“ Winter and summer sport resort located in the Isère region, in Oisans, at the bottom of Grandes Rousses Massif, at the gates of Parc des Ecrins. „
I vistited Aple D'huez with my partner back in March. We picked the resort because it was a fairly high altitude and we knew it was late in the season. After a poor season for snow we expected the worst. The first couple of days had poor snow conditions - slush and ice. After a big dump of fresh powder on the third day things were definetly looking up and we had several days of great skiing. They are plenty of runs to suit all levels - long blues and reds, and challenging blacks such as Sarenne and La Tunnel (although both of which have suffered this season because of poor snow). The resort itself is fairly good, typical French ski resort prices. The architecture leaves something to be desired. We stayed in the large Club Med hotel which we found to be excellent and much less hassle and cheaper in the long run then going self catering and eating out. I would definately go back to Aple D'Huez, possbily even thinking about next year with hopefully better snow conditions!
Absolutely brilliant guide. Very well done. I'm leaving tomorrow and can't wait. Especially the guide on where to go was great.
The island of the sun, as the purpose-built ski resort of Alpe d’Huez markets itself (hmm, I do have to admit I find myself querying the island bit... but it certainly is sunny!) has to be one of Europe’s top ski destinations. I’ve returned year after year, sometimes twice a season, since 1997 and so have tonnes of others and my aim is to let you know exactly why! SKI AREA Alpe d’Huez lies in the southern most area of Isere, in the French Alps in an area known as Massif des Grandes Rousses. The ski area of Grandes Rousses which consists of 5 principle areas Alpe d’Huez, Auris, Oz, Villard Reculas, Vaujany, covers over 10,000 hectares and boasts 86 ski lifts 111 slopes (220 kms), 54 kms of cross-country trails and 30 kms of hiking tracks. 24 “piste bashers” and 700 snow cannons serve the area (although only working when the temp. is between –3°C and –7°C). It also boasts the longest black run in Europe, La Sarenne, measuring 16km. The 86 lifts include: - 5 cable cars 10 bubbles 23 chairlifts 46 drag lifts 2 large telepherique’s (HUGE cable car type things) and the 111 slopes includes: - 39 green 30 Blue 26 Red 13 Black 1 snow park 1 area for beginners In Europe the slope grading system uses 4 different colours to differentiate between difficulty: Green; Blue; Red; Black. If you are unfamiliar with this system I’ll give you a brief guide of what each colour represents. Green – The easiest of the lot, pistes usually slope gently and are wide. Blue – Slight harder than the green. The piste gradient probably increases slightly and the slope gets a little narrower. Red – Difficult. Fairly steep and often narrow-ish. Occasionally with small mogul fields (moguls are bumps on the slope
caused by lots of people turning in the same places which moulds the snow into a lump). Black – Very difficult. This grading is often given to steep narrow slopes which often have mogul fields somewhere along the run. Also applied to slopes where the snow conditions are regularly poor e.g. hard packed or icy. Of course the difficulty ranges from slope to slope, not all blacks will require the same level of skill and guts. In fact it may only be a certain bit of the slope which determines its grading e.g. a 50m steep and narrow mogul field. The level of difficulty will also vary with weather conditions e.g. Alpe d’Huez has a bit of an ice problem in Spring. The sun is so hot at this time of year that it begins to melt the snow in the afternoon, the water then refreezes over night making runs quite icy in the morning. There are so many areas in the Grandes Rousses ski area that I’d like to not only describe each in turn but also offer a practical guide to ski-ing them using the knowledge I’ve gained from my time in Alpe d’Huez to help you gain the most from your days. To enable me to do this I’ll split the sections up slightly with info for beginners, intermediates and experts. **Beginners** Righty, let’s start at the beginning (a very good place to start according to a certain Frauline Maria don’t cha know!) ... Alpe d’Huez is a lovely place to learn due to the combination of a large number of green runs in close proximity to each other and a ski school, which is improving all the time. The main ski school is run by the ESF – Ecole Du Ski Francais – and offers lessons for anyone from complete beginner to an expert wishing to polish the capital P on perfection. The school has around 150 instructors in resort, however, only a small number of these speak English. This number is growing all the time and nowadays they run a system where English speakers (includin
g many Dutch and Germans who speak exemplary English) are put in groups together and given an English speaking instructor. For beginners and intermediates alike ski school is a nice place to be, you can cruise the slopes, improve your technique, make some friends and most importantly... jump the lift queues! How I long for an ESF jacket so I too can hop the queues! The main Alpe d’Huez ski area has somewhere in the region of 15 green runs which interlink. Although the scenery in this area is not particularly break-taking it’s a good place to learn and you’re never to far from home (all that falling over can be very tiring!). These runs do not vary much so once you’ve found your ski legs you could head off to the greens in Les Bergers. If you wish to stray farther afield there are some nice greens in Auris (ski down Le Rifnel and “pole” over to the Alpauris chair which will take you down the mountain and up over to Auris). Auris is not such a good place to ski at the start and end of the season because it’s rather low and the snow tends to be slightly lacking at times. **Intermediates** After years of research I think I can safely state that I have formulated the definitive route for all keen intermediates. It will allow you to see the sites, avoid the queues, make the most of the snow and cover about nearly 100km of piste in a day. Don’t be alarmed now, go at your own pace, ski your favourite runs twice or more – this only a guide – but without blowing one’s own trumpet too much I must say it’s a damn good guide to the intermediate slopes! Righty kick start the morning with a trip up the Signal chairlift (or the button if you want to get up a little faster). Ski straight down the back of the mountain and into Villards Reculas. At this time the pistes will be fresh and practically desolate. Spend a good hour here exploring the delights of the sweeping Petit Prince
