How do you tame a titan in three days armed only with a pair of skis, a lift pass, and a whole lotta alpine wanderlust?

The answer is simple, you don’t…but you do have an incredible amount of fun trying!

The titan, or beast, or monster – it’s so big, Japanese kaijuverse nomenclature doesn’t do it justice – is France’s gargantuan Les 3 Vallées ski resort, and the ginormous 600 km (373 miles) of slopes, 166 lifts, and 328 ski runs within its Godzillian high altitude footprint.

A conglomeration of seven spectacular Savoie ski resorts (Val Thorens, Méribel, Courchevel, Orelle, Les Menuires, Brides-les-Bains, Saint-Martin-de-Belleville) , Les 3 Vallées sits touching the rooftop of Europe, on the northern edge of the French Alps, not far from Switzerland and Italy, with Val Thorens at its alpine apex, the highest resort in Europe at 2300 meters (7546 feet).

Homebase for my first foray into Les 3 Vallées was Val Thorens, on the suggestion of a half dozen ski junkies I’m known to consort with on the slopes. Our group hadn’t been all together on snow since our last trip to Hokkaido, Japan just as Covid was starting to wreak havoc on the world in early 2020. So “getting the band back together” meant the lone straggler (me), would have to endure a 13-hour marathon journey (3 trains and 1 bus) from Kitzbühel, Austria where I’d just finished covering the Hahnenkamm downhill races, to get up into the snowy French Savoie region – and SPOILER ALERT: the massive slog from Kitz to Val Thorens was well worth it!

Here is what my 72 hours in Val Thorens (et les environs de 3 Vallées) looked like…


Day one actually started the night before, when I checked into an uber elegant suite at the 4-star Hôtel 3 Vallées. My room was a mountain lover’s dream, decked out with vintage wooden skis on the walls, a killer view of the slopes, and a massive king sized bed to “fait do-do” as my French speaking mom used to say when I was feeling snoozy as a little boy. After a great night’s sleep, I woke up and sauntered off to the hotel’s fabulous in-house restaurant – Le Confidentiel – for a devilishly caloric French breakfast – which, full disclosure – included the ingestion of an inordinate amount of flaky, buttery, pain au chocolat!

Filled to the brim with French pastries, I suited up and walked about 100 feet from the hotel, clicked into my skis and ripped down a freshly groomed white carpet of silky Savoie snow to the Funitel de Péclet gondola where I met my buddies. Once we’d warmed up with some first tracks corduroy laps in Val Thorens to get our legs going, we pointed ourselves in the direction of Méribel  which many consider the central point of Les 3 Vallées, lying between Val Thorens and Courchevel.

Méribel and neighboring Courchevel hosted the 2023 FIS Alpine Ski World Championships, so on this day we decided to ski in the tracks of the world’s best downhillers. After a small patch of fog blew through, the skies suddenly turned blue, and the Savoie sun graced us with incredible light just as we cruised into Méribel. We spent the next hour ripping down steep blacks, and carving up “des pistes damées” which is French for groomed slopes, before making our way to Courchevel. The snow conditions – BTW – were absolutely phenomenal! Turns out high altitude skiing does have certain advantages during a season that’s seen less than optimal ski conditions around North America and Europe.

As we cruised into Courchevel 1850 (Courchevel has four separate villages and 1850 is the highest) we pit-stopped for a little coffee and souvenir shopping at a shopping center in the village called Le Forum.

“We have to be careful with our timing,” were the wise words my ski pal Matt Solomon shared with our group as we arrived, as he’d made the journey from Val Thorens to Courchevel before on skis.

“It’s a 90-minute taxi ride back to Val-Tho if we don’t time it right, so let’s keep the shopping to a minimum Mike,” he said with a wink and a smile.

With a knapsack full of Courchevel tourist trinkets, I followed my ski wolf pack back to Val Thorens. The trip took about an hour, and finding our way back was very easy as signage in Les 3 Vallées is excellent, and getting lost is almost impossible as long as you can read.

Once back at the Hôtel 3 Vallées I made a beeline to their spa (which you book ahead of time as it’s split into semi-private 45-minute increments for up to five people at a time). After a couple of rotations in the sauna and steam room, I sunk my achy bones into the large hot tub and before long felt completely rejuvenated.

