Alpe d’Huez sits high on a south-facing plateau of the Isère region in the southern French Alps. One of the world’s best-known and most-loved ski resorts, it is famous too outside the wintersports world, being located at the top of an iconic hill climb in the Tour de France cycling race.
Marketed as ‘L’ile au Soleil’ translating as, ‘Island in the Sun’, that southerly location and orientation mean Alpe d’Huez enjoys an average of 300 days of sunshine per year. However being one of the highest resorts in the Alps up at 1860m, with lifts climbing to glacier-clad terrain at 3,330m above, there’s no shortage of snow either.
Those altitude stats would normally make you think of purpose-built French ski areas created in the 1950s-70s, but in fact, Alpe d’Huez was founded in 1936 and has a history dating back thousands of years being built on the site of a medieval mining village where silver, copper and coal were extracted.
Again, the altitude figures might also make you think of the kind of purpose-built resort that’s mothballed in spring and autumns between the two holiday seasons, but Alpe d’Huez is a true thriving year-round community with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants operating throughout the year.
Alpe d’Huez is the main resort in one of the largest ski areas in France and indeed Europe. If those stats are not impressive enough, the 2,000m plus of lift-served vertical puts it within the top five worldwide when it comes to how far you can ski down between the top of the highest lift and the bottom of the lowest lift.
The Grand Domaine ski area links up five villages and offers a huge amount of terrain for every taste and ability level, adding up to 250km of prepared slopes. The huge vertical means they are several runs over 10km long, including the famous “world’s longest black run,” the 16km (10 miles) long La Sarenne, which actually isn’t that black at all and is just a fabulous long cruise away from the rest of the ski area. But if you want really black, black runs there are plenty to be found, including the notoriously steep mogul field ‘Le Tunnel’ …so named because you get to it via, well, a ski-through tunnel.
With more than 50 intermediate and advanced level slopes (35 red and 17 black), the region is absolute nirvana for good skiers, even before you add the extensive freeride terrain options into the mix.
There’s plenty for complete beginners to learn their first turns on too of course. The options include very gentle slopes on the outskirts of the main resort centre, perfectly designed for ease of learning, and the Bergers area of the resort which has great beginner runs too.
Once the basics are mastered it’s time to move on to the multiple fun trails, Chez Roger being one of them; including tunnels and interactive sections.
These fun slopes are among the many reasons, on the slopes and off, that make Alpe d’Huez a great choice for families and why it has been awarded French Tourism’s official Famille Plus label in recognition of how good it is.
With a year-round community and a 12-month tourism market, Alpe d’Huez has good reason to offer loads of activities, on and off the slopes.
In wintertime, sledging is very popular and there is a wide range of variants to try out, including dedicated sledging areas or even a luge run that descends under the Grandes Rousses gondola. If you want to get above the snow you can also jump on the downhill mountain roller coaster known as the ‘Track of the Shepherds’. You can even take your ride down the mountainside on this to another level by popping on a virtual reality mask to experience an even greater thrill during the kilometre-long descent.
Another unique idea is the Ice Laser Game you can join in at a site close to the main Bergers area of the resort. It’s an outdoor course made entirely of snow and is great fun for all of the family.
If you fancy something a little less hi-tec than lasers and VR masks though, Alpe d’Huez still has you covered, perhaps with an introduction to ski joëring, essentially pulled along through the snow on your skis, towed behind a pony through the beautiful landscape of the Grand Domaine Plateau.
Alpe d’Huez is truly blessed when it comes to ski holiday resorts. Sunshine, snowfall, and glacier cover up high, one of the world’s biggest lift-served verticals providing access to many incredible long descents with one of France and Europe’s biggest ski regions, with 250km of piste.
It’s a friendly, vibrant resort too, with great apres ski, dining, shopping and a good range of accommodations all with easy access via all transport. The wonderful island in the sun …and snow.
Stay at: Brand new l’Eclose residence, set at the foot of the slopes and right next to the chairlifts. Benefiting from an ideal location in the resort, the apartments have facilities including an indoor heated swimming pool, sauna, steam room and on-site restaurant.
Peak Retreats, 023 9283 9310
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