and maybe the jumps on Les Vallons (beware in Spring of the river running through the bottom of the latter – I skied straight into it this year lol brrrrrrrrrrr). You might even wish to try your hand at a few of the reds. One morning at the end of the week you may even wish to give the newly formed La Foret a bash! There are some nice views but a severe lack of mountain cafes so by 10:30 a move should be made back to the top of the Signal. If the pistes are quiet (weekdays when there are no races) you could enjoy a few runs up and down Le Stade and Le Signal itself, if not then tackle Hirondelles possibly the hardest green run in the world! Make sure you have enough speed to get you to the top of Le Rifnel or you’ll have a 50m skate in the slush. I should point out Le Rifnel is practically uphill so schussing the whole way down is kind of appropriate! I don’t often ski with poles and speed on this run can be a problem so I’m kinda cheeky and ski down the outside of the lift path using the wall onto Le Rifnel for speed (on the way down) and jumps (on the way) up. Once in Les Bergers (situated at the bottom of Le Rifnel) take the Alpauris chair down and over to Auris En Oisans. This chair is more like a mini rollercoaster because it takes you right down into a valley and then back up the other side at high speed and with steep gradients. Sit back, hold on and enjoy the views! Once in Auris you may fancy a rest so stop off and have a Chocolat Chaud at the cafe next to the Fontfroide lift. Take a look round the back and you’ll observe about 20 dog kennels, observe more closely and you’ll then see about 20 HUGE husky dogs lying in the snow! The success of the dogs is plastered around the balcony in the form of photos and rosettes. TIP: Always leave your skis lying down, particularly at this restaurant... stand them up in the snow and you might find a dog or two has “oiled” them in your absence &
#8211; no joke this DOES happen! Spend an hour or so enjoying the interlinking red and blue runs either side of the lift. Although the snow over this side of the resort does not have a very good reputation at this time (mid-morning – it should be fairly soft and skiable). Leave just before midday taking the Alpauris chair back to Les Berges. Always take this lift from Auris and not from the middle of the valley (via Lys run) as 150 people who have just completed the Sarenne will be waiting there for a place on the chair too! Once again sit back, hold on, enjoy the view and count how many ski poles you can see have been dropped into the valley – last count was 32!!!!! When back in Les Berger you may be feeling peckish so head up Les Marmottes bubble and make your way to one of the mountain restaurants shown on the piste map. My personal fave is Le Plage de Neige. They serve great food and it’s ideally situated for our afternoon ski-ing route. Once stuffed (well who can resist those crepes?) it’s time to avoid those queues again (can you tell I’m an impatient little so and so who doesn’t DO the whole queuing for hours thing?) and burn off a few cals! First stop Oz en Oisans! Take Le Poutran (the start is just next to the first stop off for the DMC) then L’Olmet or Champcoltury down to Oz. The former are reds and the latter blue. These are relatively easy though. Take your time and make use of the width of the piste. If you feel adventurous there are some good jumps to be found at the side of Le Poutran. The slopes offer great views of the valleys below. From Oz take Alpette and go and enjoy the wonders of Vaujany (alternatively take Le Poutran bubble back up then Le Troncon up to the start of Les Rousses – a difficult but exhilarating red which will bring you to the top of Alpette after about 4km). Vaujany offers a great selection of blues that are a must for any intermediat
e. There are also several lovely cafes – perfect for an afternoon pub crawl of the slopes. Don’t get too drunk though as you must leave by 4pm at the latest in order to get up Alpette-Rousses. This lift is another large telecabin which carries 50. Famously it fell off the wire on it’s very first run killing lots of the local ambassadors. That was quite a few years go now and don’t let it put you off – the whole thing has been fully rebuilt and is tres safe! This will lead you up to the top of Le Dome – a particularly unpleasant red. Unfortunately this is the only way back from Vaujany (I have trialled others and they were terribly impractical) so give the good skiers a few minutes to get down and clear the piste, then you can begin your descent on a relatively uncrowded piste. Make full use of the width and be confident. Don’t worry – you CAN do it! Once down you’ll find yourself at the top of the DMC with a large choice of blues, reds and greens back to both Les Bergers and the main resort. Finish off your ski-ing day by celebrating with a cold beer at the bottom – you’ll need it! TIP: If you’re not such a confident Intermediate leave Vaujany at around 3pm. This will give you plenty of time to ski down the other side. My reason for saying this is that I was ski-ing with a group of friends in Vaujany one afternoon. We ended up having a few too many Vin Chaud and nearly missed the last lift up to the top. One of you group, an sound skier but lacking confidence was taking her time getting down Le Dome and by this time the guys who clear the pistes at the end of the day (making sure no one is lying paralysed at the side or buried in the snow etc) were following us down and being rather rude and shouting “Vite” (fast) every 5 bloomin’ seconds. My chum found this very off putting and no doubt this geezer is now features heavily on her dartboard. What made it wors
e was when we joined a blue to Les Bergers this other dude appeared this time with a goddam Alsatian on a lead galloping across the slopes sniffing for dead people. I was at the back of the group encouraging my friend just waiting for this big brute to sink his big gnashers into my back side – to say I was intimidated was a complete understatement! Eventually we overtook some other people and left the brutes... and their dog behind. But golly gosh that was NOT very helpful to my friend’s confidence! Stiff brandies at the bottom all round! So anyway my point is avoid the brutes and leave that little bit earlier! Anyway – Intermediates make the most of your stay in Alpe d’Huez it has plenty to offer you! **Experts* At 3330m above sea level one finds the summit of Pic Blanc which offers spectacular views across the Alps. Pic Blanc boasts four terrifying black runs, La Sarenne, Le Tunnel, Glacier and Chateau Noir, however, many people just pop up there to admire the view. Pic Blanc is served by the Pic Blanc lift (how original). This is a huge telecabin which carries 150 people plus the driver (remember that it often pops up in pub quizzes around the resort) and you can be sure that the lift will not leave until there are 151 people on board! This doesn’t really alter the queue situation – you’ll generally be waiting 15 mins. It also means there are huge surges of people going down the run – my advice wait a few mins and enjoy the view before beginning your descent. Descent to where? Well you have 4 options – La Sarenne (the longest black run in Europe), Le Tunnel, Le Glacier and Chateau Noir. La Sarenne begins at the top of Pic Blanc and winds it’s way down through Gorges De Sarenne (in Spring the Sarenne river runs through the gorge hence the name of the run) merging onto a green run approx. 2km from the bottom of the Alpauris chairlift between Alpe d’Huez and Aur
