THE BLOG

Skiing at Alpe d'Huez, France

14/04/2014 12:22 BST | Updated 11/06/2014 10:59 BST

I tend to listen to advice offered by friends. That said, I'm glad I ignored a well-meaning mate who told me early April was far too late in the season to go skiing in the French resort of Alpe d'Huez.

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With 250km of pistes, at an altitude of 1,125m to 3,330m, I found there's still plenty of good skiing, even on a sunny afternoon, at Alpe d'Huez grand domaine Ski, as this place is known in full. A handful of a sections look thin and by mid-afternoon, at lower altitudes, the snow feels heavy in places. Overall though, I enjoyed the experience of spring skiing in this resort, which is dubbed 'the island in the sun' due of its average of 300 sunny days each year.

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La Sarenne, a 16km piste dropping from the Pic Blanc lift station, at 3,330m, to 1,500m, is already officially closed. Yet on Sunday it was still possible to run down the most of it. In the mid-section we paused while our guide pointed out a group of chamois moving between rocks, just a stone's throw from the piste.

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The resort has two ski parks with jumps, bumps and rolls, making for a fun descent into the town of L'Alpe d'Huez, at 1,860m. The area just above the town also has a number of blue and green pistes, ideal for beginners learning to ski or a couple of warm up runs at the start of the day.

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For me, simply arriving in the town was a buzz because, as any sport fan will know, the Tour de France has given the journey up from the valley to Alpe d'Huez an air of mystique. The ascent through the famous 21 hairpin bends can be the making or breaking of great riders in Le Tour. Even in a car it feels like hard work. In summer months amateur cyclists come in their thousands to test their ability, said my driver as we wove our way upwards.

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As we rose, in low gear, I noticed gnarled, whirling patterns in the grey cliff faces of the mountains opposite. Stratification created millions of years ago reminded me of the structure normally seen in the grain of wood. As I learned over the course of the next few days the appearance of the mountains can change markedly during the course of a day, creating opportunities for some memorable photographs.

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Even from the wooden balcony of my hotel, the family-run, four star Chamois D'Or, I was able to photograph some impressive mountain scenery. The nearest lifts are merely a minute or so from the equipment room and, despite it being spring, we could still ski down to the door in the late afternoon.

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I've done the lion's share of my skiing in Austria and one of the things that I love about spending time there is the vibrant apres ski. Nothing helps work off lactic acid in the legs like a post-ski dance. At La Folie Douce, at 2,400m up on Alpe d'Huez, you can also do that here. In addition to the DJ there's live music and cabaret from dancers in costumes.

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One of the joys of skiing here is the multifaceted character of the region. It's possible to stay in a traditional village, such as Villard-Reculas, or the settlement of Vaujany, which has a number of new apartment buildings and a recently opened ice rink whose roof has been planted with grass so that it fits in with the mountain scenery.

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Most people are looking forward to the arrival of summer sunshine. But with the skiing on the pistes around Alpe d'Huez promising to be even better next winter my appetite has just been whetted.

Further Information

Alpe d'Huez's 2013-14 winter season closes on 26 April.

On 12 and 13 April the resort is hosting the Federation Cup. More than 600 people will compete in Giant Slalom and one to one Knock-Out System Slalom races.

Read more of Stuart's travel-related posts on his personal blog, go-eat-do.com.

The villages of Auris-en-Oisans, Oz-en-Oisans, Le Garde and Le Freney also link into the Alpe d'Huez ski area.

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