Alpe d’Huez (1,860-3330m) is a sizeable, modern resort known for its sunny, extensive terrain and spectacular views across the Southern Alps. The efficient lift system whisks you up to the vast, high-altitude ski area of the Alpe d’Huez Grand Domain Ski (250km) with its wide choice of varied runs, well-suited to all levels.
Alpe d’Huez is one of the liveliest resorts in the French Alps, but is divided into separate quarters, so you can often find yourself far away from the centre (Avenue des Jeux). A good tip is to stay in the prettier, more rustic village of Vaujany, which is linked to Alpe d’Huez by chairlift. Families are particularly fond of Alpe d’Huez for its friendly, laid-back atmosphere and wide choice of accommodation – apartments, chalets, hotels and B&Bs.
The ski area is comprised of five ski resorts and two traditional mountain villages: Alpe d’Huez, Auris-en-Oisans, La Garde, Le Freney d’Oisans, Oz-en-Oisans, Vaujany and Villard-Reculas.
The resort’s efficient lift system whisks skiers up to the vast, high-altitude slopes of the Alpe d’Huez Grand Domaine Ski (250km). Here you’ll find a wealth of sunny, south-facing runs high above the treeline, suitable for all levels and dotted with plenty of good mountain restaurants.
Few resorts can rival Alpe d’Huez for size of ski area and variety of terrain, which is often compared to Espace Killy (Tignes and Val d’Isere). In mid-winter Alpe d’Huez’s high-altitude slopes maintain great snow conditions, but the strong southern sun can mean late-season snow becomes slushy in the afternoon.
Mountain highlights include the 16km Sarenne piste (primarily black) which offers 1hr30 of uninterrupted skiing. There’s also some serious off-piste, plenty of steep verticals, a varied snow park and one of the biggest nursery ski areas in the Alps.
Downsides to the ski area are the few tree runs, which leaves few options on bad-weather days; overcrowding is a regular occurrence on the Chamois and Coulior runs at the top of the DMC gondola; and late-season snow can alternate between slushy afternoons and icy mornings.
Alpe d’Huez has some serious off-piste to explore. The extensive and varied terrain is particularly well-suited to the more adventurous freerider. You’ll find more than 20 high-altitude, off-piste trails, with gullies and tracts of fresh powdered snow. Some of the most popular off-piste powder can be found in areas such as Gorges de Sarenne and Glacier de Sarenne. Note: Always ride with a guide.
On the pistes
Beginners: Alpe d’Huez has one of the largest nursery areas in the Alps with four free lifts for beginners. The mass of green runs above the village (accessed by the Troncon cable car) and above the Les Bergers area (accessed by the Romains chair) offer plenty of wide, gentle slopes to help you find your snow legs. Although watch out for more advanced skiers whizzing through at the end of the day.
Intermediates: A good selection of intermediate runs are spread throughout the ski area. Some of the most challenging reds can be found in the Villard-Reculas and Signal de l’Homme sectors. Confident intermediates can try the Canyon run from Plat des Marmottes or the 16km Sarenne black run. For less confident intermediates, there are some great blue cruisers from the Signal sector heading down to Alpe d’Huez, or try the sector the long, blue Champclotury run above Oz or the main Couloir blue from 2,700m.
Advanced/experts: The black, expert runs are accessible from the top of Pic Blanc and Les Marmottes III cable car. They attract thrill seekers and the more technically advanced skiers to experience the maximum vertical drop of 2,200m. Particularly noteworthy black runs include the Fare piste, the Combe Charbonniere, Balme, La Fuma and the Col de Cluy.
The legendary 16km black Sarenne piste stretches from Pic Blanc (3,330m) to Alpe d'Huez (1,860m). It consists of two sections: initially a fairly steep series of pitches which can get a bit mogulled and then a long flatter section along the valley. It is primarily a black ski run, but you can avoid the really steep section at the top by skiing off from the Marmottes 3 bubble instead. On a powder day, the run can take quite some time with waist-deep snow to wade through in the flatter section.
Alpe d’Huez has two snowparks: the main (advanced) one, stretching down the side of the DMC, is praised for its design. You’ll find everything from an easy beginner line to a big airbag jump, half-pipe (depending on snow conditions), a boardercross, and multitude of rails; the second, smaller park is for beginners (with a couple of kickers and some bumps) and is located above Vaujany.
A six-day lift pass in Alpe d’Huez includes a free day’s skiing in neighbouring Les Deux Alpes. There are buses twice a week to Les Deux-Alpes, but a great option is to go by helicopter (€65).
The resort itself is very spread out so you can often find yourself staying far away from the centre (Avenue des Jeux), but a good tip is to opt for accommodation in the prettier, more rustic village of Vaujany, which is linked to Alpe d’Huez by chairlift.
Alpe d’Huez certainly draws the crowds, so try to avoid major holiday periods. A good tip is to get an early start on Saturdays, taking advantage of change-over day and beat the weekend skiers. You can also save time on the mountain by downloading on Vaujany-Villette to take the big gondola up to l’Alpette.
