Hannah from our team and her partner Mark ventured to the Isère region of the French Alps for their first winter holiday together. And their high-altitude resort of choice – Alpe d’Huez of course! Read all about their trip below...
It’s my birthday and what better way than to spend it on holiday!
Mark and I were looking to go on a winter break together for a while, we were both really keen to go skiing together. However, we needed a ski area which was suited to both of us, as we have very different skiing abilities. I am a beginner, having only skied for 2 days previously – though I think I picked it up OK! Mark, on the other hand, is a very comfortable skier on the reds after a number of downhill ski and cross-country/Nordic skiing trips over the years. So, we needed somewhere that would offer both great beginner and intermediate terrain, allowing us both to develop our skills and challenge ourselves a bit too.
Alpe d’Huez appeared to be a natural choice, particularly for its 250km linked piste in the Grand Domaine, the reliable snow conditions later in the season, and its great accessibility - Grenoble Alpes Isere airport is a mere 90 minutes away by transfer!
The first day
We set off from Gatwick on the earliest flight I could find, so we could make most of our time in the mountains. We arrived in the centre of Alpe d’Huez by the early afternoon and found our accommodation at Le Cristal de l’Alpe very easily, as it was right next to the drop off point for our coach transfer.
The friendly team at the residence reception helped us get checked in with ease and we were able to store our bags for the afternoon whilst we waited for our apartment. In the meantime, we went to sort out and collect our ski hire for the week. Luckily the hire shop was very conveniently located - directly behind the residence! The team at the shop were very knowledgeable with plenty of quality ski equipment for hire (they also helped me when I needed to change my ski boots to a bigger size the next day). After getting measured up for our boots and skis, we put them in our locker ready for the next morning, which would be our first day on the slopes!
Having the extra time in the resort on the Saturday afternoon meant we were able to have a little wander around, appreciating the stunning panoramic mountain views as well as the amazing amount of fresh snow that had arrived not long before we had!
Stumbling upon an authentic alpine restaurant and bar, called le Pomme de Pin (about 200m from the residence, near the ice rink), we devoured a lunch featuring some Savoyard specialities – Tartiflette, and we were even treated to some birthday shots of Genepi to wash it all down. What a perfect welcome to the French Alps!
After lunch we went for another walk around the resort to get our bearings. Le Cristal de l’Alpe is close to several bars, restaurants and shops, as well as a standing lift (100m max. away) which takes you to the slopes and beginners’ area/ESF ski school. Mark and I did most of our food shopping in the Carrefour Montagne, found on the ground floor of the residence, although there is also a Spar next to the ice rink too (150m away). Vin chaud was definitely a must whilst enjoying the Six Nations match between France and Scotland in the nearby sports bar!
Once we got the keys for our apartment later that afternoon we settled into what would be home to us for the next 7 days. Our one-bedroom apartment was spacious and comfortable with all the modern facilities we would need, as well as a makeshift wine-rack on the balcony (see picture – it came in handy)! Not to mention the added luxury of the wellness centre and indoor heated pool, which we loved to sink into after a long day on the slopes! We were both well and truly ready for an action-packed week.
Learning to ski
This was my first full week of skiing and I was very eager to hone my skills on the slopes. I opted for a full week’s course of beginner lessons with ESF (Ecole Ski Francaise). I thought that the half-day adult group lessons would be a great way to meet others introducing themselves to the sport, as well as challenging myself a bit more. It was really encouraging having other people in the group with you all different ages and levels of confidence on skis.
TOP TIP: if you’re staying at the Cristal de l’Alpe, get the standing lift which stops directly outside the ski schools.
I got registered with my group and got on the magic carpet to the nursery slopes. There are only a couple of magic carpets where a pass isn’t needed in the ski area, so a lift-pass is necessary no matter your ski level. This session introduced the group to their instructors and also allowed them to assess our levels. We spent the morning practising our downhill snowplough and turns.
The following day we progressed onto the nearby button lifts where we continued practising controlling our speed and controlled turns. For the rest of the week we were split into sub-groups depending on how well we were adapting to the lessons. Bernard was the instructor for my group and we soon progressed onto some steeper greens.
For the intermediate skier
Mark has quite a few ski trips under his belt, including a couple to Les Deux Alpes. So whilst I headed out to my morning lessons each day, Mark would spend his first half of the day exploring the Grande Domaine and making the most of the great intermediate slopes in the ski area.
Alpe d’Huez is linked to several other resorts, including Vaujany, Oz en Oisans, and Auris en Oisans (available via Peak Retreats). Mark really made the most of the links from Alpe d’Huez and spent most mornings skiing to other resorts in the area. There are some amazing long red runs around Alpe d’Huez, Mark skied from Dome des Rousses at 2800m all the way down to Oz en Oisans at 1300m. There’s also a breath-taking chairlift which takes you down and then back up the valley over to Auris en Oisans (the ALPAURIS chairlift) where there are some more challenging red and blue runs.
Despite myself being a beginner, we still managed to cover quite a bit of ground in the Grande Domaine ski area. My favourite runs were really accessible from the main lifts and ran either side of the snowpark. La Marcel is a great fun slope for everyone, with a number of miniature slaloms, tunnels and fun little jumps. This was a great run for pushing my comfort zone without feeling out of depth. The Chez Roger and Les Jeux green runs are also great options for developing beginner to intermediate skiers. They are both really wide and cruise-y, with multiple different routes to ski down, which keeps it interesting.
I was so glad that I did get lessons, as throughout the week I learned so much more than just how to ski parallel; including techniques to use on steeper slopes, how to assess the conditions, and staying safe whilst skiing.
In the afternoons, we would both meet up for lunch back at the apartment. We loved our leisurely breaks with all the alpine lunchtime essentials, including crusty bread, pate, wine, and cheeses, whilst we both talked about where we had skied that morning. Being able to take our time and relax in the middle of the day in our own space really highlighted how beneficial it is to go on a self-catered holiday, as it is so flexible.
After we had scanned through the piste-map to plan our afternoon we would get kitted up to head back to the slopes. For the second half of the day Mark and I would then ski together, putting into practice what I had learnt earlier that morning and gaining confidence skiing without an instructor present. It was great to be able to enjoy the slopes individually and together too, even though we are both at differing ski levels.
Whilst we didn’t feel comfortable trying out the famous Sarenne slope together (the longest black run in Europe), we had to witness the spectacular views from the top of the resort! We spent one afternoon heading up to the highest point of Alpe d’Huez, the Pic Blanc at 3330m. The gondola ride up to the top was amazing, it just seemed to go on forever! Once we reached the top it hit us just how high we were as we took in the panoramic view of all the peaks in the Alps and Alpe d’Huez resort was so small in the distance. We definitely chose the right day to go up, as it was a glorious sunny day. We made the most of it and took it all in over a bottle of beer before heading back down to the resort for our last evening - with a traditional raclette grill to celebrate our successful ski trip!
Overall, I'd recommend Alpe d'Huez in a heartbeat... to anyone who is looking for a resort to suit mixed ability groups, families, beginners, or expert skiers. This resort in the Grand Domaine has something for everyone - even non-skiers! There was so much to do and see around the resort we didn't have time to do it all (the mountain coaster is definitely on the list for next time)!
We are very much converted to self-catering too. It's just so flexible! Being able to enjoy our day without having to worry about meal-times, as well as relaxing in our own space whilst we ate was such a bonus.
Take a look at our blog section, which has even more great posts with top insider knowledge on your favourite French Alps resorts.
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