Val Thorens is 50!

Posted on February 20, 2023

Not a bad twilight view ... What Après awaits ...?

Val Thorens is 50!

Val Thorens, VT for short, or ‘Val Tho’ to its close mates, is the highest resort in Europe. It is also bang slap in the middle of the largest ski area in the world – The Three Valleys. And it has reached the grand old age of 50 this year!

Which is young really for a ski resort. But Val Thorens has much to celebrate on its 50th birthday. Highest, largest, best, first at this and first at that … VT is defined by superlatives. An audacious, ambitious and pioneering project that began life in 1961, Val Thorens is the incredible realisation of the very bold dream of Pierre Shnebelem – a developer and contractor with a ‘vision’ of the highest integrated ski resort in Europe; where VT now sits with unabashed pride and glory.

If you watch the 50th Anniversary video of the history you will get a sense of this from the very people involved at the start. Younger generations who work there also wax lyrical about what it is today; and discuss the ongoing ground breaking innovations and developments that continue to characterise the resort. They give thanks to the original creators, and developments over the last 50 years, and remain excited about its next chapter. A vibe of pride, passion and excitement permeates all of the contributors' stories and accounts.

It really is not just interesting, but inspiring to watch. However, it is all in French! Which, if you speak and love French makes it all the more appealing, but a bit tricky if you don’t. So here’s a little précis of some of the things that stood out for me:

Folk involved from the start describe it as an ‘aventure’ (I think you can guess that one), a project ‘atypique’ (unusual … hinting at its innovatory character – in terms of altitude and dimension). There was much opposition at the beginning both nationally and internationally, but the determination of the team that kicked it off was stalwart.

It started from total scratch ‘parti de rien’ – just some landscape where Pierre Schnebelm and others imagined a new integrated ski resort like no other. You can sense the passion and pride in every one of the team who speaks. One of them talks about the experience as being like going from ‘le moyen âge à aujourd’hui’ (middle ages to today) in 50 years. And another ‘J’avais l’impression d’aller sur la lune’ (It felt like walking on the moon) in order to convey the extraordinariness of the project.

The people and project are described in terms such as ‘un esprit à part’, ‘l’esprit pionné’, (unique pioneering spirit), as ‘anti-conformiste’, with an uncompromising dedication to ‘qualité’, (I reckon those last two you can figure out). Words and phrases such as ‘dynamisme’, ‘passion’, ‘motivation à fond’, ‘unique’, and ‘l’audace’ pepper descriptions of the project. (I think you can also work these French words and phrases out too – getting into the lingo is all part of The Three Valley experience and this is a little toe-dip for you 😉 … unless you are bi-lingual / fluent which may well be the case and I’ll stop digging my grave now …)

And how do folk describe the outcome of project Val Tho?

une parfaite réussite’ (perfection)

Magnifique' (magnificent)

pistes somptueuse’ (sumptuous pistes - love that!)

avantgardiste’ (I think you can work that one out)

And very proudly: ‘On s’est pas trompé … On est fier’ (We did not make a mistake … We are proud).

Well … it is true that it has been a huge success. Fabricated during the '70s, '80s and '90s it is a modern development, but it's not ugly. It is purpose built with a mix of modern and more traditional wooden chalets (see top pic - view from our apartment). And it is now one of the most popular resorts in the Three Valleys.

It was the first resort to have a central booking office, with its own Val Thorens Tour travel agency to make it easy for group bookings. VT installed the largest cable car in the world (Cime Caron), and was the first resort to introduce the innovative Funitel lift concept now used around the world.

Val Thorens is an example of travel industry, ski holiday and engineering innovation.

Another superlative coming up – Jean Sulpice who opened the Oxalys restaurant was the youngest chef in France to achieve a michelin star. This attracted other restaurateur talent earning VT the added reputation of a 'go to' for quality altitude gastronomy. Jean earned his second michelin star in 2009 and speaks compellingly in the 50th anniversary video.

You can find out more details about the history of Val Thorens and watch the anniversary documentary on the Val Thorens website. It will make you want to go (well it did me … again. I’ve been but I didn’t know all this which makes it all the more appealing now).

A fantastic feat of engineering, passion and hard work still being enjoyed and developed at 50. There are celebrations for the milestone – firework displays and parties. But the spirit of evolution and innovation continues apace …

There was a celebratory event on 21st December 2022 streamed on youtube – a light and mapping show, dj set and live music. The celebratory byline captures the dynamic and innovatory spirit of VT - ‘Forty years is the oldness of youth, but fifty is the youth of old age’. There is a sense that VT has matured and settled but has lots more energy in the tank to continue building on its revolutionary successes so far.

Look at that view! And see VT nestled in the valley - which is where I am headed in this snap - for a well earned(ish) vin chaud!

New for 2022/23 includes

A new sports centre ‘Le Board’ so called because the roof is snowboard-shaped, opened in December 2022. Described on the VT website as ‘17,000 msq of innovation’ it is a space for sports, wellness, cultural and business activites and promises a new integrated bus station.

New young skiers can now enjoy the new ‘piste de l’espace fun ride’ picking up on the space theme alluded to earlier. The organisers have gone for a space ideas because VT has historically been linked to the stars both geographically because of its altitude; but also I guess it was and is a project still 'reaching for the stars …'

You can now go ‘snowtubing’ if you are 9 yrs or over.

There is a new ‘initiation ‘draisienne’ ’ for children aged 18mths to 5 yrs to experience the ‘glisse’(slide) of the snow on little bikes on skis.

VT hosted the World Cup Ski Mountaineering on 25 and 27 Nov 2022; and it has a comedy club LOKO est. 2019 that attracts comedians from all over the world. There is a new streetwear clothes shop Sun Valley and VT now has its first barber – Gilles Ayral.

Val Thorens has a great range of restaurants and shops, bars and nightclubs. La Folie Douce on Plein Sud piste anyone? The famous chain of high altitude cuisine, cabaret and clubbing has a good one in VT …

But whether you want to party or chill, there is something for everyone on the slopes and ‘après’. It’s a great vibe on all levels!

Book your self-catered VT apartment with us!

tel + 44 (0)1962 899017

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PS our sister brand The Chalet Company manages catered chalets in beautiful Méribel.

snaps from our Feb 2020 (yes just before covid hit!) family trip (eh oui, many boyz) - it was fun, fun, fun! Revitalising and relaxing too. Highly recommend ...

On top of the world!

Writer Kate Swainson Price

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