update: Sunday PM

I have been chatting 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.

Image © T.Loubere OT Val Thorens

Image © T.Loubere OT Val Thorens

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 18th of December.

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  when it opens, so it will be interesting to hear from them 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…

The season 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 and ehat may happen if cases rise in this earlier story on PlanetSKI:

And all too soon my  weekend was over.

It was an utter belter.

Thank you Val Thorens.

I’ve missed you.

Val Thorens, Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

Chris Moran in Val Thorens. Image c/o Chris Moran/PlanetSKI

© PlanetSKI

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