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|Resort: Alpe Dâ€™Huez
Domain: Grand Rousses
Date: 28/3/09 â€“ 4/4/09
Our holiday: Fifth week away that was booked to A) give me another fix and B) give me the last taste of snow for a while before my first kid emerges . Went with a guy Iâ€™d met in Les Gets last year and two of his mates â€“ a proper boys getaway .
Website : www.alpedhuez.com for the official gen or www.alpedhuez.net for the â€˜unnofficialâ€™ resort info
Basics : In the Southern sector of the Rhone-Alpes, situated 60km from Grenoble and taking about 90 minutes transfer from Grenoble airport. The route is stunning as you approach the mountains (although we arrived at dusk). Great location and most ski airlines fly there from the majority of major UK airports. We flew from Manchester (100 minutes flight time) on a Thomson 737 (very good) and booked via Crystalâ€™s last-minute website, www.crystalskizone.co.uk.
Lift system : Several big cable cars and gondolas to provide the major links, with some fast chairlifts and loads of drags. The DMC Troncons from the top of ADH is the main route up to Pic Blanc â€“ takes about 15 minutes to get to the second station at 2700m where you can make youâ€™re way down to Lâ€™alpette (above Vaujany and Montfrais) or down into the main areas area ADH centre where there are lots of reads, blacks and blues leading to the two green run areas for the beginners.
Chairs like the Chalvet, Alpauris and Fontbelle are fast and offer amazing views because they go so high. The drags were pretty much a no-go for me on a board because they are really savage and long. Did a few in Les Bergers on the green runs, thatâ€™s about it.
As far as comparing the lift system to the likes of Val Dâ€™Isere and Les Gets where Iâ€™ve been the last 12 months, itâ€™s not as good in ADH. The lifts are pretty quick, there are lots of them, but it seems that they just donâ€™t seem to gel that well at times and the amount of time spent on bubbles was a drag. Avoid the ride up to Pic Blanc before 10am; the DMC Troncon is busy anyway and isnâ€™t exactly speedy, but youâ€™ll also have a big wait at the Pic Blanc cable car if youâ€™re up there before 10am. One day it took us an hour to go from ADH 1850m to Pic Blanc 3300m and it was seriously crowded â€“ 25 minutes of queuing. I just never found myself enjoying getting on the lifts like I have in other resorts.
The terrain :
Roughly 250km of runs, making it (reputedly) the 5th biggest ski area in France so plenty to go at in a week.
Itâ€™s mainly open mountain so the weather closes in fast but when the sun is out, the south facing slopes are lovely. If youâ€™re into tree skiing then down into the lower villages of Vaujany, Auris and Oz will suit you but then youâ€™re still looking at a limited amount of tree runs, but fun nonetheless.
The main area is directly above ADH town on the slopes of Pic Blanc. Itâ€™s a really amazing lump of rock that just towers over everything and gives a great backdrop to just about every run in the resort. From the steeps right up above 3000m, the incline just shallows out nicely, offering long reds and blues that give you long-lasting runs that really are enjoyable. Runs like the Chamois (red), Troncon (green) and the Couloir (blue) are all enjoyable, if a little busy at times, but thereâ€™s plenty of piste to find your own little space. The beginners areas (all green runs) are directly next to the town so are obviously the busiest but you can cut between runs and have a real good time.
Going higher definitely finds the more challenging runs and thatâ€™s where the harder reds and the blacks are situated. Runs like Les Rousses and Poutran (both reds) down towards Oz and Vaujany are enjoyable and were often the least crowded at any time of the day.
The lower slopes below 1800m were really slushy because of very strong sun and on many you were boarding over just millimetres of snow and slush, actually scraping over grass and rock. We headed down to Villard Reculas from the top of Signal directly under the TSD Villarias chairlift and it was amazing; steep off-piste that takes you over cliff drops and powder bowls and was one of the best areas before the slush arrived. It also didnâ€™t get too crowded, unless you went via the Petit Princes run.
