These days, well-groomed pistes, the latest lift technology and even great snow aren’t always enough to book a ski holiday — people are demanding more from their time on (and off) the slopes.
Because of this, the best ski resorts are constantly reinventing themselves and offering their clients new experiences to add some extra value.
And at Val Thorens in the French Alps, that means wellness. The resort, Europe’s highest ski station at 2,300 metres, has launched its My Serenity programme to encourage visitors to look after their wellbeing during their holiday.
A free booklet is available to all visitors offering stress-reducing tips, as well as yoga and qi gong classes, plus other activities aimed at enhancing mental wellbeing.
If you love yoga, there are several different options: new this year is pre-ski yoga, half-hour sessions aimed at getting people ready both physically and mentally for a day on the slopes. Taking place at 8am in the resort’s main square, it can be practised standing up in full ski gear (including ski boots).
Or there are a snowy hikes by the river, punctuated by three yoga breaks for asanas (postures) and pranayamas (breathing exercises), and a ‘Cocoon Day’ which includes three hours of yoga in the morning and an afternoon filled with swimming, sauna, steam and a massage.
Prefer something different? Val Thorens also has weekly qi gong classes, an ancient, holistic form of exercise from China based on the idea of circulating energy around the body. Whether or not you subscribe to the attached beliefs about good and bad energy, the gentle stretching and calming breathing exercises offer a welcome contract to a hectic and physical day on the slopes.
And if endless fondue isn’t your idea of wellness, the resort even has its first vegetarian restaurant this year — a rarity in French Alpine ski resorts. Supernova has a vintage feel with tables and chairs from local brocantes (second hand shops and markets) and organic dishes created daily on site.
Along with gluten-free and vegan options, dishes are different every day with as many ingredients sourced locally as possible, plus home-made cold-pressed juices, local artisan beers and organic wines.
When you do get to the slopes, Val Thorens is about as snow-sure as you can find. Named World’s Best Ski Resort at the World Ski Awards in Kitzbühel for the fourth time time, it has almost 100 miles of pistes — with 99% between 2,000 and 3,230 metres.
Part of the Trois Vallées region along with Méribel and the glitzy Courchevel, the world’s largest ski area includes almost 375 miles of linked pistes. As well as skiing and snowboarding, other adventurous activities range from ice driving and ice diving to snowmobiling and pargagliding, along with more sedate pastimes of snowshoeing.
No surprise that you need chance to relax in between. Happily Val Thorens’ newest five-star accommodation, Hotel Pashmina, has enthusiastically embraced the My Serenity theme too.
The hotel’s fitness coach/yoga teacher offers several free yoga classes and private classes or personal training on demand, as well as helping develop breakfast options including healthy additives such as pollen and spirulina.
There are even several different types of milk and coconut sugar for those following a Paleo diet. A good counterbalance to the impressive cheese and dessert buffet at the hotel’s Base Camp restaurant, with its a la carte and fixed menus, along with Les Explorateurs which has a Michelin star. It’s worth knowing that fish and vegetarian options are very limited in both restaurants though.
And if wellbeing equals more strenuous exercise for you, the hotel owner also leads a free ski-touring outing each Wednesday — you need to be fairly fit to take part in this one.
Happily there’s a spa with eight treatment rooms, a decent-sized pool, and indoor and outdoor hot tubs, plus generously sized sauna and hammam too. Children are allowed in and 4:30pm to 6:30pm is family time, so peak times aren’t the most peaceful.
In spite of its five stars, the hotel feels friendly, personal and relaxed and everything is done to make your stay as easy as possible — a minibus will pick you up or drop you off on demand and an on-site ski shop is stocked with the latest equipment and cheerful, knowledgeable staff.
Retro touches such as old-fashioned skis add a quirky twist, alongside wooden tree sculptures and a traditional typewriter in the hotel lobby, while vintage books line the walls above some of the beds.
Rooms are traditional and cosy with woolly blankets and bright cushions on the enormous beds during the day, discreetly removed at turndown leaving simple, crisp white linen and some of the nicest hotel slippers (with pompoms!) that I’ve ever seen.
The oversized showers include L’Occitane toiletries and for more room to spread out, the Cosy Home suites are plush apartments benefiting from all the services of the hotel with one to four ensuite bedrooms, living rooms, fully-equipped kitchens; some even have private steam rooms and wood burning stoves.
Or you could check in to one of two igloo rooms on the roof, geodesic tents of a type used for polar expeditions, albeit with wood-burning stoves and proper ensuite bathrooms as well as the option of a private hot tub. The pods are transparent, so you can fall asleep under the stars or as snow falls.
Curled up near the big fireplace in the large yet cosy piste-side bar, with colourful rugs and generous cushions on its comfy sofas, serenity isn’t too hard to find. The slopes are still as tempting as ever, but Val Thorens is more than a place to ski — it’s a place to recharge.