is. Having skied the run several times I can tell you it’s worth doing, the run is nothing too special but the scenery is spectacular, plus you can tell all your chums back home you’ve done it. It’s rated as black in my opinion as it is fairly steep and narrow in some places. The snow also tends to be rather hard packed. My advice is go early in the day (intermediate skiers will need to set aside at least 2 hours for the run - no joke) as the snow should be in better condition and the run should not be as crowded. Another point is that because the lift leaves about 150 people at the top of Pic Blanc, with the majority planning to ski La Sarenne the run gets crowded in short bursts. Wait a few minutes at the side of the slope and you will have a quieter run down (until the fastest skiers in the next bunch arrive anyway). A real pain with the Sarenne is that because the bottom is so low approx. 1600m above sea level it tends to be closed at the start and end of the season. The last time I skied it was in the middle of March (a good month before the end of the season) and it was on the verge of being shut. Ski-ing the last 2km – which is basically flat – was like skating on a slush puppy! Le Tunnel funnily enough has a tunnel in it! This cuts right through the mountain bringing you from the back of Pic Blanc to the front. It’s fairly narrow and not surprisingly flat but it’s a novelty! You may notice tonnes of people stacking up inside so be careful... the main reason for this is the poo steep mogul field at the other side of the tunnel! A very enjoyable and novel run. Le Glacier is short, sweet and steep! It makes an ideal warm up for the other 3 blacks served by its own chair lift which takes you back to the top of Pic Blanc. Chateau noir is a true black which winds its way down through the valley on the other side of a ridge from La Sarenne. Basically it cuts out a mogul field on La Sarenne which
is often bare and full of rocks, before bringing you back over the ridge to join the mahooooooosive run. High winds and poor snow mean that this area is often shut. If you see it’s open don’t out the trip off – there’s no guarantee it will still be open a few days later! ***Snowboarding*** Sorry to all the snowboarders to have written specifically about ski-ing so far, of course all you guys are allowed on these slopes too – although you’d probably be happier exploring the off piste between slopes – however one area that I’m sure you’ll really love is the Snow Park! The park is set in mid Alpe d’Huez just to one side of Le Lac Blanc (green) and consists of tonnes and tonnes of random jumps. There are a load of drop-offs and kickers and then a few larger jumps. The park is great fun and you don’t need to be an expert to have a good time. However, this does mean it gets rather crowded. Recently the ESF have started bringing whole classes through in their typical “snake” fashion (where they all follow each other in the same line). Unfortunately so many skiers in Europe have no etiquette and the park can become quite dangerous with people not looking where they are going and cutting you up. Very late afternoon or mid-morning is the quietest time to visit the park. There is also a large half pipe in the resort. This is situated at the bottom of Le Signal and should really be reserved for the more advanced skier/snowboarder/snowblader (that’s me :)). One concern I do have about this pipe is the fact that it is not repaired too well – last time I visited there was actually a large lip on one side of the pipe which meant anyone trying to jump up that wall was likely to crash! Since 2000 Alpe d’Huez has offered night ski-ing 3 times weekly (Tues/Thurs/Sat) on the TPS Eutelsat slalom field. The run is a wide red, although not that difficult a
nd I recommend that all those who can give the night ski-ing a go. The piste tends to be practically empty and it’s a good laugh! It’s free with a Visalp ski pass but those without will have to pay 8 Euros (about a fiver) for two hours. ***Wease’s Top Tip*** Avoid the queues by having two lunches a day! No I’m not just being greedy, I mean small lunches e.g. smaller than lunch but bigger than a snack. Lift queue’s in Alpey D tend to peak at 10am, 12am and 3pm so I find that if I have a small lunch e.g. a side salad at around 11:30am then ski until 2:30pm and then have another small lunch (and of course a Vin Chaud) I can do a lot more ski-ing than if I were to do the more traditional lunch at about 1pm thang. You see EVERYBODY does this which means at 1pm lift queues are virtually non-existent and the pistes are much quieter, therefore by being different I escape the queues and also the indigestion! MOUNTAIN RESTAURANTS Now you’ll also be looking for something to eat and drink during the day no doubt and lucky for you Alpe d’Huez has somewhere in the region of 30 mountain restaurants. The ones worthy of mention are.... 1. La Plage De Neige (main Alpe d’Huez area, found at the side of Babars run) – serves hot and cold food ‘til 5pm. Ideal for a quick snack or a big meal. The salads are divine, but you must also sample the range of meats and of course the excellent puddings (tarte pomme mmmmmmm). The prices are average for a mountain restaurant costing approx. £10 for the average lunch. Bask in the sun on the large terrace or hide from the elements inside. 2. Les Marmottes (situated at 2300m at the top of the Marmottes bubble) – perfect for elevenses. They serve a load of tasty snacks such as hot dogs, crepes and gaufres. Seating consists of 50 or so deck chairs in the snow – perfect place to relax and top up that tan! 3. Le Signal (can be
