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Ski touring in Val Thorens: How to go off-piste

Simon Calder’s Travel

The light was beginning to fade as we reached the Pointe Collet Blanc. We’d traversed in through a series of increasingly untracked bowls from a lift 500m above Val Thorens and just a few minutes skiing lay between us and our hut.

From our vantage point, we could see east across the whole of the famous Three Valleys ski area, but also further north towards the massif of Mont Blanc. To our west was the Maurienne Valley. It felt like we had this whole swathe of the French Alps to ourselves.

Returning to a popular resort, the final run of the day can be crowded and hectic but if you’re using the last light to head for a hut, it’s a very different experience.

Despite the fabulous feeling of space and solitude, we weren’t more than 20 minutes from the piste.

And during a three-day itinerary that combined ski touring with Val Thorens’ lift system to access some of the area’s off-piste terrain that fringed the established network, we would barely get any more remote than this.

Seb Ramsay skiing the eastern face of the Col de la Grande Combe

(Tristan Kennedy)

Ski touring allows skiers and snowboarders to reach slopes that aren’t served by lifts. It involves attaching skins to the underside of your skis or board to allow you to climb snowy slopes under your own steam. Touring has many things going for it but it can be as tiring as it sounds, as well as seriously limiting the amount of descending you can fit into a day.

But staying in huts within easy reach of the pistes – and the lifts – and never venturing too far off the beaten track meant we could explore Val Thorens’s backcountry without having to earn every one of our turns.

At 2,300m above sea level, Val Thorens is the highest of the three main resorts of the Three Valleys. The area, which includes the resorts of Meribel and Courchevel, is home to around 160 lifts that cover more than 600km of piste. Val Thorens itself sees more than a million skiers a year on its slopes. It’s certainly no hidden gem and to get a fresh perspective on a familiar destination is as surprising as it is refreshing.

It hadn’t snowed for seven days but we’d lucked out with blue skies, light winds and temperatures down to -20C that had kept the snow in prime condition.

On our first day, we took a lift from the centre of Val Thorens before leaving the top of the Moraine lift and using our…

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