Snowboarding around the world, I find that every place is different.
For example, Canada has killer terrain and excellent side country while Japan has non-stop powder. Europe has chalet culture, which living in New Zealand now, I miss very much. You can’t beat a steaming hot pot of cheese-fondue and a glass of red after a day on the slopes. Or popping your board off for a crepe and hot chocolate halfway down the mountain.
Plenty of this chalet culture you can find in Valmeinier. This snow resort is located in the French Alps close to the Italian border.
Valmeinier has a special place in my heart since this is where I first strapped a snowboard on my feet back in 2011. I decided I was going to learn snowboarding without taking a lesson.
Since that time in France I’ve grown up a bit. I can’t say I’ve grown much wiser but at least I have taken lessons since then. It’s surprising how much a lesson can make you progress. Suddenly things are pointed out that you never even thought of.
Over the years I have had lots of AHA! moments due to excellent trainers and instructors. I still go get training every season since I still want to progress. The beauty with snowboarding is that progression is never finished. So, there are always more reasons to get a lesson.
The snow resort of Valmeinier combines their slopes with those of Valloire. It is huge, to that extend that if you would like to snowboard from one end of the resort to the other end, it takes you half a day. There are three main hubs: Valmeinier 1800, Valmeinier 1500 and Valloire. All three towns are connected by slopes and road. Valloire is the biggest town followed by Valmeinier 1800 and Valmeinier 1500.
30 lifts connect the towns. Most slopes are for beginner and intermediate snowboarders. There is a snow park with half-pipe and big air. If you’ve never done a big air before, at the end of the season an airbag session if you would like to try.
There is a village at the bottom of the slopes with lots of excellent ski-in ski-out accommodation. Everything you need is in town. There are two decent sized supermarkets, plenty of restaurants, a bakery with café and a club.
Lift lines get really long during European school holidays. This pretty much means it’s busy season from Christmas holidays all the way to the end of March. Except for Saturday. On Saturdays people travel in and out of the resort. Which means long lines at the rental shops and zero people on the slopes.
Getting to Valmeinier
Europe has the best railway system in the world so use it. The French TGV gets you in 4,5 hours from Paris to St Michel-Valloire. From the station there is a shuttle bus going up the mountain to Valmeinier.
There are several airports close to Valmeinier. Turin in Italy, Geneva in Switzerland and Lyon in Paris. All of the airports have shuttle services. If you arrive in Lyon, just hop on the train to St Michel-Valloire and then take the bus up.
Refueling your Carbs
Something I definitely miss about Europe is the availability of food everywhere and at anytime. In Valmeinier there are several huts and restaurants right next to the slopes. They are the best place to go and warm up and have a hot chocolate. Food in the Savoie region is typical mountain cuisine: hearty and heavy. Try out tartiflette. It is made up of potatoes, cheese, lardons and onion.
Just a regular supermarket. Find all your cooking necessities here and cheap ski socks.They also have good bread and a wide range of body lotion. You possibly can’t go without body lotion on a mountain. Cold and dry air crack your ski so keep it hydrated. If you don’t like body lotion, just use butter.
At the top of les Jeux chairlift is a terraced chalet. The best spot for a hot chocolate or coffee on a sunny day. Has a good view of the valley and people falling off the chairlift. They take orders at the table but you need to be assertive when it’s busy. Sometimes they forget you’re there.
It’s mainly a café bakery and the best bakery in town. The raspberry tartelettes are heavenly. If you need a brownie fix, this is the place. All the sweeties are made fresh by a master baker who wakes up before you get home from the party. For twelve euros, they serve a daily special and it is the best place in town to get Wifi.
Pizza San Marco
The best pizza at the top of the town. All pizzas are good, so have whatever. It will be delicious. If you’re out for an après ski, they do deliveries to whichever bar you’re at. Make sure you tip the delivery man well, he doesn’t get paid well. For desert try the lave cake if you like to die of happiness.
The bottom of the slalom piste is where the terraces are. Go to Snowduck for hot paninis and crepes. They have a cute dog named Cancun. Don’t pat him, he’s radioactive.
