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Take the Family › A Family Ski Holiday in the Alpe d'Huez Grand Domaine Ski Area, French Alps

A Family Ski Holiday in the Alpe d'Huez Grand Domaine Ski Area, French Alps

On Les Bûcherons piste, Auris-en-Oisans.On Les Bûcherons piste, Auris-en-Oisans.Rhonda Carrier.

I’m not the best person for judging a ski area’s virtues in comparison with its rivals. This was only the third time I’d been skiing, so the subtleties of a ski domain – its links and its suitability for different levels of skiers – is not something I’ve had to really take into account. But as soon as I saw Alpe d’Huez, I knew that this was somewhere very special to bring kids skiing.

We’d spent our first night in a delightful catered chalet, Alpine Hero’s (also known as Chalet La Baume), in the traditional little village of Auris-en-Oisans. Sleeping 19 (or a couple more depending on the ages of kids), it’s perfect for families, with an attic room specially for children and a 10-person hot tub for star-gazing winter and summer alike (in the warmer months the hosts lead mountain-biking excursions).

After delicious mountain fare at Auris’ family-run Le Schuss, we had a blissfully tranquil night’s sleep before setting out to discover Auris’ new fun piste. Named Les Bûcherons or Lumberjacks, this provides lots of 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 new bungee trampoline.

Auris-en-Oisans is linked by pistes and chairlifts to Alpe d’Huez, winner of Take the Family’s award for Best Ever Family Ski Resort Award in the ages 7 and under category. A good place to stop en route is L’Hermine, a mountain restaurant at the bottom of the Font Froide piste, with outstanding burgers among other good refuelling food. From there it’s fun 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.

Alpe d’Huez is an undeniably fantastic resort, with 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.

I, however, was very happy pottering around Alpe d’Huez, which also has its own new 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 added in the Signal area last year. This year has also seen the addition of a four-season toboggan run in Les Bergers – 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. This is another small village that provides a good alternative to staying in the ski area’s main resort. Our base here was Espace Vacances Les Cristaux, a newly opened hotel including family rooms with balconies and an indoor pool, sauna and steam room. Guests stay here on an all-inclusive basis – there’s the option to pack yourself a picnic from a buffet laid out in the morning to take with you if you don’t want to come back for lunch (although the cable-car takes only 10 minutes from Alpe d’Huez). 

In terms of restaurants in Oz, we loved La Ferme d’Oz with its classic French dining, including snails and superb steak-frites. Out on the slopes, La Grange at Alpette is particularly good for hearty pizzas – try the tartiflette pizza for a carbo-hit that will keep you going right through to dinner.

From Alpette, we loved the 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 new designated freeride 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. Those considering Easter ski holidays in the French Alps should note that Oz-en-Oisans will be offering free Alpe d'Huez Grande Domaine lift-passes to skiers aged five to 22 with each adult lift-pass bought online, for skiing between 7 and 20 April 2018. A six-day adult lift-pass for Alpe d’Huez Grande Domaine Ski costs from €267; see all lift-pass prices. These resorts also have English-speaking ESF instructors and kids’ clubs with snow play.

Read more about visiting Grenoble and the Isère region with kids, including ski holidays.

View from the Espace Vacances Les Cristaux, Oz-en-Oisans © Rhonda Carrier
View from the Espace Vacances Les Cristaux, Oz-en-Oisans © Rhonda Carrier

By Rhonda Carrier

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