Skiing in the French Alps

PUBLISHED: 14:18 03 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:38 20 February 2013

Alpe d’Huez by Laurent Salino

Alpe d’Huez by Laurent Salino

Not had enough of the snow? Then head for the French slopes, suggests Conrad Sutcliffe

Not had enough of the snow? Then head for the French slopes, suggests Conrad Sutcliffe

WHAT do you go skiing for? If you are anything like me you want a choice of days out, a decent place to stop for lunch and some long runs where you can put your foot down.

When I first looked at the lift map for the Alpe dHuez ski area, I thought I couldnt go wrong and booked a family trip for Christmas week four or five years ago.

Alpe dHuez had 250 kilometres of bashed pistes divided among 120 runs, some attractive vertical descents in terms of height and distance, six villages to ski to, 15 mountain restaurants and innumerable cafes at the bottom of the slopes worth a visit.

There was only one problem. I picked the one Christmas in a generation when there was no snow and it wasnt cold enough for the 900-odd snow cannon to produce the artificial stuff. So much for my dreams of a white Christmas.

Even at 25 per cent open the skiing was good enough to whet my appetite for a return trip. When Atout France invited me for a three-day stay in the four-star Chamois DOr, I didnt hang about accepting.

Perfect skiing weather

Any worries about the conditions were dispelled on the way up the mountain all 21 hairpin turns as we trundled up in a snowstorm.

Day one dawned cold but clear and we were off with a member of the piste security team acting as our guide for the day.

When you go with family and friends part of the fun is planning the daily itinerary and the options were one of the things which attracted me to Alpe dHuez the first time around.

Having missed out on the long ski down to Vaujanay - there is a blue and a straightforward black down to the village this time we did it.

After a coffee stop it was time to ride the massive Alpette cable car back back into the main circuit and set off in a different direction.

Round we went, whizzing into Villard Reculas and Oz En Oisans for a quick look around before going back up the mountain again. On a week-long trip we were only there for three days you would have time for a decent look around.

Dont miss the Sarenne

Well worth fitting into your itineraries for a day out are the super runs down from the Pic Blanc summit. All three are more than 2000 metres long as the crow flies longer by the time you chuck in a few turns and are downhill all the way without recourse to a lift. If you are ever up that way, the signage to look for is La Villette, LEnversin dOz and Oz-en-Oisans.

There is a fourth way down and it was the one disappointment of our first day that we missed it. The legendary Sarenne black run, at 16km long, is one of the big beasts of the French Alps.

The visibility went in the afternoon as snow flurries turned into a proper dump and common sense kept us away from the Sarenne.

Alexis, our man from the piste security team, reckoned our group of mixed ability skiers would have no problems with the Sarenne on a clear day. Hopefully it will be third time lucky?

Powder enthusiasts should seek out the Sarenne for their entertainment as there are 20 worthwhile excursions beyond the markers. Have a chat with the piste security boys at the top of the Pic Blanc before diving into the back country. Better still ask at the tourist office for a guide there is enough terrain to justify the expense - and make a day of it.

Our compensation for missing the Sarenne was stopping off for a drink in the Ice Bar at Chantebise, where gulp a shot something cheeky from a hollowed out ice cube while sitting in animal skins in a man-made igloo. Get there at the right time of day anytime after 4pm and the party is in full swing.

Coffee in the Piste Secors hut at the top of the main run back into town ended out first day out.

Swap skis for a sledge

Our second day on the slopes was punctuated by an hour spent dog sledging, which is more exciting that it sounds. You can never be quite sure when the sledge is going to tip over and deposit you on the snow!

The final excursion with skis was to the Signal de lHomme on the opposite side of the mountain in the area overlooking the hamlet of Auris en Oisans. The fun way to get there is on skis, which requires some serious planning as there is a lot of criss-crossing from piste to lift involved and the best laid plans can fall apart if just one of either is closed.

The quick way is via the Alpauris chair marked at the departure point as Connexion Auris but do be aware that the chair plummets alarmingly down one side of the gorge dividing the mountain before clambering up the other.

Alpe dHuez is one of the super league ski domains in France, but unlike some isnt the exclusive enclave of the expert.

Beginners are positively encouraged the Ecole du Ski Francais has more than 350 instructors and the nursery slopes are at the bottom of the mountain rather than higher up.

There is a free-to-ski area in sight of the town and speed limited areas which experienced campaigners are asked to avoid to allow the learners to grasp the basics without the worry of who is whooshing down behind them.


Web site

Slope statsPistes 131; lifts 84; distance 248km; snow cannon 785.

Lift pass 193-215 adult; 145-161.


Chamois d Or

Royal Ours Blanc

Les Cimes


Les Caves de lAlpe, Route de Coulet

Au Grenier, Avenue des Brandes

Au Ptit Creux, Chemin des Bergers


Crystal Ski

First Choice


Ski Total

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