Another year, another ski trip…
We went to Val Thorens again because as Europe’s highest ski resort (2300m), it’s almost guaranteed to have snow. With the globally warm winter, many people’s Christmas ski trips were a bust. And god forbid my French kids don’t get to ski (that’s only partially sarcastic.)
Here are my tips on traveling to Val Tho, as it’s called by the locals…
- Due to the altitude, there’s a ton of snow—if you’re into that kind of thing. Which, if you’re a skier or snowboarder, you probably are.
- The slopes are wide, tall and beautiful. Plenty of space for all.
- For non-skiers like me, they have the longest sledding run in Europe. You start at 3000m and slide super fast down the mountain. It takes about 45 minutes and it’s scary-fun!
- People are really nice, surprisingly so. The restaurants and hotels go out of their way to accommodate you and your kids. After every interaction with someone, I’d say to Dman, “I can’t believe how nice everyone is!” Believe me that at the snootier stations like Val d’Isère, they are not this friendly.
- Apart from ski schools and crèche for the kids, there’s an indoor bouncy playground and a large public pool in the main village, Caron, for those afternoons when weather conditions or fatigue mean the little ones won’t be skiing. Mine are too young to ski all day so it’s nice to have other activity options.
- Val Tho is the most international ski resort in France. Visitors are mainly British, Dutch, German, Belgian and Scandinavian with some French (and stray Asians) in the mix. Translation: Almost everyone speaks English.
- Guaranteed snow means blizzards! We went through three straight days where snow accumulation was 55cm in one night.
- Acts of weather god. Last year, again due to a storm, a 50-ton boulder fell down and blocked the main road up and down the mountain. It was a Saturday, when people usually begin and end their holidays. If you were at a lower ski station, your arrival/departure would not have been the nightmare ours was.
- The elevation is uncomfortable, particularly if you have high blood pressure like my parents who took a few days to acclimate. High blood pressure or not, you feel constantly parched, your lips crack and sleep gets somewhat disrupted. By midweek, the kids were getting up at 6am. Mama was not happy.
How To Get There
The TGV takes five hours and stops at Moûtiers-Salins-Brides-les-Bains, which is 37km from the resort. A taxi or shuttle from the train station to the ski station takes about 45 minutes if there’s light traffic and no boulders. (For our group of six, the cost was between €120-€140.) There’s also driving your own car or taking a flight, but the nearest airport is still over 100km away. If you’re thinking of driving, ski traffic from Paris to the resorts is no joke. Last year, it was backed up for 18 hours. People had to stop at emergency shelters off the highway.
LES LOLOS Tip: If you’re serious about skiing this Christmas or next year, start planning soon/now! TGV tickets go fast as do hotels and apartment rentals. And pack food for the train ride; the bar car often runs out of eats.
Where To Stay
Village Montana: Because there were six of us, we rented a 3-bedroom apartment at the Montana Soleil, part of the Village Montana group. They have three outposts within walking distance from each other at the foot of the slopes. The Montana Soleil is the newest, with a spa and an indoor pool with a steam room and sauna. Our apartment was sleek and modern so suited my and Dman’s tastes, if not my parents’ who prefer something more homey. The Montana people are all kind and helpful, from reception to their three in-house restaurants (including a one Michelin star, which we didn’t try).
Le Hameau du Kashmir: We stayed here last year and it is modern and lovely with a wonderful staff (plus pool, sauna, spa, etc.) They offer the option of renting rooms as an apartment or with hotel services.
Le Fitz Roy: Friends of ours stayed at this 5-star hotel and it was luxe. We had lunch with them at the lounge-restaurant which was chic. Plus, the manager went out of his way to accommodate our group of rowdy kids so we adults could eat in peace. The pool is apparently terrific, too.
ESF (École du Ski Français) and Prosneige (do not pronounce the “s” in Pros like I did) are the two major ski schools. They do group and private lessons for kids and adults. I’ve taken private lessons with ESF and my 6-year-old did two years with ESF before trying Prosneige this year. Though there isn’t much difference between them, we will choose Prosneige again for the kids for a few reasons:
- They start teaching kids from two years old, whereas ESF starts at three
- Their group classes are no more than 10 kids per instructor
- The level medals are bigger and blingier! (Big selling point for me)
- They had a little celebration after the medal ceremonies and offered “adult” hot chocolate which had a kick of chartreuse (another big selling point!)
Dial #15 or #18
I hope nothing happens to you or the kids on the slopes. I totally had a scare when my three-year-old slid backwards down a hill and then collapsed. His legs were twisted in all directions and he was screaming-crying. I was panicking and having flashbacks to when I broke my leg! Dman’s phone was turned off and I had no idea who to call. After feebly calling out, “Help!” a few times, a nice man came to assist us. He dialed the emergency number and help arrived about fifteen minutes later. Thankfully, my son was fine. He’s just a drama king. But keep #15 and #18 in mind for emergencies!
For Eats & Drinks, I’m not making recommendations as mountain food—raclette, fondue—isn’t really my thing and the other options are pizza, pasta and burgers, apart from that Michelin star restaurant. It’s a ski resort, after all. We wound up doing a demi-pension for breakfast and dinner. On the one hand, it’s convenient. On the other, there’s no getting around the boredom of eating at the same two restaurants for 8 days straight. Also, if you put your kids to bed early, keep in mind that most restaurants don’t open until 7pm for their dinner service.
That’s it for this year’s ski trip! See you next year. Unless Dman keeps his promise and takes the kids by himself while I get to relax in Paris. Fingers crossed!