Set deep in the stunning Oisans valley, Alpe d’Huez is a vast ski area: A whopping 250km of pistes link the main town to four surrounding villages – Auris, Villard Reculas, Oz-en-Oisans and Vaujany. As you might expect from such a huge zone, there’s an abundance of varied terrain on offer with something to suit every ability level.
The resort’s altitude spans from 1,100m all the way to 3,330m – the peak of the towering Pic Blanc. This means you can charge down wide open, glacial powder fields in the morning before dropping down into the trees later in the day.
While the resort has never really placed that much of an emphasis on its freestyle offering, Alpe d’Huez is something of a freeriders’ paradise. The terrain is truly epic, and because it tends to attract a lot of families who stick to the pistes, the powder can stay untracked for days after a dump.
Additionally, because its mostly south facing slopes catch a lot of sun (its French nickname translates as ‘island in the sun’ ) it’s a great place to go if you’re looking for a late season shred. This, combined with its lively bar scene, makes it a popular choice with student groups.
Alpe d’Huez’s crown jewel is undoubtedly the descent from the Pic Blanc: a 2,200m run of leg burning awesomeness, making it the longest continuously pisted vertical descent in the world. It’s referred to as the ‘champagne run’ by the locals because that’s exactly what you deserve if you can make it to the bottom without stopping (which is nigh on impossible!). A wonderful way to spend 40 minutes of your life and a real achievement.
Alpe d’Huez’s crown jewel is undoubtedly the descent from the Pic Blanc: a 2,200m run of leg burning awesomeness.
Obviously long, leg-burning descents like that aren’t for beginners. The first bit of that descent, a black called “le Tunnel” can get pretty mogul-heavy, making it scary for beginners and even some intermediates.
Thankfully though there are plenty of other places much better suited to learners. In fact, if you’re just starting to link your first turns, Alpe d’Huez is a great place to head, with wide open, gently-sloping nursery slopes right above the resort.
For those who want to do a bit of jibbing on their way down, the blue couloir piste which snakes down from the top of the Troncons lift has plenty of little drops you can hit on the right-hand side, although it can get crowded – so look before you launch blind into your backside 180.
ONBOARD SCORE = 4/5
The powers that be in Alpe d’Huez have never really pursued the freestyle path with much conviction. But according to the locals, the parks have come on a lot in recent years. Jamie Purkhardt says: “It may not rival Les Arcs or Mayrhofen, but every year Alpe d’Huez gets better and better. I’ve seen snowboarders nail double corks in there.”
There are two parks to check out – a small one above Auris-en-Oisans and a bigger one that sits in the centre of the main bowl. This has a handful of blue jumps and rails and then a larger line with red and black take-offs.
While the kickers aren’t always the best shaped (it is still in France after all) there are novel features like the ability to scan your liftpass at the bottom, watch your run back on the big screen and upload it straight to Facebook. Better than a selfie anyway…
In the same main park there’s also a well-maintained boardercross track which regularly hosts fairly major events.
ONBOARD SCORE = 3/5
The off-piste on offer in Alpe d’Huez is truly epic. If you can beat the crowds to the Pic Blanc cable car, do the valley off to the right of the lift (marked on the map as the black ‘Sarenne’ run), which offers some incredible lines a short traverse away from the main piste.
But the locals’ pick of the bunch is the Grandes Rousses area. Peel off left at the top of the cable car at 2800m and the whole mountain range is your playground. With over 15 backcountry routes at your finger tips – notably the Perrin Sud, Perrin Nord, Couloir Fleure and Coulouir P10 – there are days of fun ahead for the beardy freeride type.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, hire a guide and ask him to take you up ‘le Pyramide’; a terrifying off piste run which takes around 40 minutes to scale up to the starting point from Pic Blanc.
There are days of fun ahead for the beardy freeride type
Elsewhere there’s a run in Montfrais called Roche Malon that’s festooned with drops, windlips and pillow lines, making it a playground when there’s fresh.
If you find yourself riding when the white stuff is actually coming down, your best bet is to head for the tree runs around Oz-en-Oisans or Montfrais, where there’s some decent lines to be had amongst the pines.
ONBOARD SCORE = 4/5
On the mountain the best places for a pitstop are Plage de Neige (located on the easy slopes down by the town) and La Combe Haute. The latter, boasts the tastiest and largest Tartiflette on the mountain. If you’ve just tackled the long, winding Sarenne, it’s perfect for a celebratory pint.
Tucked away off a cross country track (you have to approach from a path down the Chamois piste) is the excellent Chalet du Lac Besson. It’s off the beaten track but both the food and the atmosphere are worth the journey.
If you’re looking to eat in town, head to the alti-port where the incredible view is augmented by the occasional sight of a helicopter taking off or landing. For cheap eats, the awesomely-named Captain Sandwich takeaway is a good option, or if it’s late at night, Smithys. Jamie’s top tip? “Their fajitas are badass.”
Smithy’s is also a great place if you just want a pint. With live music every night it attracts a good crowd of seasonnaires. If you’re staying down in Vaujany, Stief’s is the place to go – run by snowboarders, it serves excellent Belgian beer and stays open til 2am.
Up in the main town Etalon and the Sphere Bar both do cheap shots (try “the pharmaceutical” at Sphere, it’s powerful!) but if 30EUR burgers and braying accountant types spilling champagne is your thing then you should head over to the Folie Douce on the slopes.
As the night wears on, head to Underground, where there’s a weekly reggae night and decent DJs most evenings. Or if you’re a ‘last man standing’ sort, then Igloo keeps pumping out the tunes ‘til 4am.
ONBOARD SCORE = 4/5
Alpe d’Huez is just 75 minutes drive from Grenoble Airport. British Airways flies to Grenoble twice a week from London Gatwick, with fares starting from just £45 pp each way, based on a return fare.