It’s sod’s law. Two weeks before I’m due to fly to Geneva to go skiing in the French Alps, I’ve broken my wrist and ‒ unsurprisingly ‒ careering down an icy mountain on a pair of skis is strictly forbidden by my doctor. As my taxi edges up the winding road to Val Thorens between roadside piles of shovelled snow, I’m praying there will be enough to do at the resort to stop me from concealing my casted arm in a thick jacket and hitting the slopes regardless.
At 2,300m, Val Thorens is Europe’s highest ski resort. Up here, the weather’s too harsh for trees to grow, save a few skeletal specimens clinging between rocky crags. It’s 15 degrees colder than Geneva, and in these inhospitable conditions, you’d better hope that the resort’s hotels can keep the chill out. They do more than that. Val Thorens has just been named the world’s best ski resort by more than a million voters at the World Ski Awards, and not just because of its early-season snow and epic ski runs which link to the world’s largest ski area, Les 3 Vallées.
Recuperation is why I’m here, and, happily, Val Thorens has partnered with stress-management expert Dr Philippe Rodet to publish My Serenity, a wellbeing method outlined in a leaflet available from the tourist office. “Val Thorens has all the ingredients for eliminating stress and recharging the batteries,” says Rodet. “The sports, the people and the scenery are perfect for finding the keys to happiness.”
The resort used to be known for its affordable and lively après-ski, and while the rue de la soif (the main strip of bars nicknamed ‘thirsty street’) still heaves with 20-somethings and club La Folie Douce pumps out electro in the afternoons, partying is not the resort’s main offering.
At the five-star Hotel Pashmina, I’m introduced to the new ‘wellbeing circuit’ – a breakfast buffet packed with a range of muesli, fruit juices and a milk bar that adds soy, oats, coconut and rice to the dairy staples. Next comes a yoga class, while skiers practice their own warrior poses in full gear in the snow during a ‘Zen Yogi’ warm-up session.
Taking care of mind, body and soul is at the heart of several new businesses in Val Thorens. Health-conscious cuisine has reached the mountains, providing alternatives to traditional heavy fondues and cured meats. “It’s a challenge in a region where everyone expects saucisson,” says former pro-freerider Amélie Simond, who is behind Supernova, Val Thorens’ first organic vegetarian restaurant and concept store selling streetwear alongside cold-press fruit juice and vegan quiche on bamboo plates. “It’s my job to show people vegetarian food is just as tasty and they can still leave with a full belly.” In fact, the restaurant offerings across Val Thorens go far beyond mountain fare. Seafood is delivered to the resort daily and many places mix a clean-eating philosophy with Asian flair: La Rotisserie, the restaurant at hotel Farenheit 7, serves beef tataki, sesame-crusted tuna tartare and Thai prawns with rice noodles.
Also pushing the wellness trend is new eatery -cum-art gallery Alpen Art, where local painters’ canvases are sold in a space decked out in Scandi-style wooden furnishings and faux-fur throws. Its vegetarian-friendly menu features European-Asian fusion and the space hosts Qigong Chinese meditation classes each Monday afternoon (€13 for an hour and a half). “At high altitude, breath work is very important, ” explains teacher Caroline Vincent as she guides me through a series of slow, meditative poses designed to channel energy and improve health. “It allows you to connect with the harsh natural environment and helps you relax and manage your emotions.” Something that comes in handy if, like me, you’re suffering from winter sports FOMO.
But if there’s one sure way to banish FOMO, it’s with a beauty treatment at Hotel Altapura. The spa’s Pure Altitude product line uses organic plants sourced from extreme natural conditions – edelweiss flower , mountain berries and essential oils – with the philosophy that products derived from the mountains can best soothe skin exposed to the same conditions. After 80 blissful minutes of scrubs, masks, serums and creams, the pampering continues with a dip in the inside-outside pool with a view of skiers. It’s on a par with the Hotel Pashmina’s sauna, where a wide porthole looks directly onto a ski run, backed by an imposing rocky precipice. Ladling more water onto the baking rocks and gazing smugly at the blizzard outside, I can’t quite remember why I wanted to ski in the first place.