When it comes to world-class skiing destinations in the French Alps, Val d’Isere and Val Thorens consistently top the list. These two resorts offer a thrilling blend of breathtaking scenery, extensive ski terrain, and vibrant apres-ski scenes. In this blog, we will explore the nuances of skiing in Val d’Isere and Val Thorens to help you decide which one suits your winter dreams. Our thoughts are that you should ski both and make up your own mind, we love them both.
Terrain and Skiing Experience: Val d’Isere vs Val Thorens
Nestled in the Espace Killy ski area, with 300km of pistes. Val d’Isere boasts an impressive network of piste and off-piste opportunities. With a range of slopes catering to all skill levels, from beginners to expert skiers, it’s a paradise for those seeking variety. The infamous black La Face de Bellevarde run challenges even the most experienced skiers.
Val d’Isere, without Tignes, isn’t the biggest ski resort in France but in some eyes, it’s the best. The ski area can’t compete for size with the Three Valleys either, which is nearly twice the size.
But where Val d’Isere can win is because it has one of the best accesses to lift-served off-piste skiing and for many, this is the biggest draw. That and the fact that 80% of the slopes are very high, between 2,000m and 3,456m. (Now that a local Val d’Isere ski pass is only available for short stays, this includes the skiing in Tignes too).
Val d’Isere has three main ski areas (in addition to the skiing in Tignes) Bellevarde, Solaise and Le Fornet with an excellent glacier. Bellevarde can be accessed from the centre of the village or from La Dialle at the entrance of the resort, via a fast funival funicular. The skiing here is open with ski slopes to suit all levels of skiers. It’s where most of the resort’s green runs are based, but reaching them isn’t as flat as some first-time skiers would prefer.
The Solaise sector is connected from the village centre on a recently upgraded chair lift or the Telecabine de Solaise. it’s also where the nursery slopes are located, served by a free lift. This area offers some excellent runs with spectacular views down the valley. The famous up-and-over chair connects to the left towards the third ski area of Val, being the slopes above La Fornet which is where you will find the glacier du Pissaillas which is often where you find the best snow, even in May.
As the highest ski resort in Europe, Val Thorens offers an impressive altitude advantage. Val Thorens provides the 3 Valleys ski area with its “snow guarantee”, not so much for its small and fragmented glacier, but more for its sheer altitude which at 2,300m makes it the highest ski resort in Europe. High slopes don’t always equal steep slopes, it’s fair to say that the slopes are best suited to intermediate skiers.
When you ski in Val Thorens, you will find most of your skiing is on high-altitude slopes between 2,300m and 3,200m.
The vast Three Valleys ski area is the largest interconnected ski area in the world, offering a total of 650km of pistes, which includes Val Thorens, which on its own has 150km of piste, going down the Belleville Valley past the ski convenience of Les Menuires towards St Martin du Belleville, a charming traditional village, and a great venue for lunch.
The resort provides an excellent mix of wide, gentle slopes for intermediates and challenging descents for advanced skiers. For beginners, we’d recommend somewhere less bleak and within the tree line. Meribel, Courchevel or La Tania are ideal.
The ski area around the resort could be separated into 5 sectors. Coming from Meribel or Les Menuires via the Col de la Chambre is the small but sunny Plein Sud sector. Right off of this are the slopes of Aiguille de Peclet, reached from the Peclet Gondola. Still further to the right several runs drop down from a wide mountain slope over 3,000m. From the highest point in the 3 Valleys (3,250m). Here it’s possible to access the 4th Valley on the sunny slopes but a painfully slow chair to Orelle. The fourth sector is perfect for advanced skiers and offers some of the most challenging skiing in the ski area Cime Caron (3,200m) but access via the jumbo cable car is prone to queue delays. Finally, the excellent area around the Boismint Chair lift reaches a surprisingly low altitude of 2,640m.
Val Thorens won the World Ski Award for Best Ski Resort in 2023, the second or maybe even the third time it has won this prestigious award.
Snow Conditions: Val d’Isere vs Val Thorens
Both Val d’Isere and Val Thorens are two of the 4 French ski resorts that deserve a 5* merit for snow quality, the others are Les Deux Alpes and Tignes, in case you are wondering.
However, nothing in life is ever perfect if you are an avid off-piste skier, both ski resorts need a good snow depth to cover the rocks to ensure safety.
Val d’Isere’s high altitude and north-facing slopes ensure reliable snow conditions throughout the season. The resort also benefits from extensive snowmaking facilities, guaranteeing a consistent skiing experience even during milder periods.
With its exceptional elevation, Val Thorens is renowned for having one of the longest ski seasons in the Alps. The high-altitude location results in abundant natural snow, making it a haven for powder enthusiasts. The resort’s slopes generally maintain excellent conditions from November to May.
However, wind can be a problem, especially in December and January and in the peak of winter, slopes can become icy as winds blow any light snowfall away.
Après-Ski and Nightlife: Val d’Isere vs Val Thorens
Val d’Isere is celebrated not only for its superb skiing but also for its lively après-ski scene. The village is teeming with restaurants, bars, and clubs, providing a vibrant atmosphere for socializing after a day on the slopes. Val d’isere like Val Thorens has the added draw of having a Folie Douce, a mad après ski venue on one of the homeward runs. On a sunny bright day, enthusiastic skiers start grabbing the best tables from 2pm and by 4pm the place is packed with skiers dancing in their boots and where more champagne is sprayed over the crowd than is drunk!
While Val Thorens doesn’t disappoint in terms of nightlife, it has a slightly more laid-back vibe compared to Val d’Isere. There are still plenty of bars and pubs for après-ski enjoyment, but the emphasis is often on enjoying the breathtaking mountain views. But the addition of a Folie Douce has added to the appeal for skiers who like to party.
Accommodation and Ambiance: Val d’Isere vs Val Thorens
Val d’Isere combines the charm of a traditional alpine village with modern amenities. Visitors can choose from a range of accommodation options, from catered ski chalets including a lot of high-end chalets and 5* hotels to cosy hotels, all contributing to a quintessential alpine experience. The excellent bus service connects all areas of the resorts and has one of the best ski bus services anywhere.
As a purpose-built resort, Val Thorens offers convenient ski-in/ski-out accommodations. The architecture is more contemporary, and the village has a modern, efficient feel. It’s an excellent choice for those who prioritize easy access to the slopes.
Lift Pass rates Val d’Isere vs Val Thorens
Val Thorens Full area, 6-day adult ski pass (peak) = €375
Val Thorens Full area, 6-day adult ski pass (off-peak) = €300
Val d’Isere Full area, 6-day adult ski pass (peak) = €396
Val d’Isere Full area, 6-day adult ski pass (off-peak) = €288
Val d’Isere vs Val Thorens: A Summary
Whether you prefer the diverse slopes and lively nightlife of Val d’Isere or the high-altitude thrills and breathtaking views of Val Thorens, both resorts promise an unforgettable skiing experience. Your choice may ultimately hinge on your skiing preferences, the ambience you seek, and the overall atmosphere you desire for your winter getaway. One thing is for sure: whether you find yourself in Val d’Isere or Val Thorens, you’re in for an exhilarating ride down some of the most picturesque slopes the French Alps have to offer.
Chat with our experts
For more tips and advice on the best places to stay in Val d’Isere or Val Thorens, call our expert sales team on:020 8313 3999