Saturday, May 10, 2008

Skiing Alpe d'Huez

This year will be my 20th season at Alpe d'Huez. It's here that I learned to ski and monoski. One of the great virtues of Alpe d'Huez is the great diversity of pistes with the station positioned right in the middle of it all. There are pistes for everybody, beginner to advanced. The natural snow can be supplemented by snow-canons, and it is sunny most of the time due to the resort's southern exposure.

Panorama from Pic Blanc<br />

There are pistes all over the mountain-ridge, all accessible without the use of a car and no need for alot of walking. Alpe d'Huez has a well-maintained system of lifts. There are also small buses driving throughout the village for skiers and pedestrians alike. The French ski-school has lessons in all sorts of snow-fun, for groups and individuals. The village hasn't got that Christmas-postcard look, but it's not that bad when you know your way around and you enjoy the great skiing available at this resort.

There are three main starting points: Le Signal, Les Rousses and Les Marmottes. These three take the bulk of skiers up the mountain. Les Rousses starts at the highest point in the village. Being the only way to get to Pic Blanc makes it the backbone for the area. In general the lower pistes are the easier ones, with some exceptions. The higher you go the more difficult they become. Practically all pistes end at the village itself, and about a quarter of all the pistes are great for some easy and relaxed skiing.

Le Tunnel

On top, the main attractions are for more advanced skiers. Here at the top of Pic Blanc (3,350 m.) are a handful of pistes that will keep you busy or at least tickle your nerves. They all start at the back of Pic Blanc, but at about 3000 metres you have a choice. The more faint-hearted should go down the glacier and try their skills on a "black" piste called Sarenne. The Sarenne is 16 kilometres in length and will take you down to 1,800m. People who think they can hold their nerves and are sure of their skills can take the short cut. This means taking a tunnel through the mountain, on skis, and going down the front side of the piste called Le Tunnel. Coming out the other end of the tunnel you'll find yourself at the beginning of a slope with a slope of about 45 degrees. Depending on recent snow conditions, moguls as high as 4 ft. (sometimes covered with ice) await you.

However, this does not mean that the Sarenne is the easy way down. The Sarenne with its 16 kilometres of piste plays havoc with your muscles. Snow conditions can vary enormously from hard-packed powder-snow and moguls on top to slushy and icy snow down below. This makes the ride on the chair-lift back out of the valley a nice resting point in the journey. It is worthwhile to take a sandwich with you and eat it while viewing the surroundings, sitting at one of the resting points. If you go in the afternoon, don't stick around for too long. Remember the closing-time of the chair-lift out the valley. If you forget... it is a long steep walk home!

If you take a look at the area-map, you can see a couple of pistes departing just under the main mountain ridge. These piste are all worth checking out. They are also all "red" or "black" pistes. For example Le Canyon and La Balme are really interesting. A peculiar one is Clocher de Macle. This piste runs under the main ridge, along an old coal-mine. Signal de l'Homme, a small mountain in the lower right-hand corner on the map, also has some good skiing to offer. It is usually not that busy, and has some nice runs you can enjoy, but it can be quite icy. There are many more pistes, but these are my favourites. There are some off-piste runs on the map. These aren't actually pistes, but more like routes. You'll need a guide to ski them safely. And while you're at it, you just might want to go heli-skiing. That is also possible, but you need to talk to the ski-guides for that.

There are plenty of things to do after a good day of skiing. In the main street, Avenue des Jeux, you can find one of the two public swimming pools. On this main street are also shops and a skating rink. The most fun is taking a swim in the outdoor swimming-pool in the evening, and enjoying the great view of the sky and the surrounding mountains. The other pool is situated in the so called Palace of Sports. There you can find indoor tennis courts, an indoor climbing-wall and much more. All of this accessible for a small fee or if you have the right ski-pass, for free. For some daytime adventure, it's possible to hanglide or parapent with an instructor. Ski-guides are available for the more adventurous skiers. It's also possible to take the helicopter from the small runway to the nearby resort Les Deux Alpes.

At night, you can go to several bars or restaurants situated along the main street. If you want to spend the night partying go to The Igloo. It's a nightclub/disco that closes at half past three in the morning. And if you are hungry afterwards go back to the main street and look at the restaurants -- one will probably be open.

A final thing should be mentioned -- Alpe d'Huez has an elaborate system of signs and maps. So finding your way around on the slopes shouldn't be that difficult. It's worthwhile to stop at one of the big area-maps to see what lifts and pistes are open. Also, if there is any special information about the pistes and lifts it'll be posted here. Also a blackboard is placed at the entrances to the lifts. They sometimes have additional information about the conditions on the pistes and closing times. Sometimes there are notices such as: "for very good skiers only." And take it from me, the local ski-patrol means business when they put up that note. If you're still in doubt ask the piste-security, they will have no problem helping and informing you. You can find them at the end of most big lifts.

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