The French Alps are breath-taking no matter what season you choose to pay a visit. But if you’re fan of skiing then this impressive chain of picturesque mountains, which boast some of the highest and most spectacular peaks in Europe, will float your adrenaline-seeking boat during the winter months. For skiers at all levels, Alpe D’Huez definitely fits the bill.
The island of the sun – in the mountains
While there’s a host of great ski resorts to choose from, if you’re travelling as a family the Family Plus resort of Alpe d’Huez is a perfect location – and even manages to tick the sunshine box too.
Poised on a mountain plateau that faces directly south, and enjoying an average of 300 days of sunshine, Alpe d’Huez has earned the apt nickname of “L’ile au Soleil”, or the island of the sun. Yet despite enjoying such prolonged warm weather, its ski area is open for an impressive four months, from mid-late December to mid-late April, as natural snow fall is propped up by 1,033 snow cannons to deliver maximum snow coverage over its 840 ski-able hectares.
High above the Oisans Valley, the ski area at your disposal in Alpe d’Huez is vast, stretching from 1,860 metres at village level to 3,330 metres at the summit of the magnificent Pic Blanc, where on a clear day you can look out over a fifth of France.
Just one of the breath-taking mountains that you can view from this spot include the Alps’ highest mountain Mont Blanc, or the white mountain.
A Tour de France landmark and the “mother of all black runs”
While it’s stunning, picture postcard views, sunshine and long ski season are enough to entice you to take a ski holiday here, the resort of Alpe d’Huez, in the Massif des Grandes Rousses, also has some interesting claims to fame which might tick a few more boxes for you. It’s the most iconic Alpine ascent of the Tour de France – while the tour route varies year to year, Alpe d’Huez was first included in the race in 1952 and has been a stage finish regularly since 1976, and it hosted the bobsled event as part of the Winter Olympics in 1968.
If you’re more of a daring skier then Alpe d’Huez is also home to what’s affectionately known as the “Mother of all black runs”, the Sarenne piste. At 16km it’s the longest black run in Europe stretching from Pic Blanc (3300m) to Alpe d’Huez (1860m).
Skiing for all levels at Alpe d’Huez
This resort is great for all levels of skier as it boasts a varied mix of pistes mostly above the tree line. They range from beautiful wide blues just above the village, to more challenging reds higher up and at the top daring and steep bumpy blacks – as well as Sarenne, Le Tunnel is also another scary one if you’ve got the head and stomach for it!
There are 43 green, 38 blue, 40 red and 17 black runs, two snow parks, recreational ski area, over 2120m of vertical drop with more than 250km of pistes, and the chance to enjoy night ski-ing and sledding.
When it comes to beginners the resort also has two dedicated areas exclusively for visitors to learn the art of skiing or snowboarding away from the main pistes, as well as a kids’ area with a covered magic carpet surface lift. A quirky fact that appeals to little ones is that a couple of the resort’s runs, as well as an avenue in the resort and children’s play park, are named after marmottes, or marmot, which are large squirrel-like creatures that make their home in this area. And, if you visit at the end of the season, you’ll probably be lucky enough to see them popping up to greet the world above as the snow starts to melt as we did.
Alpe d’Huez is great for kids
If your children’s legs are weary after a morning skiing, and they don’t fancy getting back on the pistes after lunch, a nice activity is to switch into your snow boots and take them on the DMC Gondola to the Grotte de Glace, up 2700 metres. Here you’ll discover fabulous sculptures carved into the walls of an ice cave spanning a 120-metre-long gallery.
Or, if your children can ski red runs, and they’ve still got energy to burn off, you can also ski to and from this cave, instead of going via the gondola.
Once seen as a competitor to the premier ski resort of Courchevel, Alpe d’Huez, which encompasses the slopes of the outlying villages of Auris, Villard Reculas, Oz en Oisans and Vaujany, is one of Europe’s premier skiing venues and the fifth largest in France. And by 2021 there will also be the opportunity to ski over an even bigger area as a €350million gondola link is being created to link Alpe d’Huez to the neighbouring, and equally popular resort of Les Deux Alpes.
As with all ski resorts there’s a plethora of accommodation available to suit all budgets. But my family and I stayed at the Residence Pierre et Vacances’ Les Bergers in the Bergers’ quarter, which is one of eight quarters within the resort – there’s also Cognet, Jeux, Eclose, Vieil Aple, Huez Village, Passeaux and Qutaris. Our four-star accommodation, made up of various sized apartments, boasted a heated, outdoor swimming pool and sauna, and a lounge with a bar, fireplace and pool table.
For more information visit www.pierreetvacances.com
For more information on Alpe d’Huez in general visit www.alpedhuez.com
Justine Halifax is a multi award-winning writer and has worked as a journalist and feature writer for the Birmingham Mail, Birmingham Post and Sunday Mercury.