The high point of Vuarnet's racing career came at age 27 at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, where he won the gold medal in the downhill. Previously, he had won bronze in the same event at the World Championships in 1958 at Bad Gastein. From 1957 to 1959, Vuarnet achieved seven titles as a French skiing champion: twice in the downhill (1958, 1959), slalom (1957, 1958) and alpine combined, and in the giant slalom (1957). He had placed third in the slalom and the alpine combined in the "Kandahar" at Sestriere in 1956. He was not selected for the Olympic team in 1956.
He was a skiing innovator. He honed his revolutionary aerodynamic "egg position" (French: "dite de l'œuf") now known as The Tuck - a lower stance in which he squatted down with knees bent, arms outstretched and fists clasped together, in a bid to increase his speed. He also was the first to race on metal skis (skis métalliques Rossignol), on which he won the downhill at the 1960 Winter Olympics. The tenth racer on the course, he won by a full half-second.
After retiring from active competition, Vuarnet became head of the Italian alpine ski team from 1968 to 1972, and vice-president of the French skiing association, a role in which he served from 1972 to 1974.
In the early 1960s, Vuarnet was asked by his hometown of Morzine to help develop the skiing area around the town. He did so by creating the purpose-build resort of Avoriaz, together with a group of young architects. Around Avoriaz he developed a new area for alpine skiing, later linked to other areas in France and Switzerland known as The Portes du Soleil.
Vuarnet also gave his name to the exclusive Vuarnet sunglasses in 1961, now owned by a U.K. private equity group, Neo Investment Partners.
His wife Edith and youngest son Patrick were among the members of the Order of the Solar Temple cult who committed suicide in 1994. He married his second wife Christiane in 1999; she died of a heart attack in 2012.