found at the top of Le Signal) – hidden under a small ridge you simply must visit this place to check out the local delicacy of baileys and chocolat chaud mmm). Also serves a wide range of light snacks and salads. 4. Vaujany – all the restaurants here are worthy of mention... unfortunately their names surpass em at this moment in time. They offer tasty cheap food such as a chicken meal for four with a bottle of wine for £20. Vaujany really gets the sun in the afternoon so find a deck chair, slap on the sun cream (you WILL need it) and have a break. 5. Poutran (situated at the bottom of Le Poutran run... also reachable via the Poutran cable car) – again the name of this place is on the top of my tongue... it has something about sun and snow in it... but anyway, it’s a lovely place to have a drink in the afternoon, very peaceful, protected from the wind and it boasts some good views. Warning: Bar man has a habit of coming onto other men! Of course all the other restaurants are worth trying but these are my personal faves! SNOW The season tends to start in December and run through to April, however if snow allows then unofficial weekend opening begins in November. Alpe d'Huez tends to have excellent snow coverage due to its high altitude. However, due to the majority of slopes being south-facing it is incredibly sunny. Sun? Snow? Not always the best friends are they? In colder times e.g. Jan/Feb this is fine however not in Spring. Although the height helps the snow last until April the strong sun means that icy conditions occur early on in the morning. However, life isn’t perfect and if you can’t afford to head of the North America for superb snow conditions then Alpe d’Huez offers some of the best snow you’re likely to find in Europe! LIFT PASS Due to the variety of areas there are a few different lift pass packages you could. There are lift passes speci
fically for the 5 areas and then the Visalp lift pass which will cover all 5. I would recommend you buy the Visalp pass, the others are only worth it if you’re in Alpe d’Huez for a day on the cheap (in which case you would never have time to ski everywhere and might as well save some money by sticking to one area!). Adult passes are available from £160 (6 days) and child passes from £120 (6 days). Prices do tend to vary from ski company to company though. Alternatively you can buy your ticket directly from the lift pass office, however, this probably ends up more expensive. Under 5’s and Over 70’s are eligible for FREE lift passes, which I think is cool as t*ts! What I did find nasty last time I was in the resort was that a couple staying in our apartments were both over 70 (fair play to them for still ski-ing!) and therefore eligible for free passes, however nasty ole Inghams made them pay for them, but at half price! The cheek, they deserved free ones! The Visalp pass also enables you to take advantage of the shuttle bus, ice rink, night ski-ing and the swimming pool amongst other things absolutely free! SKI/BOARD/BOOT HIRE Unless you’re me (in which case you’ll have your own stunning pair of skis and boots) then it’s more than likely you’ll have to take advantage of local hire shops and rent a pair of skis/board and boots. Most tour operators offer their own packages where prices will vary depending on the retailer they use. Most tour operators (with the noticeable exception of First Choice who I’ll come to in a minute) refer travellers to the local shops (Henri/Nevada/Intersport/Ski2001 Sport etc) to rent their equipment. There is normally a choice of standard that you rent with standard being cheapest then superior being a little bit better with prestige being very new equipment and costing nearly twice as much! In my experience the standard are pretty good, but you’re probab
ly better off opting for superior. Comfort is essential whilst ski-ing and superior boots tend to be very good quality with maybe only a seasons worth of ski-ing in them. Don’t worry too much about prestige... why waste your money when superior is nearly as good? Now back to First Choice... these buffonaas have decided to build up their own stock of boots and skis... all of which are completely knackered out! Whilst staying in Montgenevre a few years ago I was appalled at the standard of boot and ski offered. Luckily I have my own equipment but a family friend was in so much discomfort he was forced to go and hire another pair of boots from a local shop! Beware make sure you get what you’re paying for! As for cost expect to pay about £30 for boots (slightly less for children) and £60 for skis/boards (once again slightly less for children). Oh yes children are often classed as being Under 12 but occasionally that rises to Under 15! RESORT LIFE The resort is fairly large so I’ll refer to specific areas – Main town/Old Town/Quartier des Bergers – individually. There are a few other areas but they only have residential accommodation. **Main Town** (otherwise known as Quartier des Jeux) This is a lovely area to stay in as it’s close to everything... with the exception of the slopes! There’s a wide range of hotels, chalets and apartments. Most tour operators offer accommodation in L'Ours Blanc Apartments and the Royal L’Ours hotel and these are situated right in centre de ville. Shops – Shop wise Alpe d’Huez boasts many, many fashion boutiques... although some of the French fashion leaves a little to be desired (one shop in particular earned the nickname of “The Blind Tailors” on my last visit). There are also a load of chain sport shops – Nevada Sports, Intersport, Henri Sport, Skiset – which also boasts outlets elsewhere in th
e resort. There is also a large supermarket and several souvenir shops. Restaurants – There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, in fact every other building is a restaurant (with the ones in between being dodgy boutiques). Each has it’s own unique feel although the menu differs little, in fact ski resorts are reknowned for their “samey” menus - tartiflette/steak entricote/pizza/raclette (cheese fondue)/fondue/spaghetti bolognese - seems to be practically all you can get anywhere. However, the French do know their food and cook it very well which means each is a tasty treat. Two restaurants worthy of mention are... 1. L’Origan (opposite the ice rink) – lovely pizza but crowded (I was practically sat on some French dudes lap... and no it was nothing dodgy I mean eugh he was like 80!). Service can be a tad slow though. 2. Le Fromagerie (also opposite the ice rink) – seafood menu offers a change from the usual ski resort grub. Some delightful bites but I’d be careful what you order – uncooked seafood may not be the best idea when on considers the journey it must have had from the sea to the top of a mountain! Bars – Of course being situated in the main resort means that you are in prime position for a pub crawl! There are tonnes of great bars within short walking distance of each other. There’s Smithy’s the British bar which serves good beer, has table football, some great drink offers and is always a scream. Then there’s a smaller British bar (French run though) The Underground. This is a themed bar based on... yes you guessed it the London Underground! Cocktails and shooters are the speciality here and the flaming jelly vodka is not to be missed! One mustn’t forget the sports bar next to the ice rink which is the number 1 venue to watch Sky Sports (catch up on those midweek matches while you’re away), enjoy a beer and shoot some pool. Oh