For dinner I popped into the hotel’s Le Confidentiel restaurant on the suggestion of a Val Thorens local who I hold in very high esteem, my old friend Adrien Théaux, a veteran French national team downhiller who’s been on a World Cup podium 13 times (three of them wins), and a World Championship bronze medallist.

I could tell Théaux was a huge fan of Le Confidentiel, as one of his race bibs, and a pair of his ski poles from the 2010 Vancouver/Whistler Winter Olympics were hanging in a very prominent position on a main feature wall. A ski racing lover’s dream, Le Confidentiel is as much a ski museum as it is a gourmet French restaurant. Decorated from top to bottom with skis, poles, race bibs, and even a 1952 Oslo Winter Olympics bronze downhill medal that belonged to Austrian downhiller Christian Pravda.

“I love the ambiance of Le Confidentiel and the Hôtel 3 Vallées,” Théaux told me when he suggested I have dinner there. “The menu is exceptional, and the restaurant has a calm, peaceful vibe with a decor that means alot to me, given it pays tribute to the epic history of the Olympic Games.”

The meal itself was worthy of a gold medal. For a starter I chose Carpaccio de Saint-Jacques, velouté de Butternut (sliced scallops and Butternut squash sauce)…sooooo creamy. For my main, Filet de Boeuf Français, sauce au Poivre de Java, Échalote confite, mille-feuille de pomme de terre grillé, Pakchoi (Tenderloin, Java Pepper sauce, Shallot confit, grilled Potato mille feuille, Bok choy)…the filet was like cutting into to butter, and paired with a magnificent glass of 2010 Réserve de la Comtesse made it even more heavenly. For dessert a local delicacy called Chaud Froid de Pomme cuite au Vin de savoie, Chocolat au Caramel (Baked Apple Cooked in Savoie wine, crunchy Chocolate and Caramel ice cream)…absolute heaven!


Waking up to a powder day in the sun is always on my ski holiday wishlist, and that’s exactly what the ski gods gifted us with on our second day in 3 Vallées. The overnight snowfall had left knee deep powder on the upper parts of Val Thorens, and we tracked them up like champs! After a few powder laps we made our way to Orelle and its super-roomy corduroy boulevards. Again, the ski conditions were ridiculously fabulous, a symphony of snowy crunches and squeaks with every turn, our ski group schussing down the mountain in harmonic unison in utter fresh snow rapture!

Speaking of rapture, in France it comes in liquid form, and it’s called “Chocolat Chaud” – and it’s nothing like the fake, powdery, clumpy, watery swill we call Hot Chocolate in North America. We popped into Chinal Donat, a very conveniently located mountain restaurant for a late morning hot chocolate and dessert break in between runs near the Rosael 6-pack chairlift and the Orelle Caron gondola at Plan Bouchet. The creamy “Chocolat Chaud” at Chinal Donat, topped with a Mount Everest size swirl of real whipped cream is pure perfection for the sole reason that it tastes – as advertised – like chocolate that is hot, and by that I mean like REAL chocolate. Pair it like we did, with a big honking slice of spongy Gâteau de Savoie while sitting in the sun at the restaurant’s huge south facing panoramic terrace, and you’ll be in sweet treat heaven!

Fuelled by the epicurean ecstasy of Savoie sponge cake and real hot chocolate, we hopped back onto our skis and made tracks toward the even sunnier (if that’s possible) slopes of nearby Les Menuires. The only things better than the snow at this high altitude part of 3 Vallées are the unbelievable views of the ocean of snowy peaks you’ll see 360 degrees around you – and the paper-thin, exquisite crêpes you can order at Restaurant d’Altitude Le 2800 sitting across the gondola station. And if crêpes (as good as you’ll find in Paris), are you not your thing, you can order something else from the menu, as Le 2800 also has scrumptious charcuterie boards, oyster plates, to-die-for sardines, truffle specialties, and just about any kind of meat you can grill on its menu.

Once we’d filled our gullets with more spectacular French cuisine, and washed it down with a round of Génépi shots (the famed herbal liqueur of the French Alps), we skied off into the sunset back down to Val Thorens wondering if dinner would even be an option after an epic day of slaying slopes and dining like mountain kings. For me a big meal was not in the cards, so I crushed a scrumptious Savoyarde cheese tart from a local shop, and a glass of red Burgundy before hitting the spa for an evening of relaxation and contemplation about what the next day would bring.


