Glacier skiing at over 3,500m, mighty off-piste, long blue runs, excellent nursery slopes, lively nightlife and a very large snow park: Les Deux Alpes packs a lot into its medium-sized, ‘upside down’ ski area.
High up in a narrow valley above the Lac Du Chambon lies the sprawling town of Les-Deux-Alpes, or ‘L2A’ for short. The resort’s main drag is 2km long but seems even longer and is lined with numerous hotels, apartments, bars and restaurants. Needless to say, the nightlife is pretty hectic, particularly if you want something that’s fun, loud and brash. (If quiet charm is more your thing, consider staying in the pretty village of Venosc 700m below Les Deux Alpes and linked to it by lift.)
The ski area is not massive but is very high and snowsure. The resort base is “only” 1,650m but five lifts, 2,300 vertical metres and three valleys later, you are at the top of the highest skiable glacier in France, the Dôme de la Lauze (3,568m). From here strong novices and above can descend over 2,000m on blue pistes, which, together with the excellent nursery slopes next to the resort and the wide choice of ski schools, make Les Deux Alpes a good place to learn to ski. And experts are not forgotten about either: there are 12 black and dotted-black runs and most deserve their grading.
But piste skiing is just part of what’s on offer. Boarders and freestyle skiers will love the large impressive snow park. And then there’s the off-piste, both in L2A itself, and in the legendary ‘experts-only’ ski area of La Grave, to which it is semi-linked (you’re pulled waterski-style by a snowcat over the Glacier de la Girose). Bring a guide with you if you want to return in one piece.
So what’s not to like about this Las Vegas of the Alps? Well firstly, the mountain has an ‘upside down’ feel. Instead of the easy pistes being near the bottom of the ski area, in L2A they are mostly near the top, and as nervous skiers descend, they get funnelled into steeper, icier, narrower and more crowded runs. The resort has tried to ease this by creating a new gentler home run, but even this is crowded and often icy too. And secondly, strong, keen skiers who insist on sticking to the pistes will find there are simply not enough of them for a full week’s skiing. (The resort’s claim of 200 kms of runs is only true if the off-piste is included.)
But there is a solution to that: just North of Les Deux Alpes is the larger ski area of Alpe D’Huez, The two resorts are not (yet) connected by lift but they are by bus and helicopter, and most passes entitle you to at least one day’s free skiing in the other one. The tree lined slopes of Serre Chevalier are not much further away and are also worth a visit.
There are plenty of ski and board rental shops in L2A but don’t expect a bargain if you just walk into the nearest one. And be suspicious of the outlets recommended by hotels and tour operators: they rarely offer the best value. If you want a proper discount, you have to book online in advance.
ALPINRESORTS.com works with several ski hire shops in and around Les Deux Alpes, and can secure discounts of up to 60%. Click here to see their shop locations and latest offers>.
SKISET has 4 outlets in L2A, and will arrange discounts of up to 50% if you book online here >
+ High mountain runs to suit all standards
+ Excellent nursery slopes
+ Excellent off-piste, in L2A & La Grave
+ Lively nightlife
+ Less expensive than most high altitude resorts
+ Short transfers from Grenoble
– Fewer pistes than other major resorts
– Some very crowded slopes
– Limited tree skiing in bad visibility
– Spread-out, traffic congested, ugly resort
The main ski area in Les Deux Alps can be loosely split into four sections. The first is the steep east-facing slopes under the Cretes ridge, most of which are short blacks that are too steep to be bashed so are generally pretty bumpy. A path offers another option descend, but a lot of beginners choose to use the lifts.
There are nursery slopes at the foot of this flank. Three main lifts service the ski area: the affectionately named red eggs and white eggs (think 1970s four-man bubbles) and the more efficient Jandri Express. This takes you to the Toura peak (2,600m), from where you can take either the second stage up to the glacier or the new eight-man chair, which has done wonders to reduce congestion here.
The excellent snow park is situated above the Toura plateau and there is some marvellous off-piste off the back of the resort from the top of La Toura (2,914m). From here you can go either side of the ridge and ski the main thoroughfare runs in the Cretes valley (beware: these narrow pistes can get very busy) or the steep western slopes of the Gours valley down to La Fée (2,100m), where there is a choice of off-piste, red, black or blue. This deserted corner of the resort is a beautiful spot for a picnic. Alternatively, head north towards the Tête du Diable (2,868m) whose reds feed back into the Cretes valley. There are also some fine couloirs coming down from this point.