and there’s a new Irish pub – O’Sharkys (opposite L’Origan). Activities – This is where it all goes off really which unfortunately means you’ll have to find some extra energy to take advantage of the sports centre, ice rink, swimming pool and cinema which main town boasts. The large open air skating rink is open from 10.45am – 11pm daily for the use of the general public. Use if free but you may have to pay for skate hire (about a fiver I recall). The rink is at times shut for ice hockey matches. Last time I was there the French national side were alleged to be playing there. I missed the match but have seen a few others in my time and can tell you it’s worth a look in. The swimming pool sits right next door to the ice rink and is once again outdoors... but heated! Again it’s free with a lift pass and an experience not to be missed. Across the road is “Palais Des Sports”. This sports centre boasts squash, tennis, a climbing wall as well as a gym and large conference centre. You’ll also find a French cinema there showing both new films and older repeats. Most are in French but a few are English with French subtitles. The centre is open daily from 10am – 9pm. You may or may not be religious, but either way the church (right next to the sports centre) is worth a visit. For the religious among you it’s a Catholic church with service on Saturday and Sunday at 6pm. For the not so religious the exquisite architecture is definitely worth a peak. The church appears from the outside as one large spiral but it’s even more extraordinary on the inside! **Old Town** (otherwise known as Quartier des Vieil Alpe) Ahhh, the only area of the resort which seems to have escaped the arrival of neon! Blimey, everywhere else it’s like one mass peep show in the streets, neon glaring everywhere, and no doubt taking “pole dancingR
21; to a whole new level, so as you can imagine Old Town provides a pleasant change. This is definitely the prettiest part of the resort (looks like it’s popped off the front of a Chrimbo card) and has a lovely feel to it making it a nice place to dine. A stroll through the Hansel and Gretel style streets leads you to many many quaint restaurants. Of course they serve the usual selection but the majority are family run and have all sorts of in-house specials – not to be missed! This area is a fairly residential (the only hotel offered by tour operators is Les Cimes) and not much else happens here, so save it for dining. **Quartier des Bergers** Ahhhh my favourite area of the resort! Bergers is situated in the Eastern end of the resort and is the most recently built part of Alpe d’Huez. Shops - Les Bergers itself has a small covered shopping arcade which boasts a lot of the resort chain sport shops (Nevada Sports, Intersport, Henri Sport, Skiset) as well as some nice gift shops. Restaurants/Cafes – Most eating establishments are open all day, boasting cafe terraces in the daytime and inside restaurants after dark. All are situated in and around the arcade with the exception of Le Farmer which is opposite the Pierre et Vacances building (about 150m form the arcade). Please avoid Le Jazz (tres cheezy), however, I can strongly recommend the Lowenbrau. It’s a lovely bar and restaurant and three things you simple must try: Choccochino – hot chocolate with whipped cream (yum yum), Chocolat Verte – hot chocolate served with a shot of chartreuse verte (not that nice, in fact you need the hot chocolate to get rid of the yucky taste, but it’s a local delicacy so show some cultural appreciation and drink a few!) and finally Pyjamas – strawberry, chocolate and vanilla ice cream, cream and creme brulee (a must have due to the novelty name, however, it is quite yummy too!). Also one must
chuckle at their desert menu e.g. Le Mysterie (which then goes on to give a full description of the pudding!!). Le Farmer is also a great eaterie – v. nice fondue – but it’s also fairly expensive (don’t forget those credit cards) Oh and don’t forget to tip the waiter/ess (10% is a good start) as they aren’t paid too much (but with tips they probably get more than you or I) Bars – Unfortunately there’s only one quality bar in Bergers – Tiger Cafe – which makes a pub crawl about the worst idea since some poor sod decided Pauline Fowler should live in that unflattering denim shirt (normally restricted to pregnant women). However, let’s not diss the Tiger coz it’s a tres good night out. It’s French run but markets itself as a British club an seeing as it’s situated right next door to the Club Med and Pierre et Vacances apartments unsurprisingly it’s frequented by many more British visitors than locals. It has all the makings of a British pub – a beer night on Thursday and Saturday. The beer is v. cheap anyway but even cheaper on these nights. You can pay 3Euros 50 for a normal glass of beer or buy beer in HUGE student amounts e.g. 2.5 litres at a time! This mahousive tankard will set you back between 8 and 11 Euros depending on the manufacturer – tres good :). T-totallers may opt for the coke at 2 Euros a pint (same sort of price as in the UK). I must recommend their fabulous selection of cocktails too – soo many combinations! The cafe can boast a small arcade too. There are 5 pool tables charging 2 Euros a game (as everywhere in the resort – this is a rise of 20p to £1.20 since the Franc disappeared), an air hockey table (also 2 Euros), a football table (1 Euro), Time Crisis 2 and a Daytona Driving machine with the prices varying depending on how many goes you want. There is also the most brilliant arcade game ever... i
t looks like a tv but when you get up close you can see it’s a touch-screen machine boasting such wonders as solitaire, wheel of fortune, spot the difference and quizzes. It’s strangely addictive and if you want a go you’ll have to prise the chain-playing lift attendant off it first! The cafe is open basically 24 hours a day although it often looks shut as the lights are low and everything looks dark when contrasted against the brilliant brightness of the mountains! Most of the time it’s deserted, last time I was there the sole punters where my brother and myself! The funny thing was there are never fewer than 4 staff! They’re really friendly (probably relieved when a customer finally comes in) and often do funny things e.g. break-dancing on top of a pool table to relieve boredom. It does hot up at about midnight when most people are leaving restaurants and returning for a drink closer to home. One last area I must mention is Quartier des L’Eclose Est. There’s nothing much there... apart from a large rally car track! It’s dormant most of the time without regular fixtures, but beware if you’re on the slopes one day and hear lots of engine noises look over here (behind Quartier des Bergers) and you’ll see loads of cars whizzing round ice racing! As ski resorts go Alpe d’Huez is fairly large however it isn’t exactly huge and the longest walk you could encounter is just over a kilometre (Les Bergers to Old Town). However, from 8am until about 8pm there is a shuttle bus which runs round the village stopping just about everywhere. Every holiday company gives you a timetable in your welcome package, but if you’re travelling independently you can pick them up from the lift pass office and the ESF buildings. The service is free for everyone with a lift pass... however I’ve never noticed the driver checking so anyone who isn’t ski-ing will no doubt escape a far