Au Trappeur, Rond Point des Pistes, 38750 Alpe d’huez (04 76 79 29 34). Open from 7am for toasted sandwiches, croissants and good coffee on the terrace or at the bar. A great start to the day before catching the first lift up the mountain.
Café Gourmand, La Menandiere, 38750 Alpe d’Huez (09 82 61 05 51). Great place for a quick stop-and-grab breakfast. Serves crepes, waffles, paninis and croquet-monsieurs to scoff on the ski lift or eat on the south-facing sun terrace. Wash it down with a hot chocolate, tea or coffee. Open from 8:30am.
Restaurant Les Airelles, Domaine de l’Alpe d’Huez, Vaujany, Montfrais (04 76 80 79 78). This traditional mountain hut is built into the rock and is renowned for its roaring log fire. There’s a daily set menu offering salads, soups, omelettes, grilled meats and specialities like burgers with Reblochon cheese and ‘pot au feu’ with truffles. Sit in one of three dining areas or out on the large sun terrace. From the second stage of the Vaujany-Alpe d'Huez cable car, you can reach Les Airelles by following the Les Rousses piste as far as the middle station of the cable car at Alpette, then follow signs for Montfrais. You can also get there on foot via the Montfrais bubble lift and a short travelator.
Au Ble Noir, Chemin des Bergers, 38750 Alpe d’Huez (04 57 30 00 73). Housed in a beautifully restored old barn in the centre of town, serves traditional French dishes like crepes and fondues as well as wood fire specialities. Open from 12-2pm and 7-9:30pm.
Au P’tit Creux, Chemin des Bergers, 38750 Alpe d’huez (04 76 80 62 80). Housed in a beautifully restored alpine building with a south-facing sun terrace and cosy pine interior. Typical French dishes are served for lunch and dinner and average around €48. House favourites include foie gras, carré d’agneau and mango tatin.
Au Grenier, Avenue de Brandes, 38750 Alpe d’huez (04 76 80 64 11). This reasonably priced restaurant serves traditional French dishes. Specialities include veal with Beaufort cheese and Cassolette de St. Jacques (scallop casserole). Open for lunch and dinner with a large south-facing terrace and cosy interior.
Smithy’s Tavern, Route du Coulet, 38750 Alpe d’Huez (04 76 11 32 29). This centrally located bar and restaurant appeals to all ages and has a solid reputation as a good-value eatery (mains start at €13). The Tex-Mex menu features nachos, fajitas and burritos as well as plenty of bloodier options for enthusiastic carnivors, like homemade burgers, fillet steaks and the rack of ribs. Also has a lively après-ski scene with live music. Opens from 5pm Mon-Fri; from 10am Sat; from 2:30pm Sun.
Pizza Tchao, Galerie de l’Ours Blanc, 38750 Alpe d’Huez (04 76 80 38 98). Serves a choice of 70 pizzas, as well as fondue and raclette, to eat in or takeaway. Buy four pizzas, get fifth one free.
The Underground, Chemin de la Chapelle, 38750 Alpe d’huez (04 76 80 31 19). This bar in Vieil Alpe has a cool vibe – with beer mats on the walls and snowboards on the ceiling. Popular with both locals and visitors, The Underground is a renowned bar in these parts and hosts live music most nights. It also offers Sky Sports and snacks.
The Sporting, Avenue des Jeux, 38750 Alpe d’Huez (04 76 80 33 45). This is one of the few late-night bars in town and isn’t cheap but is the place to be for VIPs and party lovers. Live DJ music most nights. Expect to pay €10 for a beer.
There are four airports within 2.5 hours’ drive of Alpe d’Huez:
Lyon St-Exupery Airport (2.5hrs/150km) Aeroport Saint Exupery, 69720 Saint-Laurent-de-Mure, France. Airlines: British Airways and easyJet fly direct to Lyon.
Geneva Airport (2.5hrs/220km) Route de l‘Aéroport 21, 1215 Genève 15, Switzerland. Airlines: British Airways, easyJet and Swiss Airlines fly from London airports; easyJet fly from regional UK airports.
By bus: Altibus (+33 (0)820 320 368) run buses from Geneva, Chambery and Lyon airports to Grenoble coach station, and from here VFD/Transaltitude (+33 (0)820 08 38 38) run daily coaches to and from Alpe d’Huez.
By train: The nearest train station is Grenoble (63km/1hr15 from Alpe d’Huez). Train tickets are available to purchase at SNCF or RailEurope. From Grenoble train station, VDF/Transaltitude run transfers to and from Alpe d’Huez.
By car: Follow the autoroute to Grenoble, then get on the A480 autoroute and follow signs for Sisteron/Gap. Take exit No. 8 "Gap, Briançon, Vizille - Stations de l'Oisans" which joins the RN85, then the RD1091 to Bourg d'Oisans, then the D211. The Mythical ascent of the 21 bends will be the final climb to get to Alpe d'Huez.
A resort bus runs various routes around town throughout the day as well as night routes between mid-Dec. and mid-April. Car parks are dotted around Alpe d’Huez, for a full list go here.