Skiing at Alpe d’Huez

Skiing at Alpe d’Huez

One of the French ‘big league’ resorts for the variety and extent of its slopes, Alpe d’Huez competes with the likes of Val d’Isere for hundreds of thousands of winter visitors. Most of the slopes here are above the tree line, giving great views, but the downside is there’s not much to do during high winds or storms. As with most other resorts, there are negatives here, such as the unreliable grading of the runs, which can make for a few uncomfortable moments for less experienced skiers, so care should be taken.

The four sectors of the slopes have good connections between them, with the largest, on Pic Blanc, overlooking the village, accessed by the giant Grandes Rousses gondola which ascends in two stages from the base station’s highest point. At altitude it links with a cable car rising to the Sarenne Glacier at 3,330m, also reached by a two-stage gondola via the Marmottes chair. This point on the glacier is the start of the longest downhill run anywhere in the Alps. The Signal de l’Homme and the smaller Signal sector are accessed mainly by fast chairs or drag lifts from various points in the village.

Although Alpe d’Huez is good at shifting queues, overcrowding on the slopes can prove problematic for less than confident skiers, especially on weekends or during French holidays. Nervous beginners can avoid the crowds and work on their skills in two parks; a beautifully graded novice park at the foot of the slopes or a beginners’ park set above Vaujany. The excellent advanced park close to Le Blanc drag lift features a half-pipe, jumps, rails, hips and more, giving fast, aggressive skiing. Experts are offered serious off-piste routes as well as long, challenging runs, but advice is needed before attempting the steep black trail under the Pic Blanc cable car as early morning sun often affects snow conditions.

Another good, varied long run is the Fare piste ending in L’Enversin.

Intermediates are treated to a great selection of runs in all sections, from challenging for the adventurous, to lovely long cruising pistes – some with serious carving. But the Chamois red is best avoided as it’s narrow, often icy, heavily mogulled and overcrowded. For the less ambitious intermediate, the Couloir blue is a terrific run, but can be overcrowded. Right above the village is a network of green runs, great for confidence-building, although fast through-traffic is a problem. Experienced snowboarders will feel at home here, with lots of good freeriding and vast off-piste areas, best with a guide for avoiding the flats. Cross-country skiers have 50kms of snow-sure trails, well-laid out in three loops, all at a decent height of around 2,000m.