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Val Thorens

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The history of the ski resort of Val Thorens

Surrounded by glaciers and majestic peaks, the high altitude resort of Val Thorens is a magnet for lovers of the great outdoors.  Today, it is an internationally renowned ski resort, yet just a few decades ago, it was a remote and inaccessible mountain wilderness. Discover the history of Val Thorens, and learn about some of the key events during its evolution into a successful modern ski resort.

An Audacious Birth

Originally a White Desert

It all began in 1969, when early pioneers began with a vision to transform this white desert, situated at an altitude of 2,300 metres. The first large-scale construction projects gave birth to the apartment buildings that shaped what was to become the purpose-built resort of Val Thorens.

A Successful Approach

During the late '60s, the challenges were significant, not only in terms of the sheer scale of the project and its location, but also from those who opposed the idea. It is not surprising given that building a ski resort from scratch at an altitude of over 2,000 metres was unheard of, and for many, it seemed an impossible dream.


A Fast Opening

In 1971, just three years after the first phase of construction, the resort of Val Thorens opened with accommodation for 13,000 visitors, and three ski lifts which gave easy access to high altitude skiing. At fifty years old, Val Thorens is still a young resort, and continues to evolve in an innovative and forward-looking way.

Solidarity and mutual support amongst the people and organisations operating within the resort have been a key factor for the development of Val Thorens, but ultimately, who is behind this huge success?

Key Figures in the Resort's Development

A number of individuals have been instrumental in the success of Val Thorens, most notably :

  • Pierre Schneblelen was one of the prime movers behind the creation of Val Thorens. A visionary engineer and property developer, he was always ahead of his time and his appetite for risk had seen him involved in the creation of a number of other purpose-built resorts. From the outset, his vision for Val Thorens was to create Europe's highest ski resort. With Val Thorens, he'd definitely backed a winner.

Did you know ? A purpose-built resort is characterised by accommodation, facilities, ski lifts and pistes being planned and developed so as to make it as easy and convenient as possible for visitors to enjoy a holiday in the mountains.

  • Coach of France's women's ski team during the '60s and early '70s, Jean Béranger was also instrumental in the successful development of Val Thorens. In 1972, he created the resort's first ski school, and was involved in the creation of the local sports club and tourist office.

The Development of Tourist Accommodation

The high altitude of Val Thorens does not mean that there is any shortage of comfortable accommodation. The construction of the resort's first chalet in the early 1970s was a big step forward in the evolution of the resort. Chalet du Thorens offered comfortable accommodation in the middle of a wild mountain landscape.

In 1985, the ski lift company SETAM conceived and financed an ambitious plan to develop the resort's hotel sector. The goal of the plan was to expand the market for group holidays and to make  it an attractive destination to tour operators.

In 1987, a central accommodation booking service was set up with the help of the ski lift company.

Did you know ? Val Thorens was one of the first ski resorts to set up a central reservation service for visitors to book their accommodation.

The early '90s marked the beginning of a major period of construction activity. Over the next ten years, a large number of apartments, chalets and hotels were built. This rapid development has helped Val Thorens establish its reputation as a major international resort.

A State-of-the-Art Lift System

By now, you will have realised that innovation lies at the heart of the Val Thorens state-of-mind. The ski area, and most notably the lift system, is testament to this.

  • In 1981, the Cime Caron cable car came into service. With a top station at an altitude of 3,200 metres, this is the highest point in the ski area.

The period between 1990 and 2000 saw rapid development of the ski area.

  • In 1990, SETAM, in collaboration with Denis Creissels, invented the Funitel - a high speed dual tractor cable gondola lift with cabins accommodating up to twenty people. The first Funitel lift was constructed at the foot of the Péclet glacier, and the concept was subsequently exported to other resorts all over the world.

Did you know ? The 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics accelerated the development of Val Thorens.

  • In 1995, the high speed six-seater Cascades chairlift was installed. With skiers able to board from both sides, this lift has an uplift capacity of 4,000 people per hour, and was the first of its kind in the Alps.
  • Ever since the rapid expansion of the lift system, Val Thorens have worked hard to attract skiers of all levels. To cater for beginners, a 225 metre double-boarding "magic carpet" conveyer belt lift was installed in 2009.

Val Thorens is always ready to think outside of the box. The resort has always cultivated a spirit of innovation, which have brought considerable success. Its history is marked by inventiveness and risk-taking, and Val Thorens continues to move forward, always with one eye on the summit. Are you ready to take a look at what lies behind the history of Val Thorens?

funitel © Office de tourisme de Val Thorens
Cimalpes was born in the French Alps from the dream of two entrepreneurs passionate about their Alpine lifestyle. Today, Cimalpes’ mission is to share this passion with its guests by hosting them in the most charming chalets and apartments, and by accompanying them to organize a memorable holiday in our ski resorts. The Cimalpes teams will be delighted to meet your every need; let us treat you to the Cimalpes promise.


With more than 3,000 reservations per year, Cimalpes enables more than 25,000 holidaymakers to benefit from hotel comfort in their own accommodation each winter.