They have an excellent wine menu and the smoked salmon pizza is amazing. I really recommend you try it out. The restaurant is located next to Le Snowduck.
La Fondue Savoyarde
You can’t have an Alpine vacation without eating cheese fondue. La Fondue Savoyarde only serves fondue. Fondue is melted cheese in a pot that is hot and you dip bread on a stick in it. Don’t put your finger in it, it hurts. If you burn your finger, order a banana split for desert to cool off your finger.
L’Elan serves haute cuisine but for an affordable price. If you want to experience good French kitchen this is where you can park your snowboard. The scallops are excellent and so are the desserts. You need two people though to absorb that amount of ice-cream. The desserts are huge.
Le Chardon Bleu
The Savoie local dish is served here: tartiflette. A whole plate of artery clogging goodness. Exactly the thing that you need when snowboarding all day long. If you’re looking for something healthier, order a glass of water for dinner.
There is a great party scene up at Valmeinier. Most of the bars are found close to the ice-skating rink.
I have had some great parties here both with good and bad memories. Some life lessons were learned, like partying and snowboarding and working is not possible. Being older and wiser now, I have dropped the partying to focus more on work and snowboarding. My body is very happy with this decision.
Aux Lutins Verts
It’s the closest you’ll get to an Irish pub in France. The menu serves a variety of typical snow resort mixes like Jager bombs. There are Belgian beers on tap and it is the favorite hangout of the French ski school.
Sometimes they do live music. Sometimes it’s so crowded you have to wiggle yourself in between the hot, drunken torsos of two British traffic lights. Go fast, they might just throw up on you if you engage in friendly conversation.
Pub Les Trois Diables
It’s just across from the Lutins Verts. They have a pool table and a cocktail menu. Mojito’s are average good but you can’t get any better on the hill. During university holidays it gets swamped with Polish students. Difficult to get into.
Bar Bowling Lebowski
It offers a bored snowboarder something to do in the evenings if you’re not into book reading. Gather a group and strike out some pins. They have a bar with everything alcoholic available. They also do hot chocolates if you’re not into drinking.
The Brasilia Club
Here, you go to party-party until the morning. Entry is free except on special nights like New Year’s Eve. They have excellent costumed parties and twice per season have a DJ play a set with live musicians. Unfortunately an average night means Top 40 music on replay but you can’t be picky when you’re stuck on a mountain.
Valloire is one of the three towns associated with the Valmeinier snow resort. To get here from Valmeinier, you’ll have to snowboard to the next valley. The town is more of a permanent village with a church and a market square. Heck, they even got a hairdresser. There are two gondolas heading up the mountain leaving straight from town.
Val Thorens & Les Trois Vallees
France’s largest snow resort is only an hour driving away from Valmeinier. It’s also the highest altitude resort in Europe. You need days to snowboard every single slope, it has 600km of runs.
Environmentally-friendly Snowboarding in Val Thorens
With all that fun and powder it’s important that all of us, winter tourist, take a second to think. Where does all that snow come from? Where does the wrapper of your energy bar get disposed? What about all of those trees we cut down to make slopes?
It’s not an easy topic and frankly, I don’t know what to think about it sometimes. With a lot of things we do in the world there is waste generation or we use up natural resources without a thought. It’s no different with the ski-industry. Building a resort on top of the mountain, running chairlifts and making artificial snow isn’t environmental-friendly. It takes a lot of energy to run a ski-hill.
But efforts are being made so that the resorts are putting less pressure on the environment. In France there is a non-profit organisation called Mountain Riders that keeps an eye on sustainability of snow resorts.
La Datcha, opening this year, is Val Thorens’ first eco-friendly luxury accomodation. It has its own waste water treatment system. That’s pretty rad. We will hope that many more will follow or that the old buildings get upgraded.
Unfortunately many older buildings in Europe are poorly insulated and the demand for cheap housing has left insulating not a priority. Most countries now have laws that new buildings have to be insulated.
Hopefully in the future we won’t be so bugged about the question if snow resorts are actually causing global warming and ruining a future of snowy winters. I would like to gather more information about ways to reduce my carbon footprint when I travel.
We should all care about these things, since it’s caring for the place we live in, just like you would maintain your house.