The legendary resort of Alpe d'Huez offers a wide variety of ski runs for all ages and abilities, from complete beginners to freeride experts. It makes up part of the Alpe d'Huez Grand Domaine, combining five ski resorts and two traditional villages into a great big heavenly playground - all of which is accessible with the same pass.
The main things to know about the Alpe d'Huez ski area are:
Set in a large sunny bowl, the resort is aptly named l’Isle au Soleil (Island in the Sun) due to the high percentage of sunny days it enjoys throughout the year.
High-altitude glacier skiing
Pic Blanc, sits at 3,300m, and the glacier is open both summer and winter for skiing.
Only one hour from Grenoble, thereby avoiding long transfer times.
Part of a huge interlinked ski area
Access to the entire Grande Domaine under one pass, the longest ski run in Europe, the infamous ‘Tunnel’ run, plus incredible skiing for all levels and abilities.
- Alpe d'Huez ski area
- The Alpe d'Huez Grand Domaine ski area
- When is the ski area open in Alpe d'Huez?
- Beginner and family areas in Alpe d'Huez
- Advanced areas in Alpe d'Huez
- Snowparks in Alpe d'Huez
- Best pistes in Alpe d'Huez
- Off-piste areas in Alpe d'Huez
- Bad Weather areas in Alpe d'Huez
- More inspiration...
Alpe d'Huez ski area
Situated in the Central French Western Alps in the commune of Huez, Alpe d'Huez is part of the department of Isère in the region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. With 249km of piste and 84 lifts the resort is now one of the world's largest.
What's it like to ski and snowboard in Alpe d'Huez?
Located at a height of 1,869m, Alpe d'Huez is a south-facing purpose built resort that has been welcoming skiers since the 1930s. The highest point is Pic Blanc, which sits at 3,300m and is accessible for glacier skiing both summer and winter, attracting steep skiing enthusiasts to its high-altitude terrain. From here you can enjoy a breathtaking panorama over the Ecrins National Park, La Grave, La Meije, Les Deux Alpes and Mont Blanc, before skiing the 2,175m vertical drop down to L’Enversin d’Oz at 1,125m. The resort has worked extensively to expand the skiing above the linked resorts to increase the quantity and quality of intermediate slopes, with snowmaking facilities working hard to keep the south-facing lower slopes open to beginners.
Made up of five small resorts and two alpine villages: Alpe d’Huez, Auris-en-Oisans, La Garde, Le Freney d'Oisans, Oz-en-Oisans, Vaujany and Villard-Reculas, it's worth being aware of where your accommodation is based before you book, but wherever you're staying the efficient lift system works very well at whisking everyone up to the vast, high-altitude ski area in no time at all.
The main village of Alpe d'Huez is popular with families, and for those of you seeking a more charming and peaceful base the satellite villages each have quick and easy access to the main ski area. You can buy ski passes for the villages only, but to get the most out of a trip here we'd recommend buying an Alpe d'Huez Grand Domaine pass which covers the whole area.
The central Alpe d'Huez ski area is steep at the top and wide open at the bottom; the bowl is likened to a saucer and the general rule is the higher you go, the steeper it gets. Experienced skiers will be keen to take on the primarily black Sarenne run, which offers 1h30 of uninterrupted skiing, plus the runs from the top of the Pic Blanc provide challenges for the more advanced (see the piste maps), and the varied and extensive off-piste is well suited to the freeriders. With 34 green pistes, 31 blue pistes, 30 red pistes and 16 black pistes (see the piste maps), one snowpark (expert and beginners' area), a boardercross zone, late-night ski run, slalom stadium, 1,200m sledge run and a halfpipe to explore plus infinite off-piste possibilities, you'll easily find something to suit everyone here.
