There’s something very special about ski resorts through which you can ski, rather than drive. In Oz cars are parked discretely out of sight, leaving the the village blissfully uncluttered and free to do what it does best: look good and provide a very pleasant base for skiers keen to explore the huge ski area around l’Alpe d’Huez.
It owes much of its attractive appearance to the fact that it developed after the initial wave of purpose-built ski village construction, which means, among other things, that the scale of chalet-style apartment accommodation is reassuringly human. Then there’s the odd colourful touch here and there, creating an ambiance which puts us in mind of better-looking Canadian resorts like Tremblant or Sun Peaks. The similarities are reinforced by plentiful tree-planting on the surrounding mountainsides.
Which brings us to the skiing. A couple of small draglifts serve one of the safest and most centrally-located debutante areas we’ve seen, but heading up the mountain is a civilized affair, with a choice of two high-capacity gondola lifts. Whichever one you choose, the ride will be steep and the views satisfyingly dramatic. When you finally emerge the possibilities in this huge ski area are near-limitless, despite which getting around is refreshingly straightforward (you’ll struggle to get lost here).
Which isn’t to say that the local runs aren’t well worth exploring. When you do you’ll find the Blue- or Red-graded return plunges back to the village stimulating, with a few steeps here and there if you want them (we did, and had a great time powering our way down determinedly). And since the valley is deep the morning and afternoon shade helps preserve the snow cover and quality.
Downsides? None. really, unless you’re a party animal (in which case you’ll already be in ‘Alpe d’Huez), apart from a puzzling lack of free wifi access points in the bars (even the Tourist Office network carries a charge). All in all, a solid choice for family skiers.
We stayed in a self-catering apartment at the Chalet des Neiges – our thanks to our good friends at award-winning ski operator Peak Retreats: www.peakretreats.co.uk