As soon as I saw Alpe d’Huez, I knew this was somewhere very special to bring kids skiing. Winner of Taking the Family’s award for Best Ever Family Ski Resort Award in the ages 7 years and under category, it's linked to the traditional little village of Auris-en-Oisans by pistes and chairlifts. If you begin, like we did, in the latter, make sure to stop en route at L’Hermine, a mountain restaurant at the bottom of the Font Froide piste, with outstanding burgers among other good refuelling food, and from there to take the Alpauris ‘scare chair’ – so named because it descends very steeply into the Sarenne gorge, but also noteworthy for taking you through a tunnel under the runway of the tiny Altiport. The kids loved it almost as much as they did the skiing.
"Snow-shoe hiking was an exhilarating experience – fuelled by a stop-off at the cosy Chalet d’Oz for hot chocolate, vin chaud and home-made blackcurrant tart and walnut cake in front of a wood-burning stove – and made perfect by a full moon rising and the river gurgling beside us as we descended into Oisans twinkling in the darkness."
We’d started in Auris in order to check out its fun piste, Les Bûcherons ('The Lumberjacks'), which provides great photo opportunities in the form of statues to pose with, a seesaw to play on and boards with quizzes about the forest, spot-the-difference games and facts about preserving the local environment. From this piste, you can ski back down along a lovely forest trail – where the resort’s dog-sledding takes place – to Auris’ beginner slopes, children’s areas and bungee trampoline.
Moving on to the even more fantastic Alpe d’Huez, we discovered a fabulous area of wide green runs and children’s areas that couldn’t be more perfect for those learning to ski. But intermediates and the advanced aren’t left out. The Sarenne, coming down from the Pic Blanc, is the longest black run in the Alps, at an awesome 16km, while Le Tunnel is famously challenging – you ski through an actual tunnel through the rock to be met at the other side by a slope falling away at what seems like an impossible angle.
As virtual beginners, we were very happy pottering around Alpe d’Huez, which also has its own fun area, Chez Roger, in Les Bergers (The Shepherds), including some quirky sheep sculptures. Chez Roger follows in the footsteps of Marcel’s Farm, a fun cow-themed ski area in the Signal area. Meanwhile, Les Bergers also has a four-season toboggan run – a floodlit 1km toboggan run on a track resembling a rollercoaster, with the option of virtual-reality goggles.
Alpe d’Huez is linked in turn, by pistes, chairlifts and a cable-car, to Oz-en-Oisans, another small village with lovely blue runs down to Montfrais, where we stopped to watch some mountain goats traverse the peaks. There are a couple of snowparks here too, and the pistes are quieter – great if you’re trying to pick up confidence.
As well as skiing, Oz is a good spot for Nordic walking (with free introductory sessions every Monday) and for snowshoe-hikes. If you’ve done the latter in other resorts, be warned that around Oz the trails are quite demanding – or at least they were for us, since there was masses of snow in this Grandes Rousses mountain range and the Alps as a whole during our stay. Still, it was an exhilarating experience – fuelled by a stop-off at the cosy Chalet d’Oz for hot chocolate, vin chaud and home-made blackcurrant tart and walnut cake in front of a wood-burning stove – and made perfect by a full moon rising and the river gurgling beside us as we descended into Oisans twinkling in the darkness.
As well as Alpe d’Huez, Oz-en-Oisans and Auris-en-Oisans, the local lift network covers Villard Reculas (with a designated free-ride area in the forest) and Vaujany, meaning you get an enormous amount of skiing for your money, all only 90 minutes from Grenoble airport (or two hours from Lyon). Alternatively, you can get individual resort lift-passes if you’re just starting out so are happy to stay local. A six-day adult lift-pass for Alpe d’Huez Grande Domaine Ski started at €267 at the time of writing. These resorts also have English-speaking ESF instructors and kids’ clubs with snow play, making them among the best family ski destinations you could hope to find anywhere in the world.
Read more about visiting Grenoble and the Isère region with kids, including ski holidays.
Oz-en-Oisans © Rhonda Carrier