There are key areas it's worth knowing about:
- DMC - west-facing slopes
- Pic Blanc area - access to Sarenne and Tunnel
- Les Bergers - large area excellent for beginners
Located at the end of the famous "lobster pot" lift system it is, as such, easily accessed from anywhere in resort. If you want to ski the massive green rolling runs primarily known as Les Jeux, head up the Télécabine 1er Troncon (DMC to the locals), at the top of resort. From the first stop of the DMC, there are no less than seven wide green pistes nearly a mile long rolling back to the centre of the station.
To ski the higher runs of the area, you must continue to the top of the DMC lift (Deuxieme Troncon) at 2,700m. From here you have two options - the blue Couloir and the red Chamois pistes, both of which return to the midpoint of the DMC and eventually back to resort. Or you can take the Les Rousses red run that accesses Vaujany. Taking Couloir, a busy blue, finds one on a long 'flattish' section which continues straight along a 'pushing mandatory' path to Les Bergers.
Pic Blanc area
The Troisieme Troncon to Pic Blanc begins at 2,700m and ascends via cable car to the top point of the Alpe lift system, Pic Blanc (3,330m). From here the views are stunning and offer a panorama over an area equal to one fifth of France.
The start of the runs from here cannot be seen from town as you must first descend a steep section labelled Sarenne and Tunnel before turning to the right at the end. Continuing along the narrow path one is faced with a square building, at one side of which is a narrow snow-filled tunnel some 200m long which opens out onto the Tunnel black run (this is a serious black run). Return to Alpe d'Huez is achieved by following the routes that lead to the Deuxieme Troncon of the DMC. There are also some superb off-piste runs from the bottom of the first section of the Tunnel but much care must be taken as the avalanche danger is high in this area.
The Marmotte lift from Les Bergers has three sections, all separate. The second section has two notable blacks from it – the Cloche de Macle is the easiest black in the resort; short and steep but relatively wide, and the Les Balcons run, found by turning left at the top of Marmotte two. Les Balcons is never pisted and often closed and its off-piste character can develop into a very steep bumpy run, challenging Tunnel for difficulty. The bottom of this run liaises with the top of the Lievre Blanc chair that ascends from the mid-station of the DMC. Other blacks from Marmotte Two include the Combe Charbonnier that runs towards the old Mine de L'Herpie, again off-piste and very south facing.
For beginners this area is excellent with easy access to a number of gentle rolling green runs and a low-speed zone, allowing beginners a safe space to perfect those turns.
The Alpe d'Huez Grand Domaine ski area
With 10,000 hectares to be explored, 250km of runs and over 2,200m vertical drop from the summit of Pic Blanc (3,330m) to Enversin d'Oz (1,135m), the Alpe d'Huez Grand Domaine ski area has much to offer, plus a vast and varied off-piste. Whether you are staying in one of the larger ski stations or a smaller mountain village, there is something for everyone in one of the largest ski areas in Europe.
Aside from Alpe d'Huez village itself, the area is made up of the following villages that are all included in the Grand Domaine lift pass: Auris-en-Oisans, La Garde, Le Freney d'Oisans, Oz-en-Oisans, Vaujany and Villard-Reculas.
South-facing resort located at 1,600m and ideal for families, offering ski-in, ski-out accommodation, a beginners' area, good intermediate skiing, a network of 15 lifts and 22km of runs (see the piste maps) and expert slopes La Fuma and Col de Cluy.
The south-facing run into Auris is a very gentle blue and there are a couple of chairs serving tree-lined reds and blues, with the odd green thrown in. Where Auris scores is that even at the height of the season queues are a rarity. Indeed this is true of Alpe d'Huez as a whole, and long waits are more often due to lift closures in inclement weather than volume of skiers.
Although access to Auris is possible via the Sarenne, most skiers go via the Alp Auris Express which sets off close to the Marmotte lift in Les Bergers. This four-seat high-speed chair appears to go nowhere exciting but its flat start is misleading. Locally known as the ”Scare Chair”, after a couple of hundred metres it drops like a stone into the Sarenne Gorge and mounts the other side to the Auris domain.
