The End of Extreme at Alpe d’Huez?

Summer Special Inquiry by the PisteHors Team

I suppose we have to accept that a ski station exists to make money and today operates in a highly competitive international market. The economic orthodoxy in France is to attract a clientele with a certain spending power and that means marketing to countries such as the UK, Russia and the Middle East. Not necessarily the best skiers, these visitors expect luxury accommodation and pistes that flatter.

Work on the Marmottes III Funitel

l’Alpe d’Huez in the Isère department has followed this evolution. The buildings are being clad in wood and some of the technical pistes ‘remodelled’, or vandalized depending on your point of view. A case in point is the Tunnel black. The first 150 meters drop from the exit of the tunnel offered skiers a giddy slope of over 35º, one of the steepest in the Alps. The resort has now carved a blue track across the face so that even skiers of quite modest ability can do ‘their tunnel’ at the end of the week. As Jane Knight, a UK travel journalist puts it, ‘skiers want to explore a different piste every day’. Alpe d’Huez, it seems, is only offering what the public wants.

L’Alpe d’Huez, birthplace of the ‘poma’ (drag) lift is not the most promising location for a ski resort. Although relatively high the rocky south-west facing bowl is a magnet for the winter sun. With lower snowfall and higher average temperatures giving a shortened ski season the obvious solution for the resort is to develop the high altitude skiing. The highest point in the domain is the 3320 meter Pic Blanc and the station possesses a tiny glacier, the Sarenne which is used for summer skiing during July. There has already been talk about expanding the resort around the 1st DMC cable car station at 2100 meters. The road access already exists. The remodelled Tunnel piste, providing an easy return from the high altitude skiing is another part of this jigsaw. The resort has also installed a chairlift on the Sarenne glacier to compliment the drag lifts and cleverly avoiding the tricky descent off the Pic Blanc.

This summer the final transport problem will be resolved. The Pic Blanc cable car is to be supplemented by the Marmottes III Funitel. Unreliable in high winds the cable car simply doesn’t have the capacity to move a lot of skiers up to the Sarenne and is a frequent bottleneck during the season.

Work on the Marmottes top pylon

The Marmottes III is being built by Doppelmayr, specialist in Funitel ski lifts and is quite a coup for the Austrian firm given the near dominance of Pomagalski in recent French lift projects. The Funitel system uses two parallel traction cables positioned about 3 meters apart and is particularly stable in high winds of 100 km/h or more. The installation at l’Alpe d’Huez is fairly small, consisting of two cars capable of carrying 33 skiers traveling on two separate tracks. The Funitel alone is costing €4.8 million excluding the construction of the top and bottom stations situated at 3060 and 2800 meters respectively. The journey time is 3 minutes 40 seconds and the lift can carry 1075 skiers per hour.

cheminees de mascle.jpg
Les Cheminees de Mascle

The lift may be less than welcome by aficionados of extreme off-piste routes. It passes directly over the two Mascle Chimneys to deliver skiers close to the ridge. These two couloirs of 45º and 50º degrees have around 250 meters of drop and are clearly visible from the resort, as is the new lift which cuts the skyline. The top pylon of the cable car has required some ‘work’ on the ridgeline consisting of dynamiting a large notch in the rocks between the two couloirs. The frequentation and ambiance of another two routes, the Col de l’Herpie and Côtes de Rivets will also be changed by this new lift. We were told that the Rivets sector will become official pistes. L’Alpe d’Huez may have assured its medium term future but at the expense of a less attractive and more clinical ski domain. In the long term Didier Richard, a glacier specialist with the CEMAGREF in nearby Grenoble thinks the Sarenne will simply melt. To counter this the lift company is considering installing snow canons, initially on the lower part of the glacier. This follows the lead of Tignes and Val d’Isère which are already equipping their glaciers. A spokeman for Mountain Wilderness, France pointed out the paradox of burning more energy in snow making in order to combat the effects of global warming.

marmottes 3 alpe d'huez
Marmottes 3 in operation

Posted by davidof on Tuesday, 03 August, 2004 at 04:48 PM

Adventurous !! I love skating on ice because it so dangerous. Third one picture of ice plane is so good.
Keep sharing.
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Posted by  on  Friday, 08 March, 2013  at 01:21 PM

Amazing post !! I love skating on ice because it so dangerous and . Your third one picture of ice plane is so good. Keep sharing.

Posted by  on  Saturday, 06 July, 2013  at 07:56 AM
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