e! ACCOMMODATION There are an alleged 32,000 beds for visitors in the resorts, however, the majority of British tour operators offer accommodation in only a few of the best hotels, chalets and apartments. Chalets will vary from operator to operator but most offer accommodation in the same hotels and apartments. The main establishments are... Les Cimes (hotel in Old Town) – one of the cheaper hotels in a quaint situation Les Cimes offers rooms for 2 or 3 people on a half-board. Prices vary from approx. £500 to £750 per person for 7 nights. Le Mariande (hotel in Old Town) – accommodation for 2 people on B&B basis. Prices start as low as £385 and go on up to about £630. Le Pic Blanc (hotel in Quartier des Bergers) – built in 2001the picturesque hotel boasts such amenities as an indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi and offers rooms for 2 people on a half board basis. With the luxury comes the price – starting at £600 and heading on up well into the £800’s. L’Ours Royal (hotel in centre de ville) – a rather swanky hotel it’s not offered by many tour operators any more but I’ve heard it’s tres nice! L’Ours Blanc Apartments (self-catering apartments in centre de ville) – attached to L’Ours Royal L’Ours Blanc offers many room combinations and is well situated for everything but the slopes. Prices linger between about £300 and £400 per person for 7 nights. Quartier des Bergers Apartments (situated guess where?) – my new fave place to stay, Bergers offers a heated swimming pool, sauna, small gym and bar to all guests. Situated right next to the slopes and a small shopping arcades there are great views from all windows. Once again the price varies from £300 to £550. Christiana Apartments (self-catering apartments right next to the Quartier Des Berges block). Once again a good location with rooms for 2 or 4. Price
s start at £270 and go up to £500. TIP: As always with holidays it’s much cheaper in the low season e.g. before Christmas, first week of Jan and Easter. GETTING THERE The popular ski town is situated a mere 5 hours from Paris (3 1/2hrs if one jumps on t the French railway – TGV), however most British visitors will reach the resort by air and then bus. Depending on the tour operator aeroplanes depart from all over the UK and arrive at a mixture of French airports – Geneva, Grenoble, Lyons. Having been to all of them I can tell you that they’re all fairly basic but nice enough – although they never stamp my passport (last month I put on my best smiley face and held it open on a blank page – there are one or 2 blankeys left in my passport! – but to no avail... I didn’t even get a second look... must be losing my touch). Transfer times range from 1 hr (Grenoble) and 2-3hrs (Lyons/Geneva) and will depend on traffic and weather conditions. The journey tends to be pretty uneventful, passing by a few old chateaux, some French countryside and motorway, that is until you reach the Casino supermarket! Since it’s creation in 1999, the car park behind Casino has proved to be a popular stopping point with coaches before the ascent into the mountains to reach the resorts of Alpe d’Huez, Les Deux Alpes, Serre Chevalier and Montgenevre. The stop boasts the supermarket, obviously, but more importantly the toilets! Most people tend to be bursting by this time and I always look forward to the stop so I can leap out and relieve myself... but believe me, relief is certainly not for the faint-hearted! You see the toilets occur in the form of 4 portaloos. Now we’re not talking British portaloos (slightly smelly but otherwise normal), no these are French portaloos! I was slightly apprehensive when the door swung open and my mind was racing trying to work out, “Where the blinkers do I
sit?” But there was an eager queue bustling behind me so I leapt in and shut the door. “Eeps” was my initial reaction, before me was a set of three steps and a big whole cut in the third with a “slop” bucket underneath. Fair enough for the men but the female anatomy is a tad different. So first off I attempted the “hover” position, but it was clear my trousers were about to get badly splashed (ugh). Luckily as an athlete I’m blessed with flexibility and managed to adopt a sort of one foot off the back wall and one foot off the front ledge balancing in the air position – not the easiest or most pleasant, but task accomplished I hopped out with a grin on my face, wondering (although not in too much detail) how the short fat bird who scurried in after me would approach the situation! Now, believe it or not, that’s not quite the end of the excitement for the journey. As soon as the coach leaves the car park it begins the steep journey up to the resort. This last ½ hr ride which covers the last 13km of the journey consists of 22 “keep your eyes shut” hair pin bends – which involve the bus leaning steeply over the side and swerving and doing all sorts of things you really don’t want to be doing on the edge of a steep mountain! SUMMER As weird as it may seem ski resorts DO attract those peculiar people who aren’t there for the white stuff and after it’s all melted away (*gasps* yup that is what happens to the snow over the summer months in Alpey D) the resort in Oisans still remains incredibly popular with tourists. Most hotels and apartments shut for a few months (normally over May) and then re-open for the summer. For more information on places to stay you can always call the tourist info office on France 04 76 11 44 44. There are various large events over the summer too. Now remember at the I mentioned those 22 terrifying hair pin
s? Well, in the summer the same 22 sees the toughest stage of the Tour de France in July and a road race in August funnily enough called “Alpe 22” – rather them than me but it makes terribly wonderful watching! Hoorah! At last you’re here! The end... well nearly! Sorry it was a bit of an epic but sooo much stuff had to be said and I hope if you’re planning a trip you’ll find the info useful :) and I hope if you’re not planning a trip you’ll start planning one soon!