Good runs to try in ADH (particularly for boarders) are:
Itâ€™s reputedly the longest run in Europe (if not the world) at 16km but donâ€™t let that bother you; itâ€™s a joy and gives you a real sense of being out in the wilds, away from bars and the hustle and bustle of the beginners slopes. Get up to Pic Blanc, negotiate the first slope (walk down or take the steps) and then carve down the fairly steep initial slope onto the winding run after the Tunnel turn off. After that itâ€™s a case of either going off-piste (amazing with fresh pow) or taking the run and hammering it. There are some steep bits but theyâ€™re more difficult because of icy conditions in the morning and any larger ski schools that take the route. Otherwise, catch it right and you have it to yourself. The second half of sarenne is failry flat but on a board, providing you can keep an edge well, you can actually hammer it down quite quick and overtake skiers â€“ me and my mates had a race every time to the cafÃ© at the bottom and the winner got his drink paid for. A bit of fun.
Another must-do run, maybe a tad more dangerous than any other run in the resort simply because the moguls are big, very big. Follow the signs from Sarenne, go through the 100-metres tunnel (walk it if youâ€™re on a board, itâ€™s easier) and walk out onto the â€˜platformâ€™. Itâ€™s really just a three-foot-wide snow walkway that leads onto the moguls where you have to sit and put your board on. I did it at 4pm and it was just a dozen or so boarders who all clapped as each of us made it down the face. It takes a bit of nerve to turn at first but once you find a route, you can carve the main face, especially by sticking to the left side (which l;eads to the Breche run). After that, it flattens out and then goes into another big face all the way down to the Lac Blanc chairlift. One of the funnest runs Iâ€™ve ever done.
Villard-Reculas (under the TSD Villarais lift)
Of-piste cutting between runs, get the snow right here and itâ€™s heaven. Loads of cliff drops (not big ones) and big powder bowls that just egg you on to go faster. plus, a few lips to pull ollies off and you can do it all within view of the peeps on the chairlift â€“ sweet
A red then a blue that takes you from the top of Signal Homme. Loads of powder to cut through if you like, otherwise, itâ€™s a nice cruisey run down through the forest tot eh bottom of the Sarenne.
Steep, deep and when the powder is there, awesome. Perfect for boarding hard.
Goes from the left of the DMC 2700m stop and is a nice run that can lead you down to the Lâ€™Alpette cable car or take you onto runs that lead into Oz and over Vaujany.
The second half is flat as anything and pretty rubbish but the first section is short (about 800m) but steep and nice for carving. Head off to the left before the flats and you take he off-piste and join on to the Tunnel run down to the Lac Blanc lift. Go up the lift and come down underneath for some good off-piste.
Follows the Troncon DMC car and is a good warm-up run in the morning. Turns into the Troncon run (a green) below the 2100m station and takes you through the snow park.
Heading down into Villard Reculas, this black run is a challenge, especially when itâ€™s icy, but itâ€™s nice and steep and pretty good for speed merchants.
Brilliant. Iâ€™m no park rat but I loved this, what with the wide selection of beginner ramps. The rails still werenâ€™t appealing but I managed to move up to the big table tops in an afternoon, landing most jumps and even getting a few grabs in. The half-pipe is substantial and they also had an air bag set up for a few Euros. One jump also had a photographer on from Photo Breton, a shop in the town, so he took a shot when you jumped and you went down the shop later to view you pic and buy it if it was a keeper.
Off-piste: Because of the slushy conditions we had little good off-piste to go at later int he week, although from the lifts there was definitely a lot of ground to be covered when it does snow hard. The off-piste down into Villard-Reculas was sweet while it lasted but didnâ€™t last long in the sun, but it was steep, deep and really gnarly at times. The off-piste at the back the DMC second station (beside the Lac Blanc lift) was amazing but prepare hairy because of rocks poking through.
The resort: Big but not overly ugly, itâ€™s shaped like a big triangle, with the upper â€˜cornerâ€™ being where the main lifts are situated. There is a bucket lift winding its way through town if you want to travel around without walking, but it can be crowded early morning and isnâ€™t particularly fast.
There are loads of banks, takeaways, SPAR and Casino shops, plus a whole wedge of ski rental and equipment shops, more than Iâ€™ve encountered in other resort before. Plus, there are lots of souvenir shops for gifts.
