These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey. Note that our writer visited pre-pandemic.
France’s up-and-coming snow-sure resort
Les Deux Alpes is an important French resort popular with British skiers. It has three major assets: guaranteed snow cover, long cruisy runs for intermediates and one of the finest terrain parks in Europe. What’s more, it has some of the most vibrant après in France.
It opened in 1939 with one primitive rope-tow, which sadly fell down within 15 minutes of the opening ceremony. Hostilities with Germany then got in the way of development and nothing much happened until the construction of a gondola in the late 1950s.
These days it has 200km of pistes served by 44 lifts, and the glacier plus a top altitude of 3,600m means that even in the worst winters for snow cover, the pistes are never in serious trouble here. The off piste in adjoining La Grave is also quite extraordinary.
Inside the resort . . .
The main village in Les Deux Alpes sprawls along a narrow ledge that was once the summer domain of goat and sheep farmers. However the delightful lower village of Venosc (linked by gondola, but not by piste), with its narrow cobbled lanes, craft shops and enticing restaurants, is a pleasant contrast to what essentially is a purpose-built station de ski.
While the resort’s glacier doesn’t have the pitch of Tignes or Hintertux, skiing and snowboarding on piste is possible for much of the year. The resort opens from mid June to early September and again for French half term week at the end of October, before firing up the lift system for winter from early December until late April.
As well as La Grave, it’s also possible to head off piste to St Christophe-en-Oisans, another ancient climbing community in this remote and beautiful corner of the Dauphiné.
There’s a whole variety of eating out to be had in this family-friendly resort, but 30-plus bars to keep party animals entertained. While accommodation may not be swanky, this resort offers a good combination of value options teamed with pricier and more luxurious hotels and apartments, with more upmarket places opening, so couples, families and groups are well-catered for.
Winter 2020/21 saw big developments in Les Deux Alpes. Significant changes in the ski area included an eight-seater gondola linking the La Fée sector (2,221m) to the glacier (3,175 m). In 2018/19, a four-seater chairlift on Les Crêtes was replaced with an eight-seater chairlift and a four-seater chairlift replaced the former three-seater chair in Le Thuit. A number of ski runs have also been reconfigured.
Looking further ahead, a plan to link to neighbouring Alpe d’Huez that’s been talked about for 30 years, seems to be on hold.
On the slopes . . .
Navigate Les Deux Alpes’s ski area with our insider’s knowledge of the local slopes and beyond, on and off piste, ski schools and terrain parks.
Combine Les Deux Alpes main assets – guaranteed snow cover, long cruisy runs – with 200km of pistes served by 44 lifts, and you should have a near perfect resort.
But there’s a nagging feeling that something is wrong. It’s a big mountain with a top-to-bottom piste length of 8km, but midway through your first morning you’ll be asking yourself, “Where are all the other 192km?” It just doesn’t seem to add up – and it doesn’t.
The Schrahe report by a German cartographer on the extent of resort ski areas gives Les Deux Alpes a more modest 134km – and even that feels on the high side. Hopefully the resort will adjust the figure before its hotly anticipated alliance with Alpe d’Huez, which remains on hold as plans to redesign the ski area are developed. A 18-pylon gondola between the resorts would create a giant three-resort area (Les Deux Alpes is already linked to La Grave) with three glaciers. If/when this opens, Les Deux Alpes will be thrust into the upper echelons of world-class ski areas.
From Les Deux Alpes village, a choice of lifts gives main mountain access. The most important of these is the Jandri Express gondola that ascends all the way up to the foot of the glacier. From the outset it’s important to realise that this is an unusually shaped mountain. Some of the most difficult runs are at the bottom, while the top is largely given over to easy blues.
This is good for beginners, who even during their first week on skis or board get to see (or even ski) much more terrain than in a conventional ski area. However, at the end of the day even wobbly intermediates are strongly advised to download rather than tackle the unusually steep valley runs that tend to be icy and overcrowded.
Intermediates will enjoy themselves here, although the pitch of many of the runs lacks challenge. For experts there’s a wonderful remedy for this – hire a guide and then hike or snowcat off the shoulder of the glacier. From here you can explore the long and sometimes extremely demanding off-piste runs that lead from the 3,568m Dome de la Lauze down to the old climbing village of La Grave.
Les Deux Alpes is a friendly resort for snowboarders and for freestylers in general. It now has Les 2 Alpes Freestyle Land at 2,600m that includes the snowpark on the glacier with a half pipe and super pipe, and a family park.
Who should go?
Intermediates enjoy themselves in Les Deux Alpes and beginners have the unique chance to start their ski journey at the top, rather than the bottom, of the mountain, with spectacular views from the glacier. The resort is renowned for having one of the most vibrant après scenes in France. There are some 30 bars in town to choose from with many staying open until the early hours. Freestylers will be delighted by the world-class terrain park.
Know before you go . . .
Ambulance (samu): dial 15
Police: dial 17
Fire (pompiers): dial 18
Emergency services from mobile phone: dial 112
Tourist office: See les2alpes.com, the website for the Les Deux Alpes Tourist Board, for weather reports, lift status, webcams, traffic details and local event listings. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the office below the Jandri Express lift station.
Telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 33, then leave off the zero at the start of the 10-figure number.
Time difference: +1 hour
Local laws & etiquette
- When greeting people, formal titles (Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle) are used much more in French than in English.
- The laws of vouvoiement (which version of “you” to use) take years to master. If in doubt – except when talking to children or animals – always use the formal vous form (second person plural) rather than the more casual tu.
- When driving, it’s compulsory to keep fluorescent bibs and a hazard triangle in the car in case of breakdown.