On the first face is a challenging red known as Fontfroid, and there is a huge amounts of off-piste on either side. Turning left at the top of the chair and continuing along the ridge will bring you to the Col de Cluy, a superb black. At the bottom of this you rejoin the flat part of the Sarenne and the return to the top is made by using the only available chair. Once back at the top, turning right and following the available contours to the skiers left brings one back around to Auris. At the end of the access path a right turn will bring you to the Forêt de Maronne chair and a very attractive tree-lined blue/red piste. Before dropping into Auris proper, black run enthusiasts might like to try La Fuma. However, be warned, it's a typical Alpe d'Huez black (ie. steep, steep and steep!).
When in Auris, don't forget to visit Jacques, the lumberjack overlooking the Forêt d'Auris, a magical place with lots of different sections including a logging sledge, a wood stère, an all-purpose saw that's been transformed into a swing, wooden sculptures and a log slalom - you don't need children for an excuse to visit Jacques, everyone has fun here.
Returns to Alpe d'Huez are made via the Auris Express, or the Chalvet chair from the Sarenne Gorge to the Mine de L'Herpie, dropping skiers back to the Les Bergers area.
La Garde and Le Freney
Two municipalities in the same area, that make up part of the Grand Domaine purely by geographical location.
Between 1976 and 2001, La Garde only had a small button lift to take skiers to the Col de Maronne where they could then access Auris-en-Oisans and the wider domaine. However, in 2001 they replaced the button with a chairlift, allowing quicker access to Auris with its steep slopes, play areas and sunny terraces. A perfect place to locate yourself if you love peace and quiet and an element of an 'untouched' environment just a chairlift ride away.
If you choose to stay in Le Freney expect a peaceful village atmosphere about 20 minutes away from La Grave and Alpe d'Huez via Auris-en-Oisans.
A holiday village located at 1,350m in the heart of the domaine, you can expect a charming, authentic family resort with ski-in, ski-out accommodation in small properties made of wood or stone in a picture-perfect winter setting.
From Alpe d'Huez, Oz is accessed by taking the first stage of the DMC (or any of the buttons that run alongside) and then the north-facing steep Poutran red run. Either side of this run you'll find large amounts of off-piste; the left, north-facing, off-piste is extremely avalanche prone. When Poutron splits the first drop is a steep red, the second a blue run that circumnavigates the red. Continuing down Poutron you'll reach a narrow tree-lined red run, L'Olmet, and a beautiful blue run called Champclotury. At the end, a button lift takes you to the return bubble and if you continue under the bubble onto the Champclotury run, you'll arrive at the Oz bowl where you'll find the beginner area tows and two travelator lifts.
Keep a look out off to the right near the foot of the bowl for a sign to Vaujany and the Alpette lift. From the top of this lift you can return to Oz via the Alpette run, a good red with spectacular ice falls at the side, and in good conditions this run joins the Champclotury where is a superb black, Roche Noir, that finishes at the bottom of the Oz bowl.
This mountain village sits at 1,250m, on a sunny plateau facing the Grandes Rousses massif. There are plenty of facilities here to make it an ideal base for your ski holiday; aquatic centre with pool, slide and spa, indoor ice rink, and a bowling alley, plus numerous shops. With a real alpine village feel it's perfect for families and beginners, who are especially catered for with kids clubs, a nursery and secure areas.
An easily accessible ski area from Alpe d'Huez, this ski area is accessed via the Alpette chair from Oz. Directions are simple - avoid the tendency to return to Oz and take the only other downhill path available and you will find yourself skiing down the Rousses/Chalets blue run, a wide saucer-shaped piste that becomes Les Travers and continues on for about 3km to the Montfrais sector.
