Winter wonderlands on the ski slopes

Catherine Shanahan travelled to Val Thorens where, apart from the heart-stopping thrill of skiing, she really didn’t have to lift a finger, with plenty of time to relax

Winter wonderlands on the ski slopes

Catherine Shanahan travelled to Val Thorens where, apart from the heart-stopping thrill of skiing, she really didn’t have to lift a finger, with plenty of time to relax.

Slipping and sliding at high speed down slopes of vast icy whiteness with no iota of where you are going sounds terrifying. It’s not. Don’t rule it out. Fun memories of every ski trip I’ve ever been on have sustained me long after I’ve handed back those murderous ski boots.

I’ve been gorging off the thrills and spills of Val Thorens for almost a year. I travelled to the French resort last December, flying Dublin to Geneva, dipping right down over that famous lake on the final approach. The remainder of the journey, by bus transfer, took the bones of three hours.

It was a seriously steep climb because Val Thorens is the highest Alpine skiing resort in Europe. This is good. It means the resort is “snow-sure” (a colleague had his trip cancelled to a lower-lying resort because the snowfall was poor). It also means Val Thorens has a pretty long ski season, extending to early May.

It is a purpose-built resort which makes it not as postcard-pretty as some of the more organic ski areas, but it does mean it was built with skiing in mind. This is an important consideration when choosing your destination.

There’s been no shortage of investment, so the infrastructure is excellent: 600km of ski runs and 140 ski lifts, modern snow-making facilities, good piste-grooming operations, plenty of powder. To embrace a cliché: it ticks all the right boxes for a really good skiing experience.

The needs of skiers were also to the forefront in the design and location of our Scandi-style funky accommodation, Club Med Val Thorens Sensations. The funk factor starts in the lobby with a 10 ft climbing wall riding high over the reception desk for skiers who never tire of heights. Or simply never tire.

It continues into the Yurt Restaurant, the main dining area, where a hide-covered Yurt (spoiler!) is the centrepiece. The food, served buffet-style, is exceptional. You can choose from a variety of hot and cold plates. The seafood and salads were phenomenal. So was the dessert counter. And the omelettes. I could go on.

My bedroom was spot on too, with a panoramic of the piste, a very generous double bed and a rainhead shower in the sizeable ensuite. The Not Soap Radio shower products get a special mention. There were many memorable features to VT Sensations, but the most important, from a skier’s perspective, is the ease with which you reach the slopes.

You simply walk out the door from the locker room. There’s no staggering about buckling under the weight of the kit. There’s no danger of poking anyone’s eye out with your ski poles. You will not die of exhaustion ever before you reach the piste.

This is the kind of uncomplicated start you need ahead of hours of effort just to stay upright. The next great thing about the Club Med VT experience is that, outside of skiing, you really don’t have to lift a finger. You don’t even have to think.

It’s an all-inclusive package so someone else does the thinking for you — about flights, transfers, lift passes, ski school, accommodation, sustenance. In Ireland, Sunway Travel does all the hard work, Club Med’s main selling agent here. The only exception is ski rental, which is not included.

Clarisse Chapolard, Club Med’s rep on the ground in VT during our visit, said rental comes in at about €100 per week. Clarisse tells us Club Med guests now have the option of another Club Med hotel in the 3 valleys region, where Val Thorens is at the heart.

In fact Les Trois Vallées is possibly the world’s largest ski domain, covering three valleys of prime skiing country. It includes well-known resort names like Meribel and Courchevel which you can access via the lift system.

The new Club Med Hotel, Les Arcs Panorama, has the same porch-to-piste/ ski-out/ski-in arrangement as VT Sensations, but with an even higher star rating (or ‘Tridents’ in the case of Club Med). Guests at Val Thorens can ski for lunch to Les Arcs Panorama, if they fancy a different backdrop.

Clarisse says Club Med has undergone major expansion since its fledgling days in the 1950s, when its first venture in southwest France “was more like camping and you had to make your own bed”. Now it’s got 70 resorts worldwide, all-inclusive since 2004, and with plans to open one Alpine resort annually for the foreseeable future.

If the sound of “all-inclusive” makes your wallet nervous, Clarisse says the offering can bring savings of €1,000 per person during a busy period.

Deirdre Sweeney, Sunway Travel General Manager, says people appreciate the comprehensive nature of the package they are paying for. “With the expertise we have over the years, we can advise clients on the right Club Med product for them. And they are bonded when they travel with us.

"People trust us and have re-booked with us over the years. We get a lot of generations travelling together,” she says, “and it’s a hassle free experience if you are new to winter sports. The word I would use to describe it is ‘seamless’.”

“Seamless” is always good when it comes to holidays, but even more so when that holiday demands considerable physical commitment. Lying on a beach it ain’t.

"You can take my word, however, that there’s nothing more liberating than a lung-busting hurtle down a mountain, followed by an evening of foot-stomping après ski. Or a lunchtime of après ski. Or whatever you’re having yourself. All day bar and snacking is, afterall, optional.

If you fancy escaping the madness, you can head for the Epicurious, a more sedate and sophisticated Michelin experience, upstairs from the Yurt. Start the evening with a cocktail in the wonderful chill-out lounge and continue with charcuterie, cheeses and premium wines. Just check in advance if your dining is covered by the “all inclusive” tag.

If the night is still but a pup, you can head for the Prism Bar where staff put on a show only the French could style as “family entertainment”. It’s somewhere between Butlins and the Paris Lido. Take a look.

Bottom line: If you are thinking of skiing this winter season, Val Thorens is just the ticket, and with Club Med, it’s a hassle-free experience.

TRAVELLING

Getting there When: Depart December 8 2019 prices from €1870pp includes direct flight with Aer Lingus from Dublin to Geneva or Lyon, 1 x checked 20kg bag per person, return resort transfer and 7 nights all- inclusive basis on a twin share in a superior room in Club Med Val Thorens.

What: Price includes full area lift pass for 6 days and 5 full day snowboard / ski tuition or guiding. Ski equipment is not included in the price. Price includes early booking discount of €595. Subject to availability and change.

Who: Sunway are agents for Club Med in Ireland. Contact Sunway on all 01-2366800 or visit www.sunway.ie.

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