Alpe d'Huez is a great place to go rock climbing for beginners and experienced climbers. You will find a multitude of climbing routes in and around the resort to be tackled under your own steam or under the watchful eye of a guide. Climbing is a great activity for all the family, just check with the guide beforehand what their minimum age is.
The west-facing cliffs of Lac Besson (2200m) boast 150 climbing routes of level 5-6 split into 7 sectors. The rock faces are mainly fairly steep slabs and walls, ranging from 30 to 120m high. Not for the complete novice, but climbers with some experience will find this area to be a great playground. The routes are all bolted with inox anchor points for optimal safety. The Oisans region boasts great climbing for those who wish to see more of the area. Le Vernis (750m) has 30 routes that are accessible all year round; Venosc (950m) has 51 routes and the climbing season runs from May to October; La Bérarde (1500-2000m) has a whopping 100 routes and is open throughout spring, summer and autumn; La Chalp (1000 m) has 37 routes and is also open throughout spring, summer and autumn.
The Ecrins National Park offers a range of climbing routes amongst them; the south face of La Barre des Ecrins, a massive 2000m wall with moderate 5c climbing; La Meije, a huge south face with more than 20 pitches of bolted 6b routes; the granite slabs at Ailefroide. Maps and guides for the various routes can be bought from one of the park information centres.
If you don't fancy climbing outdoors, or you're new to climbing and want to give it a go in an indoor centre, then Alpe d'Huez has an indoor climbing wall at the Palais des Sports. Climbing equipment is normally provided, or you can bring your own and insurance is normally needed before you hit the climbing wall. There are 21 routes to choose from starting from 4a up to 7a on a 12-metre high wall as well as a bouldering room. Book in and pay at the main desk of the sports centre.
For the true mountain enthusiast, why not scale an amazing frozen waterfall or glacier? This is a fantastic sport, not just for experienced mountaineers. The Oisans and the Ecrins National Park are renowned for their spectacular ice formations. The sunny faces of Vaujany are the ultimate location for arming yourself with crampons and an axe and scaling your way up a frozen waterfall especially the Cascade de la Fare. There are also popular spots near the Chalet du Lac Besson in Alpe d'Huez and the Valon de la Selle above St Christophe. Although it sounds like a very specialised sport, ice climbing is suitable for everyone - from complete beginners to experienced climbers. Some knowledge of ropes and basic climbing skills will give you a head start, but if you are a complete novice then your guide should be able to teach you from scratch. The peak of the ice climbing season is between December and March. Safety is important, so it is advisable to take an experienced mountain guide to instruct you on the use of crampons, ropes and ice picks, or book in with one of the local adventure companies.
Mountain climbing & mountaineering
There are a number of companies who can take you mountaineering in both summer and winter, from local guides to ski schools, private instructors and activity companies. You can explore the Oisans summits and the Ecrins National Park, from the iconic Rateau Ouest, Pic de la Grace or Pic Bayle to the challenging Goulotte Fantomas and Goulotte Allera-Pelatan.
If climbing up sheer rock on the end of a piece of rope sounds a bit scary then Via Ferrata climbing offers an element of security that still allows beginners to enjoy the achievement of having scaled a mountain! This form of climbing was invented by Italian soldiers in the Dolomites who used it to enable them to scale vertiginous faces easily and quickly. These days it is a popular sport that makes the thrill of mountain climbing more accessible to children, beginners and those who want a bit more security when they climb.
There are two Via Ferrata routes on the Grandes Rousses Massif, both south facing; an elementary route that can be completed in around 2 hours and a more challenging route that takes about 2.5 hours. The routes can be accessed from Pierre Rond (via the Col de Sarenne) or Huez Village.
Following marked routes through the mountains, you are helped along by steps, bridges and ladders whilst being roped up for extra safety. Suitable for adults and children over the age of 8, you need to have a harness, helmet, carabiners and ropes/tethers in order to do the activity. The kit can be rented from most sports shops in town or you can also arrange a Via Ferrata guide, who of course, will provide all the necessary equipment for you.