On the glacier, the highest skiable one in France (3,568m), most of the skiing is relatively gentle and has excellent snow conditions. T-bars serve mainly short runs. The route back to Toura is a narrow collection of pistes, with several natural canyons adapted for boarder-cross. Alternatively, the west-facing slopes of the Clot de Chalance totally open up the valley for off-piste skiers.
The Pied Moutet range (2,100m), on the other side of the town, is often overlooked by skiers chasing altitude. This is a mistake because it has some lovely skiing and gets the sun in the morning. There is an off-piste itinerary over the back to the village of Les Travers, the front flank has some gentle blues and more interesting reds, and Bons is a bumpy north-facing red that winds down through the trees to 1,300m. A good way to finish is to take the Vallée Blanche blue down the front side to the start of the red Mont de Lans which is another interesting route down to the village of the same name at 1,300m. From here you can take the chair back up and then another small linking chair takes you to the main mountain.
Recent investment in the lift system in Les Deux Alps has improved the links on the Pied Moutet flank as well as easing congestion on the second stage of the Jandri Express with the addition of the new eight-man chair.
There are 59 lifts and both skiers and non-skiers can take lifts directly to the top of the Glacier. Queues are generally not a big problem here, apart from at the resort base early in the morning during peak periods, though high winds can sometimes close the top lifts.
Looking for private or group ski lessons in Les Deux Alpes?
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The ESF has a good reputation in Les Deux Alps, despite the common gripe about class sizes. Privilege, founded by ex-French ski team member Anne Millet, uses a different approach which has received acclaim; the European ski and snowboard school also run an outfit from here. Damien Albert offers free ride courses and off-piste guiding.
Les Deux Alpes is a good resort for beginners: the level of tuition is high and there is a whole flank of green nursery slopes at the foot of the resort, with the bonus of free, slow draglifts near the village for first-timers. There is also a roped off beginners' area at Cretes and some wide blues to progress to from here. After a few days, the glacier runs will also become an option, together with their excellent snow and inspiring views.
The good news is that you can return in the cable car and avoid the busy thoroughfares though there's also the option of skiing the entire mountain from top to bottom, for a maximum sense of achievement and of having got your money's worth from your liftpass. In exceptional snow conditions, it's even possible to descend on a blue run to Mont de Lans, the small village below Les Deux Alpes.
Looking for private or group ski lessons in Les Deux Alpes? Ultimate-Ski and partner CheckYeti work with leading ski schools and ski instructors in over 500 ski destinations throughout Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Let us help you choose the right ski school or instructor for you, and book online.
Early intermediates are spoilt by the fine quality snow and gentle runs around the glacier and it is an excellent resort to hone your skills. But mileage-hungry piste-cruisers will exhaust these runs pretty quickly and after a few days exploring the bowls are well advised to try a day trip to one of the neighbouring resorts (included on the ski pass).
The natural canyons just below the glacier are good fun and the Gours valley and Diable ski area have some good cruising runs. All the west-facing runs on the Pied Moutet side are ideal cruising in good snow conditions.
Strong skiers have come to the right place in Les Deux Alps. The steep reds and blacks are exactly what they should be, the natural canyons are great fun as are a few runs down through the snow park, while the narrow pistes mean only one thing: wide flanks of unpisted terrain. All the blacks just above the village are worth exploring and young trees have been planted between the pistes to act as avalanche protection and slalom poles. Both of the blacks under the La Fée chair are characterful runs and the Grand Couloir under the Bellecombe chair cuts a steep line down through the rocks.
The Rachasses couloirs to the side are more challenging still. The itinerary from the top of Diable cuts round the shoulder of the peak and joins the run of the same name and is particularly good in spring snow.
Much of the off-piste has been touched upon above but there are several classic descents. One follows the ridge line directly below the Clot de Chalance all the way down through the trees to the village of Cuculet, just above the lake. The marked itinerary skier's left of the Clot, known locally as the Gully, is also an entertaining ski.
The only off-piste on the Glacier itself is skier's right of Dôme and is called the Echines de Chevres, or 'goat's shins'. The other superlative itinerary is a 2,000m vertical descent from the top of La Toura to the village of St Christophe.
Access to La Grave is via a snowcat tow or a short walk from the top of the Les Deux Alpes' glacier. It's near legendary off-piste is covered in our separate la Grave section.
