Ski Holidays in Alpe d'Huez, France
Alpe d'Huez, France Travel Guide
Alpe d'Huez stretches like a sunbather across a south-facing shelf in the French Alps, only 30 minutes drive from Grenoble and at the center of the massive Grandes Rousses ski area. The ski resort developed in the 1960s and was among the venues for the 1968 Winter Olympics, but now several of the concrete creativity is starting to show its age, although an roll down of newer, more sensitive development has enhanced the over-all appearance of the place. The Vieil Alpe quarter, or one of the low-lying villages in the area, is your best bet for alpine charm.
The ski resort reaches up to 3,330m at the top of the Pic Blanc and you shouldn't have to stop skiing till the end of April, even if it is a bit damp underfoot. The downside to this upside is that poor weather can rapidly shut the Pic Blanc cable-car and severely curb the resort's best skiing, including the famous Sarenne run. Although Alpe d'Huez is the fifth biggest ski resort in France, it is every bit famous as the top of one of the most tortuous climbs in cycle racing. As you drive up the 21 hairpins on the ascent from the valley floor, just consider yourself lucky you're in a car -.the Tour de France comes up this same road each July.
A total of 87 ski lifts serve the Grandes Rousses ski area. If you don't want to sit on them the whole day, take the Pic Blanc cable-car up to 3,330m and you will be able to ski for almost an hour and a half without having to get your pass out again. Alpe d'Huez has it all, from some of the ideal beginners' slopes in France to some of the more challenging blacks in the Alps. For a mixture of the two, go for the longest black run in the Alps, the Sarenne, which extends 16km from the top of the glacier and shifts gradient from nearly vertical to practically horizontal throughout the 2,000m descent. It's a run which can be taken on by any competent intermediate, particularly now there's an easier route down the steepest part, and it's well worth the trek up as it's undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and memorable runs in the Alps.
Coming down from Pic Blanc is Alpe d'Huez's most notorious black, Le Tunnel. Reached by a tunnel from the back side of the mountain, this huge mogul field comes down the front of the mountain immediately underneath the cable-car. Back down in the main bowl, a web of fun red and blue runs lead back down towards the ski resort or over to the linked Vaujany-Oz sector, with a return to the main bowl via gondola or the mammoth 160-person Alpette cable-car, financed on the back of Vaujany's hydro-electric goldmine - neat for a small mountain village. The nearby hamlet of Enversin d'Oz is also the end point for one of the largest on-piste verticals in the Alps. It's a stupendous 2,200m from top to bottom and involves every colour of the piste-grading rainbow.
For skiing novices, the nursery area directly above Alpe d'Huez is among the best around, having wide pistes, mild gradients and a lot of easy lifts. The only negative is the number of speeding through traffic going back to the resort, but assigned protected zones try to keep boy racers under control. The other problem with Alpe d'Huez's main pistes is congestion, especially when the citizens of nearby Grenoble come on up for the weekend. The blue Couloir piste is utterly lethal towards the end of the day.
The Combe Haute is like a honeytrap at the base of the Sarenne. It is an excellent place to rest tired limbs in the sun and mull over about skiing the longest black run in Europe, before contemplating a vast (and staggeringly costly) plate of spaghetti bolognese. Back in the main bowl, Plage des Neiges, at the top of the nursery slopes, is the best spot for a late-afternoon vin chaud, while the cozy Chalet du Lac Besson, located on the Boulevard des Lacs piste, is difficult to find but dishes out some of the best food on the entire mountain - the woodfire-grilled lamb is delightful, as are the traditional cheese dishes. If it's snowing hard outside, this is the perfect bad weather, long lunch destination.
The terrain park is situated near the main lift departure point and comes with a tunnel, half-pipe and boardercross course. When you've got enough air inside you, jump on the adjacent lift to the top of Pic Blanc for some seriously steep off-piste. Up here you will need all the oxygen you can get.
Your Visalp ski pass is your passport to freebie paradise. Go to the Sports Centre for free swimming, climbing, karate and squash, the outdoor ice rink, for free skating and the museum, for a free history lesson. And when you find that you haven't quite had your fill of the slopes, free night skiing is offered every Tuesday and Thursday on the Signal piste, with a 250m vertical drop, three draglifts and 'floodlights as powerful as the Stade de France'.
Having more than 50 restaurants, Alpe d'Huez bears a pretty good reputation when it comes to dining out, and top of every visiting gastronome's list is Au P'tit Creux, which serves up delicious food in a smart-rustic setting. It's really popular, particularly during weekends, so book well in advance. For a tartiflette with a difference, book in for dinner at Chalet du Lac Besson, a mountain restaurant set on the pistes over 2,000m. You'll be caught by piste-basher and whisked into the darkness for mountain chow in a magical environment. Back down in town, Pinocchio and I'Origan serve up savory wood-fired pizzas, while La Fromagerie is unsurprisingly a decent place to dip your bread. For a high-altitude plate of pasta, La Spagett' dishes up tasty spag bol and the like.
For those who want to spend the night on a barstool than a ski-lift, Alpe d'Huez has around 40 watering holes to choose from. For alpine charm and a drink with the locals, go to the cozy Etoile des Neiges in the old part of town, which is about as idyllic a mountain bar as you might imagine, from the old Tour de France photos lining the wall to the old characters lining the bar, plus they give you free bowls of crisps with your pressions. For serious drinking, O'Sharkey's, Smithy's and the Freeride Cafe are all late and lively, while party animals will feel absolutely at home in the confines of the Zoo Bar. Disco desperados can head for Igloo, which livens up well when the students of Grenoble come to town on the weekend.
The four-star Residence Pierre & Vacances L'ours Blanc and slope-side Au Chamois d'Or are the two fanciest places to sleep in Horizons D'huez. The chalet-style Au Chamois d'Or is more attractive and better placed, but both have swimming pools, fitness centers and great restaurants. Those on a budget are well catered for as well, having plenty of decent two- and three-star options. Among the most atmospheric is Le Castillan, which is basic and friendly, with solid half-board and in an ideal south-facing position in the old part of the resort. Lastly, if it's fellow langlaufers you're after, the Gite de Ski de Fond has dorms right on the pistes for the price of a few beers in one of Alpe d'Huez's bars.
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