There’s something particularly special about the first ski run of the season, especially when that first run is in perfect ski conditions. I will ski in most weather conditions but give me bright blue skies, dazzling sunshine and plenty of white, fluffy stuff and I am in ski heaven. And lucky for me, this is exactly how my first few days of this ski season started.
Les Deux Alpes
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I was skiing in Les 2 Alpes, a French ski resort that opened for the season at the end of November with 100cm of snow at the summit. I was lucky enough to be in the resort just a few days after the season had started and enjoyed two amazing days of skiing. This was my first time skiing in Les Deux Alpes and I had high hopes, not least because it’s home to the largest glacier skiing area in Europe. I had heard great things about the skiing, less kind things about the village itself (but we’ll come to that later) and was excited to discover what Les 2 Alpes had to offer families.
Located in the heart of the Osians region in France, Les 2 Alpes is one of the highest resorts in France – seventy percent of the ski area is above 2,000m. The resort itself sits at 1,650m and the glacier reaches a peak of 3,600m offering snow sure summer and winter skiing.
The name of the ski resort refers not to the mountains themselves but rather the two neighbouring villages of L’Alpe de Mont de Lans and L’Alpe de Venos. Collectively, they’re referred to as Les Deux Alpes. Skiing started in the region early; in 1925 a simple tow rope was established in the extensive pastures that separates the two villages – and sadly fell down within minutes of the opening ceremony.
In 1946 the first ski school opened in the area with three instructors, making it the second oldest ski resort in France after Chamonix. Ten years later, the Diable Gondola started operating, taking eager skiers high up the mountain. Today, the resort offers eager skiers 200km of pistes served by 51 lifts, including a new cable car, the ‘Pierre Grosse’ lift, which aims to improve the flow of skiers around the ski area.
Disclosure: I was hosted on a press trip for the purpose of this review. All opinions are, as always, entirely my own. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.
Ski Les Deux Alpes
So, what’s it like to ski Les 2 Alpes? The short answer is that it is excellent. There are runs for every kind of skier and snowboarder here. During our two days on the slopes, we skied groomed blue runs, steeper red runs and the couple of black runs that were open. Under the watchful eye of our guide and instructor Yannick from the ESF, we also did some short off piste runs where the snow was deep and plentiful.
On our final morning, we skied from near the top of the glacier, at a height of 3,400m all the way down to the resort, an 8km vertical run that had our legs burning by the end. As the resort had only just opened, many of the runs weren’t open yet but when the resort is fully operational, there’s certainly more than enough skiing to keep you busy for a week’s family ski holiday.
For beginners and intermediate skiers there are pros and cons to skiing in Les Deux Alpes. The negatives are the lack of easy runs down into the resort; most of the difficult runs are at the bottom of the mountain and the easier runs are found at the top.
Until quite recently, there were only black runs and off piste tracks available back into the village. There’s now a blue and a green run running down to the resort but I’m not sure I would take the kids down these runs when it’s busy. As with most ski resorts, the last run of the day can be crowded, icy and not terribly enjoyable. Your better bet might be to come down in the Jandri Express gondola.
Now for the positives. One of the best things about Les Deux Alpes, is the glacier skiing. Here, you can climb to a height of 3,400m or 3,600m (depending on which lifts are open) and enjoy blue and red runs groomed to perfection. Beginners will love the soft snow, amazing panoramic views and a sense of really being on the mountain and more advanced skiers will revel in creating the kind of wide, giant carving turns that make you happy to be alive. If you really want to challenge yourself, then hire a guide and head off-piste in the adjoining La Grave area.
Les Deux Alpes is also a friendly resort for boarders with their Freestyle Land located at 2,600m that includes the snowpark on the glacier with a half pipe, a super pipe and a family park. New for 2020 is a Kid’s Park for under 10s; a safe, child-sized freestyle area. You’ll find the kids’ park on the Crêtes section.
Ski schools in Les Deux Alpes
As I child I learned to ski with the ESF, the École du ski français, and my kids are in the process of learning with them and I’m a big fan of their teaching practices. Half-day group lessons for kids start from 178 €. Other options in Les Deux Alpes include the European Ski and Snowboard School. There are nursery slopes at the bottom of the resort but you’ll quickly find yourself up the top of the mountain where some of the best runs – and snow – are found.
Paragliding in Les Deux Alpes
I have long wanted to try paragliding, or parapente in French, but have never quite made it happen. And then it did on this trip. And it was amazing! Often described as the “purest and simplest form of aviation”, it is an incredible – and somewhat surreal – experience. After lunch on our final day, I met my paragliding instructor Didier near the top of Le Diable chairlift. There, he strapped me into my harness, connected my harness to his and told me to point my skis down the slopes.
We started down the mountain, picking up speed until the sail caught the wind and lifted us gently into the sky. We sailed high above the mountains, the skiers below us mere specks on the snow. The winter sunlight was beginning to fade as we soared over the resort with the majestic Écrins National Park as our backdrop. It was spectacular. We were only airborne for around the 10 minutes, the lack of thermal currents meaning that winter flights are shorter than summer ones. And then we landed gently on the bottom slopes of the resort, the sail dropped and we were back on firm ground.
Other things to do in Les Deux Alpes
Like many ski resorts in France and the world over, Les 2 Alpes offers more than just piste bashing these days. Some of the other things to do in Les Deux Alpes with kids include:
Snowshoeing with friendly husky dogs, organised by Kuma & co. €30 for children under 10 and €40 for adults.