I visited Alp d’huez on my second skiing trip and although without question one of the top resorts in France, I found that our lack of ability confined us to about 200 metres of piste for the whole week. Admittedly, there could have been more snow, but we couldn’t really see that it would have made much difference. It was very expensive, the package, the food and the drinks. The locals were typically French (say no more) The village is mainly modern and prefabricated but quite nice. The scenery is nice if you like looking at snow (no trees) I would recommend Alp d’huez to anyone with plenty of money, with a skill level of at least high intermediate and with a capacity to ignore the locals attitude.
Alpe d'Huez is where I have spent the last 4 seasons skiing, and I have to say I want to live there. This resort is one of the best resorts I have ever been to, with slopes for all types of people to Beginner’s (which is what I was when I first went there) to expert. This resort has the longest black ski run in the world it is massive and I have to say personally very scary and I refuse to even look down it otherwise ski down it. The slopes on Alpe d’Huez has great skiing for all age groups also, many youngsters are there going down the slopes at a hundred miles per hour with no fear in the world. The Ski School there are also excellent, all of the instructors can speak perfect English and you are not mixed with other tourists from other countries so you do not feel left out, at al. All the stages in Ski School are specific and it is almost impossible to get into the wrong class. I have attended the Ski School there for three years and have found it one of the best I have been to, with them so friendly and encouraging you all the way to make sure you can do your best. The Runs: The village is set at the bottom of a huge bowl high in the French alps. From the bowl you can ski into the surrounding valleys, on the glacier at the top and even down the backside of the huge ridge. There are a number of challenging courses down the front of the ridge, some interesting tree skiing below the main bowl, and excellent access to the main slopes. There is even a tunnel you can ski through the ridge from the glacier at the back to a superb bowl at the front. The black runs down the back of the mountain are the longest I have ever seen and challenging more for endurance than outright difficulty. The resort has a huge number of runs and covers a massive area, with links to several other resorts. You can get a variety of different lift passes covering different combinations of ski areas. You can easily ski from anywhere to anywhere and ba
ck home again without having to take a bus or make any walking traverses. You can ski into and out of several chalets and there is a run right through the centre of the village. Beware, it is narrow and crowded at the end of the day, but lots of fun. For the beginners out there, there are a number of gentle slops one called Snow Board Hill which is a very gentle hill which has a button lift going across it, this is good to practice on until you get your confidence up and go on some more challenging routes. After Snow Board Hill you can progress to the Bunny Slopes which are very easy greens, and has a lift which can take you to different parts, so you can go as high as you confidence will let you. As for the expert skiers out there, there are a number of course for you. The longest black run course, which is through a tunnel with a very steep drop on the other side, if that is not quite for you, then there are some lower down slopes which are either easy red or blue. They consist of long but quite easy slopes with beautiful scenery and chances to go off course so you really never go the same way twice. The snow there is excellent with snow even in Early December for skiing. I have always preferred to go in the off season at the beginning of December and have found that there is plenty of snow and great sunshine. There are a number of things to do besides skiing, the bars and clubs there are amazing although the prices are a bit expensive, however the discounts that you can get from the Hotels help you out. There a number of bars and clubs to go to, most of the run by English people, Sharky’s having to be one of my favourites. There is also an out-door swimming pool which is truely amazing, swimming in warm weather while it is snowing around you is something else. There is also a local gym where you get free passage into with your ski lift, and this is the same for the swimming pool. There are a number of l
ocal restaurants all around however all shops shut at 12-2 o'clock, so get your shopping done before or after that time, there is also a local arcade place for the younger children which has a miniture ten pin bowling and a bar for the adults. The price of beer and spirts are quite expensive around £3 for a glass of beer although it is not a proper pint, I advise buying from the local supermarket where there are two, where the beer is a lot cheaper. The Hotels there are all very nice and cheap with the Hotel Reps very friendly and always organizing something to do. You can go on Bar Crawls, Go-Carting and other excretions that the Hotel Provide Over all this is the best holiday/skiing place I feel that you go for teenagers and if you want to have some great skiing with a great night life then this is the place to go.
I went with my partner to Alpe D’Huez for a week's skiing in March 2000. The transfer from Lyon to the resort was nice and short which is always a good start. There are a total of 21 hairpin bends (Made famous in one of the Bond movies, can't remember which) on the way up to the village from the town of Bourg-d'Oisans, which got a few of our stomachs lurching. Once we arrived we headed for Chalet Telemark, a First Choice “Fine dining” Chalet. We were glad we didn’t go for their ordinary fare as it was only a bit better than average (I’m a bit of a “foodie” though), but there was plenty of wine to wash it down with. The Chalet itself was brand new with en-suite baths - big bonus for the achey muscles. The people we shared the Chalet with were a good laugh, and for those travelling as a couple that enjoy socialising, Chalets are a good option. Our local bar was the Underground, nice and noisy and usually filled with Danes in various states of innebriation. Other interesting bars included Smithys, a large pub with plenty of life, and Le Sporting, near the ice rink. Le Sporting was hilarious as the entertainment was a one man show who played keyboard, worked the decks and did horrendous Olivia Newton John impressions. His bum length blond hair stuck up in bunches had everyone in stitches. The skiing area is great offering a lot of variety, including the longest black run in Europe, La Sarenne (16km, but a lot of it almost horizontal) and not much motorway stuff. The Tunnel, a black going through a tunnel, is supposed to be pretty challenging. A bit out of my league though so I can't comment. There is a small snowboard park in the centre of the nursery slopes (Handily located at the top of the town). Boarders seemed to be welcomed here, but weren't evident in copious numbers. The snow was getting pretty wet most afternoons but if you moved to the n
orth facing slopes this wasn’t a problem – a bummer for beginners as the north facing slopes were at least low intermediate. Queuing wasn’t a problem here as there are so many tows and lifts to choose from. If you ever go here make sure you take the scare chair, The Alpauris Chairlift (Thanks GrahamT), its pretty exhilarating the first time. There is plenty of treeline skiing at the Vaujany end of the resort, and it's not too difficult. The gondola back up is very quick, which is handy. All of the mountain restaurants we tried were very good quality, and not too horrendously priced. Worth a special mention was La Cabane du Poutat, just above Alpe d'huez. We ate here 4 times, stuffing our faces with mulled wine, Creme Brulees, and loads af Tartes (Not to mention the main courses). Top notch grub and not far to ski back down if you need an after dinner nap. The ESF were the best I’ve had lessons with anywhere, our instructor spoke excellent English and asked us what WE wanted to do on the first day. The class plumped for a mixture of guided skiing, off piste and lessons. He was quite happy with this and took us everywhere. An option that was highly recommended to us was taking the helicopter for a days skiing in Les Deux Alpes. we didn't do this, but are going there in March 2001 so I'll post a report when we get back. All in all this resort has the best mix of any I’ve been to, I might go back someday and thoroughly recommend it to anyone considering skiing here.