If you are on the lookout for bars, then there are loads but be warned; this is the most expensive place Iâ€™ve been to, more so than Val Dâ€™Isere (more because of the strong Euro). Le Sporting is a fantastic bar and for â‚¬6 a pint, is one of the cheaper, swankier bars. A really nice place. The Rhummery (L'etalon) bar is â‚¬7 for a pint, as is Lillyâ€™s Irish Bar. Most have happy hours but only for aprÃ¨s between 4.30pm and 6.30pm. After that itâ€™s full price and even though we had 2,500 students in town with BUSC, prices werenâ€™t dropped. Thereâ€™s an ice skating rink I town and the heated swimming pool is free on the lift pass â€“ bring your Speedos though, as they HAVE to be worn. No shorts.
Views-wise itâ€™s a nice place and you can see Le Meije over in L2A, Signal Lâ€™Homme or the whole of Pic Blanc from most bars. Itâ€™s pretty bustling too, but in that nice French, small-town way.
Food: The bars and cafes near the DMC are good and okay price-wise (the one next to the bucket lift is the best). A big omelette, salad and chips with a pint is about â‚¬15. Pizzas are about â‚¬14 each and a steak is maybe â‚¬20. Steak hache and chips is a good budget choice for less than â‚¬10. In town thereâ€™s a little restaurant in the arcade under the Royal Our Blanc hotel (think it begins with â€˜Mâ€™) that was next to the pizza take-away. â‚¬24 for a three-course meal of spectacular proportions.
Accommodation : We stayed at Lâ€™Hermitage run by Crystal. Great food, tidy, clean and nice rooms with great views over to L2A. I had a dicky stomach after the first day (as did quite a few others) but it was nothing to do with the food I donâ€™t think; it was great food and big portions. The free house wine was okay. The breakfasts werenâ€™t great but then again, I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever found good bacon and sausages in an alpine hotel or chalet. Lots of cereals and fruit, plus bread and croissants with jams. For Â£320 it was an absolute steal. The staff were a bit rowdy coming in and took over the bar after 11pm but that wasnâ€™t a major concern; these are, after all, kids doing seasons.
Costs: Â£320 for the hotel with flights and transfers plus Â£30 for board carriage. Waited until two weeks before to book and went through Crystalâ€™s last-minutes website, www.crystalskizone.co.uk. The lift pass is extortionate at â‚¬203, even if it does give you two days in L2A, a day in Grand Serre, a day in Serre Chavalier, and a day in Italy. If they took away these â€˜extrasâ€™ (which come at your own cost in terms of a transfer) and dropped it down to about â‚¬150 just for the ADH area, then that would have been better. As said, beers were about â‚¬6-7 per pint and you could expect to pay about â‚¬15-18 for a normal lunch on the slopes. Remember to take lots of cents around for using toilets â€“ everywhere charges â‚¬40c near the slopes.
Conclusion: Compared to December in Val Dâ€™Isere, ADH just canâ€™t hold a candle to it; the areaâ€™s lift system isnâ€™t fluent enough, there are too many green runs near the resort and a lot of lower slopes (below 2000m) suffered badly because of the sun. But, saying that, I really enjoyed it, as I do whenever i'm on snow .
I knew it was going to be a totally different experience to Val D and was pleasantly surprised by the number of big runs higher up that were a real challenge. What off-piste we did was excellent and I can see the potential for some seriously hairy off-piste stuff when thereâ€™s a shedload of snow.
The Sarrenne was brilliant, despite little snow in places, and Le Tunnel was the highlight of my week - it's a must-do. The snowpark was sublimely good and well worth a visit because it was relaxed, not overly hard and had a great photographer there that did an A4 shot for about â‚¬15 (you go to his shop on the evening) - a great memento.
I loved the holiday, as I always do when I go boarding, and although the area as a whole wasnâ€™t as impressive as say, the Espace Killy, it was good and it offers great boarding. Better snow, less students and a pick up in the pound would help immensely and although I wonâ€™t be rushing back because I want to try other domains, itâ€™s definitely somewhere Iâ€™d recommend to people looking for a good all-round resort.
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