The Resort of Alpe d'Huez, France.
Alpe d'Huez is primarily a winter ski and snowboard resort in the French Alps. Due to the long winding approach road it is also frequently hosts a mountain stage of the Tour de France and is a popular summer downhill mountain biking venue but this article is about it as a winter sport destination.
Alpe d'Huez is one of the most southerly of the many resorts in the French Alps and is known as L'ile au Soleil or Island in the Sun because it has an average of 300 sunny days per year. The main town is one of the highest ski resorts in France starting at a shade under 2km up so it's pretty snowsure throughout the season.
Where to stay.
Alpe D'huez is a large town that combines old parts and new and is growing all the time, it has its pretty bits and its modern bits and it has its ugly bits but in general its a well laid out and has amenities conveniently located throughout and they are constantly modernising and improving the uglier bits. It has six satellite villages, linked by lifts, that are worth considering, Oz is the prettiest with its chalets in the forest and pedestrianised streets and Vaujany is also quite pretty and is larger, has a new leisure center, and a great view of its own waterfall (unless it's frozen).
If you want a full night-life with bars, restaurants and clubs stay in the main town however if you want a quieter time with small bars and a couple of family run restaurants go for Oz or, if swimming and ice-skating and bowling are important, go for Vaujany . As an added bonus the satellite towns are cheaper all round.
The Snowsports Area
The Grand Rousses ski area is one of the largest in the world. Measuring the size of ski resorts is not as simple as you'd think. In recent years resorts that are nearby have joined forces to portray themselves as a larger amalgamation. In some cases that's fair, for example The Three Valleys has become essentially one huge resort entirely linked by lifts however at some resorts you need to get a bus to get from one part to another which is pushing it a bit. Anyway Alpe d'Huez, by my reckoning, is in the top 10 in the world in terms of size and if the proposed cablecar link to Les Deux Alpes which is visible from some of the slopes around Auris ever goes ahead it'll be in the top 3.
Vital statistics are 123 runs, 84 lifts and 249km (about 150 miles) of pisted runs upto a maximum altitude of 3330m (over 10000ft). Off piste skiing and boarding is another of Alpe d'Huez strong points with plenty of opportunities around the main area and via helidrop, it also boasts the Sarenne the longest black run in the world at 16km (10 miles) which is a very tame black for most of its length but well worth a go also "The Champagne Run" for more of a challenge goes from the top of Pic Blanc down to Vaujany via the Tunnel and La Fare black runs and Rousses red run.
Tip - if you are staying on the Oz/Vaujany side you can buy a local area pass for 40% less than a full area which allows you access to enough to keep anyone amused for at least a few days and you can go over to the main resort, you just need to get a drag lift back. The Oz and Vaujany side of the mountain is north facing so it often has the best conditions especially if you go past L'Alpette and as far as Montfrais which is the quietest part of the mountain and Alpe d'huez as a whole is very quiet anyway. Edelweiss, straight up from Montfrais is my favourite run, its a steep blue, as steep as a red but it's very wide and has easier routes past the hardest bits, for some reason nobody goes on it, I've boarded it 5 times in a row and not seen a soul.
A comprehensive piste map can be found here
There are plenty of bars dotted around the main town with Smithy's and The Underground the pick of the more lively. In Oz there's the Ozzie Bar (inevitably) and Arsenes in Vaujany.
There are 3 nightclubs in Alpe d'Huez town, the main one is the Igloo which goes until the early hours there is also one under Smithy's Bar. Oz has no clubs but Vaujany has a small one.
One of my gripes with French ski resort restaurants is they all sell the same things, if you want the mountain specialities of Fondue (melted cheese), Raclette (cheese you melt yourself) or Tartiflette (potatoes, bacon and obviously cheese) you'll find them in almost all of them. That's fine because they are delicious but most of them don't do much else except salad's and pizzas. I recommend these places for a bit of variety, some of them do the Mountain Specialities as well. In the main town the Passe Montagne for a traditional atmosphere with Rendez Vous and l'Authentique being more contemporary are all great. In Oz there's La Parisienne, La Potee Oz and La Ferme d'Oz. In Vaujany there is La Remise where the service can be a little patchy but the food is good and often very exotic also there is a new restaurant in the new leisure centre which looks special but I've yet to try that.
Other stuff to do.
The main town has a dedicated sledge run from the first stop of one of the big lifts which makes it a long run by anyone's standards also the Eclose run turns to night sledging on a couple of evenings a week. The best leisure center is definately in Vaujany with a water slide in the swimming pool and a brand new ice rink and 10 pin bowling alley, Alpe d'Huez has indoor and outdoor pools an ice rink and the leisure centre has lots to do like climbing, table tennis, squash etc, Oz however is a bit limited in this respect with only a small pool and ice rink but if you've got a car it's only 30 minutes to Vaujany.
Back to the main town and there's a snow rallying track and the ice rink has go-karts on it on Thursdays. Underneath the Eclose run is a toboggan run for wheeled karts that's open during the summer and sometimes in late winter season if the snow has gone.
If you want a friendly resort that has everything, good weather, reliable snow cover, no queues, extensive ski area, plenty of off piste opportunities and loads of other activities and apres ski, all priced much less than the better known destinations then Alpe d'Huez is a fantastic choice.