I first visited Alpe d'Huez at Easter 1997. Although it lacks some of the alpine charm possessed by neighbouring resorts I fell in love with the place. Alpe d'Huez is one of the largest resorts in the Alps with a massive ski area suitable for skiers or boarders of all abilities. There is also an additional snowboard park equipped with half pipes and man made jumps. The interlinking runs make ski-ing here a pleasure. There is no need to "skate" or "pole" to reach lifts all week! The majority of green (easy) runs are based on either side of the main station. This is an added bonus for young children or beginners because when they've had enough for the day it is only a very short walk back to the hotel, apartment or main village. Some hotels and apartments even have a ski-in, ski-out facility with there doors on the slopes! For intermediates there are a wide variety of runs. You can have your first taste of off piste as well. After a big dump there is about 100m of good powder between the runs. This is perfect for a newcomer to powder. You may well find yourself at home on the Signal mountain. It has wide sweeping runs which are steep in places. I can guarantee that experts and advanced will never tire of Alpe d'Huez. It has a wide variety of very steep slopes. Ranging from to the race course and mogul field on the Signal to the 16km long Sarenne. There is also a load of off piste stuff for you. Be warned NEVER go off piste alone or without an instructor. If the ESF catch you they will fine you. You can rent a guide for an afternoon to take you off piste, this is by far the best thing to do. Always wear an avalanche buzzer when off piste. You can hire them from any good ski shop in Britain or in the resort itself. I would recommend that experts and advanced skiers looking for some hard ski-ing go in mid-season when there is plenty of snow. If you go at low season you may find that some of the harder runs a
re shut due to lack of snow at the bottom of the run. I myself have found this in previous years and it can be very frustrating. Elsewhere on the mountain you can go heliski-ing. This is great fun. I admit I have never done it myslef but a few of my friends have and they said it was very exhilarating. There are around 15 mountain restaurants and cafes. These are easy to reach, so when your in need of that early morning wake-up coffee you'll have no trouble finding one. Be warned mountain restaurants have a habit of over charging. In the past I have paid £2 for a can of coke! There is also plenty to do when you are not ski-ing. Alpe d'Huez has a huge sport centre equipped with tennis and squash courts, a swimming pool and even a climbing wall. There are also various other activities such as archery on offer from what I can remember. Prices for these are similar to those in England. It is around £3 an hour for a tennis court. Alpe d'Huez has many restaurants for every cuisine and a whole load of designer boutiques selling top brand names. These tend to be a lot cheaper than in England. There are also a lot of bars. The best English bar is Smithys which is near the ice rink. It has a pool table, table football, English beer and Sky Television. I have had some great nights in there. Every night is party night in Alpe d'Huez!!! There are also a couple of good clubs. My favourite is the Blue Igloo Discotheque. This is near Smithys, a couple fo hundred yards down the road from the ice rink (which is in the middle of the town oppposite the slopes). If you want to go self-catering I would recommend the pierre et vacances apartments. They go under two names, Alpe d'Huez apartments or L'Ours Blanc. They are very basic but well priced and convieniently situated. The nearest supermarket is about 100m down the road. If you get peckish their is a small mall underneath them with a gaufre and crepe shop (French waffles a
nd pancakes). The old lady who works their is always friendly and welcoming, as a most people in the resort. Alternatively you can nip across the road to the rotisserie and buy a roast pig! From my apartment I could see them spinning around on the spit and couldn't resist the temptation of trying one. It was absolutely delicious, far nicer than anything I have ever tasted in England! Snow cover is barely ever a problem in Alpe d'Huez! The village itself is at 1800m and the hughest lift at 3300m thus making it in one of the highest resorts in the Alps. Snow cannons also cover more than 400km of pistes! From my own knowledge I can say that the resort generally has enough snow to fully open by Christmas week, any earlier than that and it is slightly risky, maybe a 50/50 chance of it all being open. The nursery slopes (which can actually be quite challenging in places are normally ready by the 16th December. The resort keeps its lifts open until the end of April, however, I have been twice in the first week of April and by the afternoon ski-ing has become slushy with many bare patches on the majority of slopes. I would advise you go no later than the last week of March if you want a full week of hard ski-ing. All this of course will depend on how well the season is going. In previous years there has been a big dump (around 100cm) at the beginning of April. That's enough from me, hope I have been of some help. I'd just like to say one downside of this resort is the ski school - ESF. The English spoken by the instructors is very basic and at times their is a breakdown in communication due to this. A shame really because the runs for beginners are awesome. I wouldn't let that put you off going thhere though. My sister learned to ski at Alpe d'Huez and she hasn't looked back since!