Published in The Sunday Telegraph in 2012
The lady from the tourist office is super déçue – very disappointed. She has invited our small group of journalists to Les Deux Alpes to sample one of the resort’s monthly Soirées Pleine Lune. We will be having dinner in a cosy mountain restaurant then skiing down to the resort by the light of the full moon. Only we won’t. This month’s soirée has been cancelled. We are super déçus, too.
The rest of our trip to Les Deux Alpes is more successful. Founded in 1946 at the point where the northern and southern Alps meet, the resort flourished in the Seventies. When I last visited 10 years ago, that’s what it felt like: a cheap and cheerful Seventies throwback, with everything – utilitarian apartment blocks, hotels, shops, restaurants – arranged either side of one long street, with a ski bus trundling its length to deposit skiers at the various lifts.
It wasn’t much to look at then but it had two great advantages: it was just over an hour from Grenoble, so closer to an airport than, say, the Trois Vallées resorts; and it boasted Europe’s largest skiable glacier, which means you can ski year round.
Those advantages still apply, of course – though irritatingly, if you want to fly with BA or Swiss from the UK you’ll have to go via Lyon – but in the decade since my last visit, Les Deux Alpes has undergone a makeover. A great deal of money has been spent cladding some of the uglier apartment buildings in wood, while the accommodation within has been renovated and enlarged.
There are more mid-market hotels and restaurants, one of which, Le P’tit Polyte at the Chalet Mounier, even has a Michelin star. It’s never going to have the charm of a traditional French village, but at least it looks more ‘Alpine’ these days, particularly when it’s knee-deep in snow, as it is at the moment.
Value for money, though, is still its USP. You know you’re in a reasonably priced resort when you get change from a €5 note for a hot chocolate. In Les Deux Alpes, throw in another euro and you can have two. That hour’s journey from Grenoble airport costs just €22/£18 return. And while the lift pass, which gives access to 225km of pistes, 92 runs and 56 lifts, is not particularly cheap at €204/£169 for six days, it also entitles you to one free entry to the swimming pool or ice rink per day, two days in nearby Alpe d’Huez, Oz or Vaujany and one day in Serre Chevalier, Puy St Vincent, Montgenèvre Voie Lactée and Sestriere. Throw in a complimentary weekly workshop for freeriders, and you’ve got some of the best value in the French Alps.
Accommodation is reasonable, too. The smartest hotel in town is the four-star Chalet Mounier, where doubles cost from €190/£160 per night. We are staying at the Souleil’Or – a plain but comfortable three-star hotel, with a small spa, where doubles are from €130/£109 per night, but you could lower your budget without ending up over a nightclub: the pretty, two-star Côte Brune would be my recommendation. With a great location, right at the bottom of the slopes, it costs from €104/£87 per night for two.
This is not a resort for swanning from sun terrace to designer shop. The reason almost everybody comes here is to ski, which you can do on slopes either side of the village, but the glacier side, rising to 3,200m, offers the most choice of runs. It’s a long, fairly narrow ski area and in general the higher you go, the gentler the slopes, with some easy runs on the glacier itself. It’s one of the most family-friendly resorts in the Alps, with three snow parks: one for very young children, one for those aged 8-10 and a superb snow park that teenagers will enjoy.
I found the classification of some of the runs a bit misleading: more than once a blue I was pottering along snarled into a red, while one red became more like a black. It’s possible to ski back to the resort but as four out of the five runs down are blacks, most skiers play it safe and take the lift.
My favourite run is a vicious black called super diable (super devil). None of us attempt it, but from the sunny restaurant terrace below, we watch some inspiring skiing – and some spectacular wipeouts. It is here, too, that we learn our moonlight ski is off. So while we are super déçus, at least we have the spectacle of the super diable and a bubbling tartiflette to console us.