From here, the Vallonnet four-man chair takes you to about as far from Alpe d'Huez as it is possible to get. The run down (Edelweiss) is very much a blue affair and returns to the base of the four-man without deviation. Part way down, however, is a black off-piste run called Roche Melon (only open when conditions are good) that is never groomed and descends through the trees to eventually join a blue run called the Vaujaniate. Slightly out of sight, you can also pick up the Vaujaniate piste from Montfrais by taking the only downhill depart from the area. This is one of the best blue runs you are likely to ski - wide and magnificent, it descends alongside icicle-clad walls through the trees down to a route that follows the valley floor to a point where you can re-access the Vaujany bowl by the Villette-Montfrais télécabine (or return to Vaujany on the Vaujany-Villette télécabine).
Returning to the base of the Vaujany bowl at Montfrais, you will find the second chairlift (Montfrais), whisks you up to a surprising variety of runs that descend back to the base of the bowl. This chairlift also heads back towards Alpe d'Huez. By turning right at the top and following the ridge, it will take you down the blue Cascade piste to the Clos Giraud chair, signposted 'Oz/Alpe d'Huez'. It's quite important that revellers returning to Alpe d'Huez by this chair are aware of the closing time, missing it will result in a pricey taxi ride home from Vaujany. At the top of Clos Giraud, the skier can take the Alpette run to Oz to return to Alpe d'Huez.
An alternative is to take the Alpette-Rousses cable car up to the Dome. From here there are two ways back; the most direct route would appear to be the most fun as the ground steepens quickly to a short red – Le Dome. However, the boring part is the flat path at the end which has nothing to recommend it. The alternative appears to have a long and boring flat start, but you will be well rewarded with a superb red called Belvedere that takes you past Lac Blanc and the base of the Pic Blanc cable car, from where you can access the higher runs of Alpe d'Huez or descend back to the resort itself.
The first of Alpe d'Huez's partner resorts, since 1946 lifts have been taking visitors up to the Pic du Signal. Perched at 1,500m, this typical mountain village has a small ski area with easy blues and easily accessible off-piste skiing, plus its own beginners area. Sun-drenched due to it's south-facing position, it's a haven of peace made up of small chalets and quaint alleyways, and the Villarais chairlift easily connects you to the rest of the Alpe d'Huez Grand Domaine ski area.
To reach here from Alpe d'Huez you'll approach from above and head down the fabulous Petit Prince blue run to a double button lift, which takes you to the summit of the Signal and back towards Alpe d'Huez. But, if you continue beyond this button, you'll find that the deceptively easy blue 'road' ends at a slightly steeper section which is classed red and blue (the same run has blue markers on one side and red on the other).
At the foot of this run you can hop on the high speed four-man chair - Le Villarais - which will also take you back to the top of Signal. It's possible to continue a little further down beyond the chair over a green run, and if you're staying in Villard this is essential. Late season holiday makers may suffer a lack of snow here, but much work and the provision of snow cannons has greatly reduced this problem.
One outstanding feature of the Villards' face is that it also includes a never-pisted black run called Forêt, and from the bottom of the Petit Prince drag dropping down towards Villard is a red that defies belief...not only is it never pisted, it is one of the steepest reds in the resort. The face also has a huge amount of easily accessible off-piste which is predominantly north-west facing. Only at the very bottom of this area will you find the one thing that Alpe d'Huez lacks...trees. Return to Alpe d'Huez via the Villarais four-man chair and ski down the Signal pistes.
When is the ski area open in Alpe d'Huez?
Snow conditions permitting, it’s open from early-December until the end of April, but that strong southern sun can mean late-season the snow turns from icy to slushy pretty quickly. Any early lift openings depend on snow conditions – see our Ski Lift Opening Dates guide for this winter's schedule.
Your holiday will be very much determined by the weather and snow conditions, and therefore the time of year you choose to visit is important. If it's sunny pistes and a cold glass of wine on a mountain restaurant terrace, come in March or April. If your perfect ski break is about quiet slopes and lots of fresh snow, then January is the time to come. Or if you want numerous activities organised for your children during their school holidays, February is for you.
Whenever you choose to come, as long as the lifts are open, the local pisteurs will make the best of the snow (real and/or artificial), and groom the pistes to perfection so that you get the best possible conditions.
