Alpe d’Huez, France
Top Lift: 3330m
Ski area: 250km of piste
Adult lift pass: 150.50-215€ for six days
In a Nutshell
Set on a sunny plateau south of Grenoble, Alpe d’Huez is home to the world’s longest black run, as well as skiing’s largest area of nursery slopes. The resort itself is a long way from being beautiful – but hotels and apartments are being updated.
Essential Guide to Alpe d’Huez
Alpe d’Huez is one of France’s oldest ski resorts: but if you think that means it’s also quaint and villagey, you’d be wrong. The town-sized conurbation which now sprawls across this sunny plateau, south of Grenoble, embodies many of the worst vices of 1960s design. Up here, it looks less like architecture, and more like vandalism.
Admittedly, the Mairie deserves some credit for trying to soften the visual blow. It has been offering subsidies to accommodation owners prettifying exteriors with wood, notably in the form of balconies. This policy has produced improvements. The development of five traditional-style chalets by UK tour operator VIP and the classy refurbishment of its neighbouring hotel Le Chamois d’Or are symptomatic of a new approach. All right – so it’s not yet turned the ugly ducking into a swan, but at least officials have acknowledged the howling errors modern resort planning.
That said, Alpe d’Huez can still be a superb place to ski or snowboard. It’s the hub of France’s fifth-largest ski area, boasting an impressive 250km of pistes, and in two particular areas it ranks amongst the best in the Alps.
First is its nursery slopes – which are vast. They fan out in a big semi-circle at the eastern end of the resort and provide a huge area on which to practise. It’s very rare for beginners to be given so much space and such a prominent playground – and when you factor in the added attraction of two independent ski schools aimed squarely at the British market (Masterclass and Stance), you can see why we rate it as one of the best places to make your first turns. And if you are anxious about the way your children will be treated, consider this: the new Marmottes 1 chair has a magic carpet which can be raised to make it easy for little skiers to get on.
Second in the list of virtues is its terrain for advanced and expert skiers. The ski area is home to skiing’s longest black piste – the Sarenne – as well as another classic on-piste descent into the valley beneath the neighbouring resort of Vaujany – known as the Champagne Run. There are also some fine off-piste routes in the area, such as the run from the top of the Pic Blanc down to Clavans le Bas, in a valley east of the main resort.
Finally, all those nasty oblong buildings have kept prices fairly low. Alpe d’Huez has seen none of the colonisation by gazillionaires which has so affected the likes of Verbier, Courchevel and Val d’Isere in the last decade – and that’s kept the scene here young and fresh (albeit dominated by mass-market tour operators). In fact, judging by the riotous nights in bars such as Smithy’s we’ve been hearing about, it seems to be getting younger and fresher with each passing month.
So, if your budget’s tight and you’re at the top or bottom of the ability range, give it serious consideration. And try to go when it’s cold – the Alpe d’Huez plateau catches a lot of sun, which of course is a godsend in the middle of January, but rather less brilliant during one of those nasty Alpine heatwaves where the snow turns to slush.