Conor Power and son discover that skiing in Alpe d’Huez is for all ages… and pockets too
Alpe d’Huez is known as the sunny resort. It’s famous for the amount of sunshine it gets on its high slopes (up to 3,300m) during the winter months, making it one of the most agreeable ski resorts in Europe. The other thing that people often associate with Alpe d’Huez as a stage of the Tour de France. Its 21 twists to the top have almost always formed part of the itinerary since 1976. In 2013, it was even involved twice on the same day.
On the day that my son and I arrived in Alpe d’Huez, the weather had turned unusually cloudy and rainy as a result of a passing storm that closed a number of resorts in the area.
We were picked up at Bourg d’Oisans – the lively village at the bottom of the mountain and brought to the twinkling wonderland of Alpe d’Huez. We were staying at the Hôtel Grandes Rousses in the heart of the resort.
With its timber-fronted Alpine style, it strikes a cosy and welcoming presence. The recently-refurbished interior is a masterclass in blending funky design, upmarket hotel and irresistible cosiness. All around you are areas in different corners and on different levels that invite one to lounge to ones heart’s content. It’s a family-run hotel that has been in the same clan for over 100 years now and it shows – the dinner menu is an impressive mixture of inventiveness and strong traditional fare inspired by both Lyonnaise and Savoyarde cuisine. Portions are large, the house red is a delight and the service is smart and efficient.
It was back to normality the next day, however and the sun reappeared in time to try out a new product on the skiing market – the Wingjump
Developed and manufactured by a company based on the shores of Lake Annecy, this 100% Made-in-France product with an English name looks something like a wingsuit but this is no high-risk daredevil exercise. It is, say its creators, a product designed to transform the skiing experience in a safe way for all members of the family.The wings are easily attached and un-cumbersome. When you pick up speed going downhill, spreading your arms allows you to momentarily “fly” over bumps along the course. The video below gives you a good idea of what it’s all about.
Alpe d’Huez offers a great range in the diversity of its skiing for a place that while large, is certainly not overly huge. A week’s skiing here will allow you to explore most of what it has to offer. Moreover, there is a good mixture of challenges, with plenty for the intermediate skier. There are lots of nice red runs that won’t present much of a challenge to the blue-run crew. In fact, if you are the blue-run skier who fancies going up the scales of excitement, then this is a good place to have a go. Over by the Col de Maronne, for example, the journey is very rewarding and the views from here are heart-melting. You can have a crack at the very short red run from the top beside the forest that joins up with a green section as it runs into Auris-en-Oisans.One of the big unique selling points for Alpe d’Huez, however, is the wonderful Sarenne. This is the longest black ski run in the Alps. It runs for a full 18km and it’s an experience not to be missed. With most of it wide and intermediate-level-friendly, it’s another one to take on if you’re a blue run aficionado with a good few snow kilometres under your skis. The main reason, in fact, that it’s classified as a black run is because of the distance involved and the fact that once you begin the run, the only way to get off it is to complete it (no ski lifts en route).
In terms of entertainment, the resort has everything you need to keep you occupied with the full range of sideshow activities, such as the airbag (for practising jumps without pain), parapente (skiing off the edge and descending by parachute), aeroplane rides over the resort, moto neige, husky sled, ski joering and an ice grotto.
For food and entertainment, the choice is vast. It has another outlet of the party-animal-friendly La Folie Douce, as well as a host of mountainside and town choices. There’s good value too. For example, try La Cremaillère (no website – 1142 Route d’Huez, 38750 Huez, phone number is +33 4 76 80 60 38) on the main street on Smithy’s Tavern just a little to the north. There’s absolutely nothing traditional about this pure English-language pub/burger joint (even Smithys Tavern is in English only) but it’s a good choice if looking for cheap eats in a lively spot.
Get Yourself There
Aer Lingus flies direct daily to both Lyon and Geneva. From the surprisingly low-key airport in Lyon, the Ouibus gets you to Grenoble, from where you can pick up a regular bus heading to Alpe d’Huez. If more than 2 of you are travelling, renting a car at Lyon Airport is a better option. From here, it’s just a 2-hour drive.