Beginner and family areas in Alpe d'Huez
Alpe d'Huez is an excellent place for beginner skiers with the largest nursery areas in the Alps. The gentle slopes on the outskirts of the resort provide the perfect terrain for beginners to build their confidence, and intermediate skiers will enjoy the network of blues and reds. For complete beginners there are free lifts, the Petit Rif Nel and Ecoles 2 drag lifts and the Grenouilles rope tow - all are free of charge. Alpe d'Huez even offers beginners a "First Ski" pass which allows you on all drag and chairlifts in Alpe d'Huez, except the Alpauris and Marmottes 1 chairs.
Les Bergers: Accessed by the Romains chair, here you'll find a number of gently rolling green runs that all lead back to resort. This area is a low-speed zone to allow beginners space to improve.
DMC: Great for beginners with plenty of wide green runs. Located at the end of the famous “Lobster pot” lift system, ascending the DMC will access the massive rolling runs primarily known as Les Jeux. From the first stop there are no less than seven wide green pistes nearly a mile long, rolling back to the centre of the station.
If you're after something a little more challenging, then from the top of the DMC lift (Deuxieme Troncon) at 2,700m you have two options: Couloir - a busy blue with a long 'flattish' section which continues straight along a 'pushing is mandatory' path to the Marmotte Restaurant and Les Bergers, or if you're ready for a challenge you have Chamois - a red run that returns to the midpoint of the DMC and eventually back to resort. Or take the red Les Rousses run that accesses Vaujany.
The Grand Domaine
In addition to Alpe d'Huez, the villages all have good areas for beginners, in particular Auris-en-Oisans and Vaujany, where beginners are spoilt for choice with a number green pistes from the centre of the resorts, with access to lots of drag lifts, and in Villard-Reculas, beginners have seven green runs to enjoy.
Advanced areas in Alpe d'Huez
Alpe d'Huez has plenty of long and challenging blacks, so those in search of long, thigh-burning pistes and bumpy mogul fields will not be disappointed.
Pic Blanc area
The Troisieme Troncon to Pic Blanc begins at 2,700m and ascends to Pic Blanc (3,330m), the highest point of the Alp lift system. From here expect a stunning panorama over an area equal to one fifth of France. The start of the runs from here cannot be seen from town.
Runs beneath the Pic Blanc cable car, and is standard black run pitch, but it can be very hard and icy in the mornings due to the late afternoon sun that hits it, and then super-mogully and choppy in the afternoons...not for the faint-hearted.
Legendary long run of 16km or so with a stunning descent of around 2km...the perfect thigh-burner. Made up of two sections: an initially steep series of pitches which can get quite mogully, then a longer flatter section along the valley. You can avoid the super steep section by skiing off from the Marmottes 3 bubble if you would prefer. On a powder day it can take a long time to get through the deep snow on the flatter section. A run for experienced skiers and thrill seekers only. Return to Alpe d'Huez is achieved by following the routes that lead to the Deuxieme Troncon of the DMC. There are also some superb off-piste runs from the bottom of the first section of the Tunnel, but care must be taken as the avalanche risk is high in this area.
The Marmotte lift from Les Bergers has three separate sections, the second of which has two notable blacks from it:
- Cloche de Macle: The easiest black in the resort; short and steep but relatively wide.
- Les Balcons: Found by turning left at the top of Marmotte 2. Never pisted and often closed, its off-piste character can develop into a very steep bumpy run, challenging Tunnel for difficulty rating. The bottom of this run liaises with the top of the Lievre Blanc chair that ascends from the mid-station of the DMC.
Other blacks from Marmotte 2 include the Combe Charbonnière that runs towards the old Mine de L'Herpie, again off-piste and very south facing.
Also of interest to thrill seekers would be the black runs Fare, Balme, La Fuma and the Col de Cluy.
Snowparks in Alpe d'Huez
There are two snowparks in Alpe d'Huez, one in Montfrais and a larger one beside the beginner runs above 1800, most easily accessed from the DMC first station.
