Skiing Alpe d’Huez

This year’s penultimate stage is a beast. Literally, it is a tour of monster mountains, beginning at Modane Valfrejeus and catapulting over the Col du Telegraphe and Col du Galibier before descending into the beautifully narrow Vallee de la Romanche for the lead-in to Alpe D’Huez. Only on this stage would the Galibier take a backseat. Yes, this is Alpe D’Huez. The name is like Yankee Stadium … Wembley … Centre Court. Shoot, maybe even Everest or Olympus. Start salivating because 2015 marks the 29th time since 1952 that the dreaded mountain makes its appearance in the Tour de France.

You can almost hear the commentators now … 13.84 kilometers (8.6 miles), 21 hairpin turns, an average grade of 8.1%, maximum grade of 13%. What isn’t as celebrated, however, is that six months of the year, those hairpin turns lead to one of the largest ski resorts in the world. But of course! The whole reason we have cycling at Alpe D’Huez is because of its alter-ego. Let’s dive in and explore this other pastime of the French Alps.

The real power of Alpe D’Huez flows from its apex at Pic Blanc, 1440 meters (4700 feet) above the Tour finish line. It’s here that the longest expert run in Europe, Sarenne, begins its 17 kilometer (10 miles) drop. Below, 84 lifts and 234 kilometers (145 miles) of trails leads to 4 satellite villages aside from Alpe D’Huez and Huez. In mid-February (2015), Alpe D’Huez boasted one of the deepest bases in the world at just over 2 meters (79 inches) and all for a lift ticket of E48.50 ($52.67), nearly half (or more) of any American resort.

Like many ski resorts, the history of Alpe D’Huez stems from mining operations, silver and coal locally, and cattle grazing. Even the Romans saw the mountain’s potential. The first alpine chalet opened in 1928 with a few guests arriving by mule. Only seven years later, developers purchased the property with the idea of expansion. One year later, in 1936, the mountain opened its first ski school and drag (Poma) lift. In fact, this was the first of its kind in the world. While development all but halted during World War II, it boomed between 1945 and 1963 and later hosted the bobsled event during the 1968 Grenoble Olympics.

Among other things, Alpe D’Huez combines all the necessities of a holiday vacation. Breathtaking views of jagged mountains are moderated by a diversity of terrain that won’t intimidate beginners but will challenge the experts. With the addition of Folie Douce the après ski begins on the mountain at 2300 meters (7500 feet) with views as piercing as the music and delectable as the food. In the village, similar highlights await. Ice caves, on and off-slope tours, snowshoeing, paragliding, dog sledding, and much more make this a self-contained ski resort that is sure to relax. The peloton, however, will be as anxious as ever as Alpe D’Huez offers the GC contenders one last attempt to make the podium before reaching Paris the next day.

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