I hadn’t intended to go solo, but due to a sudden family illness, my friend understandably had to cancel at last minute for our week’s ski trip to Vaujany in the French Alps.
It meant I was extra glad that I was on a Crystal Ski trip as the friendly, green-jacket reps were there to greet our charter flight at Chambéry airport for the onward short, 90-minute transfer to the traditional Isère village which the TUI holiday company has only just introduced for the first time this season.
It turned out to be as perfect a winter resort for solo skiers or snowboarders as it is for families, having been awarded a coveted ‘Famille Plus’. The reason is that this traditional village and its near-neighbour Oz share their own compact ski area and snowpark suitable for all levels, served locally by the Montfrais and l’Alpette gondolas. Yet smooth, speedy and spacious cable cars also soar onward to much larger Alpe d’Huez, opening up 250 km of slopes from the doorstep.
The Power To Change
If, like me, you haven’t previously heard of the tiny resort, then it’s probably because those that are lucky enough to come across this hidden gem want to keep it secret.
During the 1980s, Vaujany received sizeable compensation for the compulsory purchase of land to create the most powerful hydroelectric dam in France. A portion of this windfall was then invested in the cable car link to neighbouring Alpe d’Huez and the rural hamlet re-invented itself as a ski resort in 1989.
But I’m glad to say that the warm welcome to winter tourism doesn’t seem to have changed its 2000-year-old roots. Yes, some barns have been transformed into gîtes and there is now one luxury spa hotel – the V, but with just a handful of bars, restaurants and shops, it’s much more suited to those who prefer a low-key après ski. High-octane party goers should perhaps head instead for La Folie Douce at Alpe d’Huez, where they’re spoilt by not just one but two of the table-dancing, Champagne-spraying cabaret bar-restaurants on-slope and off.
Way To Go
Being solo, I was also glad that I’d booked an ESF ski guide to help me find my bearings on my first day. Pascal soon gave me a whistlestop tour of the Alpe d’Huez Grand Domaine ski area from Vaujany via the snow-sure glacier to busy Alpe d’Huez and picture-postcard Auris en Oisans with its tree-lined pistes and frozen waterfalls.
He also gave me the nerve to ski La Sarenne (below), the world’s longest black run (below and top) which covers no less than 16 km from the top of Pic Blanc at 3330 m. If you want to avoid the steepest pitch and sometimes thigh-high powder from the summit or indeed the queues for the Pic Blanc cable car, it’s easy to take a shortcut from the top of Marmottes on red or blues which link with La Sarenne further down, still providing a lengthy but less challenging descent.
I didn’t summon the courage to tackle The Tunnel, which Pascal recommended be left to experts, while there are also extensive off-piste routes.
Beginners have a wide choice of gentle green and blue runs in the snow bowl at Alpe d’Huez, where there is a large snowpark, as well as at l’Alpette above Oz and Montfrais, with its covered magic carpet.
My personal favourites were the red runs sweeping down from the Dome des Rousses and Lac Blanc which I couldn’t believe I had almost all to myself on a sunny Friday afternoon in mid-January.
It was a surprise when having just finished a delicious and affordable lunch of crozets and chocolate crèpe in quaint, slope-side restaurant Les Airelles, that we were suddenly plunged into darkness. We quickly discovered that rather than just a blown fuse, the whole mountain and Vaujany valley was experiencing a power cut.
Not only had the ski lifts ground to a halt, but the hotels and restaurants had no electricity either – I’d never seen anything like it.
I was relieved that generators soon swung into action to bring those stuck in cable cars, gondolas and on chairlifts to safety, though unfortunately some were trapped in the cold for longer than others. My note to self was to opt for the gondola cabins in future rather than chairs when offered the choice at Telemix lifts!
I was also glad that I was still with my instructor Pascal and near enough to Vaujany that he simply led me down the red, hard-packed Vaujaniate run almost back to resort. A special ski shuttle was diverted to come and pick skiers up.
La Fare is the only narrow, black, tree-lined piste that returns to Vaujany, but it wasn’t open in mid-January. Still, it was no problem to hop onto the Montfrais gondola mid-station to hitch a picturesque ride back.
And the cause of the blackout that lasted three hours? A tree falling on a power line which, I was assured by long-term local residents, happens once in a blue moon.