E-Bike on Snow
Riding electric bikes on the snow. €40 per person. Organised by Aventure Electrobike.
On Wednesday mornings in season you can join the pisteurs as they open the slopes and then share breakfast with them. €15 per person.
Rubber Ring Toboggan
Fly through the air on a giant donut-style toboggan (and land safely on a large crash mat). From €3. Event2fly.com
Located at the top of the Jandri Express gondola are several ice caves decorated with elaborate ice sculptures.
At an altitude of 3,400m you’ll find the Skywalk, a cantilevered walkway that offers views into the Vallon de la Selle, almost 2000 metres below, as well as over the Écrins National Park.
Ski Hire in Les Deux Alpes
There are plenty of places to hire ski equipment in Les 2 Alpes. We hired our equipment from Jaques Sports in the centre of town. Skis, boots and helmets cost between €15 and €20 per day and between €64 and €125 for six days. I didn’t love the skis that I hired from them but they did have a big selection so perhaps I just chose wrongly.
Les Deux Alpes Ski Pass
Ski passes cost €52.50 for one day and €262.50 for six days for adults and €42 for one day and €210 for six days for children.
Early season rates: Adult 1-day €42, 6-days €235.70. Children 1-day €38, 6-day €208.20
Saturdays and Sundays before Christmas cost just €32 for the day (online offer only).
Non skiers can also take the gondolas to the summit. The costs are as follows:
From 1.600m to 2.600m = €18 per adult / €14.40 per child
From 1.600m to 3.400m = €27 per adult / €21.60 per child
6 days / pedestrian = €57 per adult / €47 per child
Les Deux Alpes Hotels
Before travelling to Les Deux Alpes a friend said to me about the resort “great skiing, ugly village”. This may have been true in the past but the ski resort has worked hard to shed it’s “purpose built” image, cladding old concrete buildings in wooden panels and improving the overall aesthetic of the town. This is also the case for many of Les Deux Alpes hotels.
We stayed at the excellent Hotel Chamois Lodge during our time in Les 2 Alpes. This hotel was taken over two years ago by a young husband and wife team and they have slowly transformed what was, apparently, a tired old shell of a hotel, into a fun, quirky and welcoming hotel. I don’t often stay in hotels when on a family ski holiday, mostly because it’s nigh on impossible to find a reasonably priced hotel that will sleep a family of five in one room. At the Hotel Chamois Lodge, however, they have three family rooms that will each sleep five people. Rooms are a good size, they all come with a balcony and bathrooms are modern and new. The three family rooms have a double bed downstairs and three single beds on a mezzanine level upstairs. My favourite thing about these rooms, however, are the old two-seater chair lifts that sit on the family room balconies. Another plus point, the hotel is right near the slopes.
The other notable thing about this hotel is that the husband used to work at the Le P’tit Polyte, the only Michelin starred restaurant in town, meaning that the food at the hotel is very good.
Double rooms start at €110 per night, including breakfast. Family rooms start at €220 per night with breakfast. Half board: an extra €25 a day per person.
If you feel like splashing out, then the four-star Chalet Mournier is quite lovely, and home to the Michelin starred Le P’tit Polyte restaurant. At the other end of the scale, but equally impressive, is The People’s Hostel. Beds in a shared room at this modern day hostel start from €19. They have family rooms with private bathrooms from €119. Located on the slopes, the hostel has a bar, kitchen and communal living space. They also offer half board options.
Les Deux Alpes Restaurants
Les 2 Alpes has some excellent restaurants and you can eat very well here. Restaurants that we visited and that I would highly recommend include:
Casa Nostra: This Corsican restaurant is a great place for dinner, offering Italian and French dishes. It’s at the more high end of things so maybe one to save for a special occasion.
Le Cellier: This is your typical mountain restaurant serving delicious traditional dishes including raclette, fondue and, my personal favourite, the Boite Chaude (essentially an entire cheese melted and served with potatoes!).
Hotel Chamois Lodge: The popular hotel restaurant offers a three-course menu starting at €28
Les 2 Alpes restaurants on the slopes
La Toura: Serving everything from healthy Buddha bowls and enormous pizzas to omelettes, pasta and the largest plates of french fries you’ll find in the Alps.
Le Diable au Coeur: My favourite restaurant in Les 2 Alpes is this excellent gastronomic restaurant on the slopes. With a large sunny terrace and even slippers to relieve your feet from ski boots while you eat, the food here is excellent. I enjoyed a French onion soup followed by some of the best gnocchi I’ve ever tasted.
How to get to Les 2 Alpes
Les 2 Alpes opens from 30 November 2019 to 25 April 2020. The closest airports to Les 2 Alpes are at Grenoble and at Lyon. From Grenoble (110km) it takes approximately 1hr 40min to reach Les 2 Alpes and from Lyon (157km) it takes approximately 2 hours. There are regular bus services from both airports to the resort during the season or you can organise a transfer. You can also fly into Geneva (185km), which is approximately a 2hrs 40mins drive. Your best bet if flying into Geneva is to hire a car.
One of the best – and most eco-friendly – ways to reach Les Deux Alpes is to travel by train. Take the Eurostar to Paris and then change to the direct TGV to Grenoble. From Grenoble you can take the bus up to Les Deux Alpes. Take a look at Rail Europe for more information.