The larger of the two, the Snowpark des Jeux is very beginner friendly with a number of small features providing a gentle introduction to park riding.
Noted for its design, upon entering the park there is a sign indicating the four approximate difficulty levels from right to left – beginner (green), easy (blue), intermediate (red) and expert (black). Each route through the park has three to four boxes or rails and four kickers (jumps), there's an airbag jump, half-pipe (depending on snow conditions), and a boardercross. After your run you can chill out on the Cool Zone deckchairs at the bottom.
This park is more for beginners, with a couple of kickers and some bumps. Ski schools often have parts of their lesson here and other beginners can be found having their first experiences of park skiing. This is worth heading to if this is your first time and you want to hone your skills without being surrounded by experts stamping down their landings (or their feet whilst they wait for you to get out of their way).
Best pistes in Alpe d'Huez
Perfect for mixed ability groups and families, the Grand Domaine ski area offers a range of pistes that are easily accessed. With wide open runs and some steeper skiing for those looking for it, you're sure to find your favourite piste this winter. Plus Alpe d'Huez is one of the few resorts offering night skiing, an experience unlike any other.
Off-piste areas in Alpe d'Huez
Alpe d’Huez has a large selection of off-piste skiing which we have mentioned above, and for some fine off-piste check out areas such as Gorges de Sarenne and Glacier de Sarenne. In Alpe d'Huez you'll find more than 20 high-altitude, off-piste trails, with gullies and tracts of fresh powdered snow. There is also the possibility to visit the famous La Grave off-piste area.
Whilst not everyone staying in Alpe d'Huez will head here, or even want to, it's worth a mention because it's a rare thing indeed to find an entirely off-piste resort. Built in the late seventies, the Télépherique des Glaciers de la Meije brings you up into the high mountains and towards the glaciers in about 45 minutes from the parking by the mountain guides area. Once up here you'll find yourself in fine company, freeriders from the world over journey here to enjoy this special mountain left entirely in its natural state. From the top of the TP you can take a drag lift (only open in favourable snow and weather conditions) to 3,550m where a single groomed track leads back down to the top lift station. If you plan to explore the glaciers, we strongly recommend you employ the invaluable services of a mountain guide - the risk of falling into a crevasse is very real up here.
If you're not into glacier skiing, the classic routes down from the télépherique are a powder hound's dream, beginning on the rocky ridge between the glacier and La Meije. Below you await open snow fields, bowls, bullies, natural half-pipes, couloirs, forest skiing, steep and mellow terrain - the options are endless.
Be aware La Grave is a special place, where the mountain demands no less than the utmost respect, and experience in off-piste skiing and snowboarding in variable conditions is a must.
We strongly advise hiring an off-piste mountain guide, who will have extensive knowledge of the area and the mountains. Off-piste skiing/boarding is always at your own risk, and you should always make sure you are prepared before you head out. Check out our Avalanche Safety page for tips.
Bad Weather areas in Alpe d'Huez
There are certain runs that offer more contrast providing vast amounts of skiing/snowboarding when the flakes are falling. The trick is to head for the pistes that are tree-lined; the trees help provide definition when everything else seems to be white.
One of the downsides to the area is that the high, open pistes lack the contrast required for orientation during white out conditions when slope and sky can blur into one.
Our advice is to head over to the tree-lined pistes of Vaujany and Auris-en-Oisans down through the forest to Maronne; the trees provide much needed definition in a white out. One small blue run worth a mention is the Village blue down the village of Huez. There is also a red run accessed from the Huez tourist office that will drop you down to the same return lift.
Keep in mind that the valley itself can be covered in an all-encompassing fog, but the top of the mountains can be bathed in glorious sunshine (check out the webcams). Also, if it’s lashing down with rain in the valley, it means it’s snowing up top, giving you the best and freshest powder you’re likely to ski on. And because it’s a bad weather day, chances are, you’ll have the mountain to yourself.