Hotel les Cimes is a 10-bedroom boutique hotel that was renovated from a ruin by the local town council and opened its doors in 2022. Now managed by Madame Vacances, my L-shaped room on the third floor had an extra sofa-bed and would have suited a family of four – albeit at a squeeze – or two friends or siblings seeking a bit of extra privacy.
The mountain views from the balcony, sun terrace and restaurant were spectacular while the central location and road-level ski room was ideal, just a four-minute walk from the lift station, nearest ski hire shop and lower square. Covered escalators led to the main shopping centre at the top of the village with its small supermarket, ski shops, cafes and restaurants, while there is a market each Friday morning.
Half-board included a generous cold buffet breakfast as well as a tasty, three-course meal every evening with a varied menu offering vegetarian options and traditional Alpine dishes such as tartiflette.
The small team was exceptionally friendly and made me feel at home, while the dining room was intimate enough to chat to the other international guests from the UK, France, Poland and even Greece!
The Only Way Is Up
As my lift pass and ski hire had been pre-booked through Crystal Ski, it was ready and waiting for me on arrival.
Children under five ski for free and beginners may prefer the less pricy but limited Oz-Vaujany ski lift option www.oz-vaujany.com but it is only around an extra five euros per day for the more expansive Alpe d’Huez Grand Domaine www.alpedhuez.com/en/winter/skipass
If your return flight isn’t until the evening on departure day, you may want to make the most of the reduced Saturday or half-day lift passes, while there are also group savings for families of four or friends in a party of three or more. No reductions for solos, sadly, unless you’re aged 72!
As the six-day pass includes access to nearby resorts such as Les 2 Alpes, about an hour away by bus, Serre Chevalier, Puy St Vincent, Montgenèvre or Italy’s Sestrière, you’re never going to get bored! The free Venosc-Bourg d’Oisans-Vaujany shuttle bus runs every day.
(Image credit: Julia Guerre)
More Bang For Your Buck …or Euro
The six-day ski pass also includes a swimming pool ticket and one ice rink entry for curling as well as skating at the Sports and Leisure Centre with its slides, spa, gym, bowling alley, climbing wall, children’s centre and ice hockey matches.
Tots from six months to the age of four can be looked after at the Day-Care Centre while three to 11-year-olds can attend the Childrens’ Club, with optional lunch.
Every week the Tourist Office offers a wide range of free family-friendly activities from complimentary Barouche horse and carriage rides to a welcome parade by the mascot chamois, though some events are French spoken.
There is also a very interesting free interactive museum which even has a flight simulator to cruise over the peaks as well as a media library and cinema, though again, showing mainly French-speaking films.
On The Down Side…
Being at a reasonably low 1250 m, Vaujany can experience mist and rain, although it may be snowing or sunny higher up above the cloud. I had an unlucky two-day wet spell in a resort famous for its average annual 300 days of sunshine, though there was also plenty of fresh powder and blue skies to enjoy.
The nearest airports are Chambéry, Grenoble, Lyon and Geneva, though Chambéry is such a small airport, it can get chaotic when all the ski flights arrive at the weekends.
The closest SNCF train station is Grenoble, although it’s difficult to reach the resort independently if you don’t travel on a package holiday or on Saturdays or Sundays. From Grenoble, the local weekday buses are infrequent and private taxi fares around 100 euros.
- Sunset skiing: After the lifts are closed, a small group gathers at the summit to enjoy a tasting of local produce before a final descent with an instructor and ski patrol in the last light of the day. This unique experience is reserved exclusively for good skiers.
- Fondue with a view: ‘TélécaDine’ with a panoramic dinner suspended in a gondola or else hitch a ride in a piste basher for a starlit meal at a mountain restaurant.
- Snow yoga: Chill out below the secret beauty of the fir trees, where relaxation and meditation take on a whole new dimension. There is a free introductory session every Tuesday.
- Dog sledding: Fun for all ages, the huskies here are from rescue centres enjoying a new lease of life.
- Tomorrowland Winter: from Belgium’s summer vibes to the winter wonderland of Alpe d’Huez, this vibrant electro-dance music festival takes place from 16 – 23 March 2024.
Crystal Ski Holidays offers a seven-night half-board holiday to Vaujany, France, staying at the 3T Hotel les Cimes from £891 pp when booked online (based on two people sharing) including return flights from Birmingham to Chambéry and transfers (price for departure on 11 Jan 2025).
Airport hotels and parking can be booked at www.holidayextras.com
More resort info at www.vaujany.com
If you are looking for the perfect destination for your next trip, our Resort Guide has everything you need to know.