On my last day in 3 Vallées I decided to ski close to “Val-Tho” as locals call it, because I’d be spending my last night at Pashmina Le Refuge, the resort’s jewel in the crown 5-star hotel. Knowing I’d want to spend most of the afternoon at Le Pashmina’s luxurious L’ OCCITANE

Spa I gave my ski crew an early heads up that I’d be M.I.A. after our morning session.

After four sunny hours of non-stop shredding (which included a fun red run named after Adrien Théaux!), I slipped away from the group and slinked into La Folie Douce in Val Thorens for a cold bevvie and some live music. If you’ve never seen or heard of La Folie Douce it can best be described as a ski-in/ski-out, day time, high altitude, restaurant/après bar/outdoor dance club that is always rocking! There are eight Folie Douce establishments in the French Alps, and one of them is a full-blown party palace hotel in Chamonix. The French do après with a lot of style and class, and I don’t think I’ve had this much fun boogying in France since the late 80s and early 90s when I used to tear up the dance floor at Les Bains Douches, a legendary Parisian nightclub known to “people of a certain age” like yours truly.

Once I’d exorcised the ghosts of my 80’s dance moves out of my system, I skied back to the Hotel 3 Vallées, packed up my belongings, and was greeted by a black Mercedes van for my bags, and an absolutely fabulous two-tone brown and beige vintage Citroën 2CV ready to whisk my tired ski carcass to the Pashmina.

The Pashmina, owned and operated by the Gorini family (who helped found Val Thorens), is one of THE MOST posh (and I say that in a good way) ski-in/ski-out hotels on the planet.

A magnificent, sprawling modern take on the classic alpine lodge, using stone, wood, and glass, and built into the side of the mountain, the Pashmina is a Xanadu for skiers who want instant access to the slopes – a high altitude alpine pleasure dome with all the amenities you could dream of.

As soon as you walk into the Pashmina’s bright, airy reception area, you realize this hotel is meant to feel like a home. Across the reception desk, the flickering flames encased in a glittering glass fireplace cast a warm light on a seating area with comfy couches, shelves full of mountaineering books, downhill racing memorabilia, and an exquisite wall mural of mountain climbers ascending a peak. The mural itself, sits behind a very inviting, tent-like wooden nook housing a bright red blanketed daybed resembling a precariously placed portaledge cot fastened to the sheer wall of a cliff…soooo cozy, soooo inviting.

The Pashmina’s luxury mountain nest vibe – evident at first glance – carries on throughout the hotel. The individually, and very thoughtfully designed rooms, restaurants, and pretty much every public space and hallway are an inspired and very intimate reflection of the Gorini family’s love of the Himalayas, the Alps, and their passion for downhill alpine ski racing.

As a lifelong mountain lover who is also extremely enamored with the sport of ski racing, I must admit that in the Pashmina I found my ultimate ski-in/ski-out Shangri-la. After unpacking, and tearing myself away from my room’s large open air panoramic balcony, I paid the hotel’s signature L’OCCITANE Spa a visit and soaked and steamed my weary bones for a few misty hours lost in thought.

For dinner on my last night in Val Thorens, the ultimate treat, a visit to Les Explorateurs, the Pashmina’s cutting edge, Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant. Les Explorateurs blew my mind, and excited my palate with every one of the seven heavenly courses I devoured…but that story is best told here – on it’s own – as it was one of the most spectacular dining experiences I’ve ever had.

At first I questioned the resolute conviction of my ski pals about skiing Val Thorens, and their unwillingness to compromise and meet me at a resort closer to Kitzbühel when we were planning our ski trip. Now, after seeing and skiing  Val Thorens and Les 3 Vallées in person, I can see why they love the area so much, and am counting the days til I can get back to this snowy corner of our beautiful blue planet.

While in Val Thorens I stayed at Hôtel 3 Vallées and Hôtel Pashmina Le Refuge and I would highly recommend both if beautiful rooms, delicious food, and ridiculously convenient ski-in/ski-out slope access are ski holiday priorities for you.

The Val Thorens resort website is an excellent source of information for all your travel needs when you plan your visit, as is the 3 Vallées website if you’re also interested in visiting some of the other area resorts.

Val Thorens is accessible via air, train, taxi, shuttle, and bus.  For more information click on how to get there click here.