Les Deux Alpes is not (yet) linked to Alpe d'Huez by lift but it is by bus or helicopter and a day there is included in most L2A ski passes. There is plenty of good black run and off-piste skiing here as well.
Les Deux Alpes is without question the freestyle capital of Europe. The resort has invested heavily in its snow park, which is a model example. There are two boarder-cross fields, one expert and one beginner, a free-cross area, half-pipe, axe-pipe, big air, rails, jumps and bumps. One whole peak has been completely given over to what they call the Slide Zone. Several routes are also carved out on the way down from the glacier.
In the summer, the park moves onto the glacier and many national teams have their summer base camp here. The sponsors are out in force and 30% of all summer visitors come here for the snow park. There is also a monitored kicker with landing airbag at the resort base which is open every afternoon for you to perfect your jumps. One word of warning though: boarders should be aware that the paths linking the different valleys are relatively flat.
Le Diable au Coeur, at the top of the Diable chair was new for the 2005 season and is a wonderful mountain restaurant. The dishes are all very individual, lots of gratins, foie gras, fresh fish and succulent cuts of meat. Inevitably you pay for the pleasure, but it's worth it. The Chalet la Toura is also good but most of the others are self-service without much to distinguish them.
Life in the resort is centred on the one main road, although there is also a parallel road which forms the one-way circuit and runs to the foot of the main ski area. Bars and restaurants spread themselves out all along the road, but the main action takes place at the end of the resort, where there are large apartment complexes going up the hill. You are best advised to stay in the centre or towards this end. The resort is not attractive but has a lively feel and the lights of the town look very pretty from above at night.
One alternative option is to stay in one of the lower villages which tend to be a lot cheaper, less boisterous and far prettier. Venosc, in particular has the look and feel of an authentic mountain village. It's connected to Les Deux Alpes by lift but there is no piste between them.
Mont de Lans is a bit of half-way house - not as charming as Venosc but not so out on a limb - and this compromise is perfect for some skiers, especially families.
Gastronomic diners should check out the restaurant at the Chalet Mounier hotel (the son of the owner runs the Le Diable au Coeur) or the Bel'Auberge. Le Blue Salmon is good for more down-to-earth fare and the Crêpe à Gogo is a good local speciality restaurant, as well as serving the occasional pancake.
For a more unusual experience, have the Tribeca Caffé pick you up from town in an old London taxi, and soak in their outdoor hot tub before indulging in antipasti and fresh, stone-baked pizzas.
Les Deux Alpes is one of France's livelier ski resorts, boasting a fun après-ski scene and a broad selection of good bars.
Apres ski starts early in Les Deux Alpes. The Pano bar at the top of the Jandri Express kicks off mid afternoon with an open air "disco". Thumping music and crowds of people reminiscent of the busiest of night clubs get the adrenaline pumping for a final run to the village in preparation for the night ahead.
The wide selection of bars means visitors of all ages will be able to enjoy an evening in Les Deux Alpes, with everything from cosy pubs to bustling bars and clubs. Despite being covered in old skis and ski boots, Pub le Windsor has the feeling of an old London pub, and is a regular haunt among locals wanting a quiet drink. Whether in Windsor or elsewhere, there's plenty of spots for a relaxing evening beverage in Les Deux Alpes, with a number of bars dotted around the village.
With roughly 30 bars in the resort, there's also plenty to entertain visitors wanting a lively evening. Smithy's, Smokey Joes, the Red Frog, Secrets and La Grotte du Yeti are all popular places to begin an evening, and regularly show live sports.
The choice of clubs is slightly more limited, with little choice beyond Avalanche, which is the resort's main nightclub. Open until 5am with a good atmosphere and live DJs, Avalanche is the busiest of the resort's late night bars and clubs, and is widely preferred to alternatives such as the Bresilien.
Non-skiers can get to the top of the glacier where there is a fascinating ice cave cut beneath the glacier. Full of dinosaurs, polar bears, Chamois and other oddities carved from blocks of ice it is one of the more surreal experiences to have over 3,000m.
Another attraction is the White Cruise, a tour in a customised snowcat over 3,600m towards La Grave. There is also a heated outdoor swimming pool in town, abowling rink and a cinema.
Raquets for winter walking, cross country skiing on over 20km of trails, ice climbing, paragliding, ski joering, snow-mobiling and tobogganning are all available in Les Deux Alpes.
For a unique experience, a hike across the creaking ice of the glacier at 3,600ms will afford breathtaking 360o views. But it's advisable to hire a qualified guide for any activity on a glacier.