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.