"Climb up then stick your axe hard in the ice!” shouts my mountain guide as I kick my crampons into a wall of ice and snow in the heart of the French Alps.

“Now use the other axe ,” he yells.

“What if I drop it?” I shout down? He screws up his weather-beaten face, shrugs and replies: “You won’t... you need it!”

Before long I am at the top, legs burning, arms aching, face raw from the cold and grinning from ear to frozen ear.

I look behind, and below, and catch my breath. The view is exhilarating – the broad sweep of the Alpe d’Huez Grande Ski Domaine, reaching 3,300m at the Pic Blanc glacier, falling away to reveal serrated rows of Alpine peaks, frosted slopes glinting in the fierce midday sun set against an azure sky. There is not a cloud in the sky.

It’s so beautiful, I choke a little. Or maybe it’s because I’d just remembered I was going to have to get back down again.

Compared to the climb up, the abseil down was a fairground ride – a fun bounce off the ice, while being sure not to drop those ice axes.

Harder was the trek through knee deep snow to our ski-doo – though, still easier than the trip up had been earlier that morning – as we recalled with small glasses of hot wine and huge tumblers of water at the first mountain top bar we came to, joining skiers and boarders sunning themselves in the early spring sunshine. It’s not for nothing that this part of the Alps is nicknamed l’Isle du Soleil – the Isle of Sun.

As the season progresses, the weather improves. Snow cover is good, following some serious recent dumps, and the pistes are in great shape.

April also offers lighter days, quieter slopes and, importantly given the shaky state of the pound, cheaper prices. Skiers can also benefit from special offers on lift passes, accommodation and ski rental if they book via the Alpe d’Huez Reservation Centre.

We stayed in the large Chalet Eterlou in neighbouring Oz en Oisans, a quiet village oozing Alpine charm, linked to the ski area by cable car.

The chalet had the same outrageously beautiful views, its traditional roofline and balconies belying its ultra-modern fittings.

Blessed with great restaurants and bars, there’s plenty to occupy you in the evening, and fulfil those apres-ski needs, without it being loud or too lively. It’s perfect for families or couples seeking some calm. And the food is great: a refined touch on Alpine classics.

Neighbouring Alpe d’Huez itself is also a gem, as anyone who has watched the Tour de France will vouch. The town, which sits at 1869m above sea level at the centre of the Oisans region and in the heart of the Grandes Rousses Massif is a favourite thigh-burning destination for summer cyclists – though Lycra is replaced by designer ski gear in winter and spring.

Fab for families and learners, it boasts the longest ski run in Europe – the 6km-long Sarennes, which joins the Pic Blanc to the Sarenne Gorge.

But there is plenty here to keep experienced skiers and snowboarders happy too – with great off-piste areas, many jumping off from the Sarennes. Alternatively, join a moonlight excursion along the run.

For something fun, rest your legs and try out the range of other attractions: jump in a tobogan, a fat wheel snow bike, or, do like me, and hit the ice.

There’s nothing cooler.

Hit the heights in Alpe d'Huez

Exciting things have been happening at Alpe d’Huez.

As the area celebrates its 80th anniversary, major investment and development has been going on to ensure the ski area retains its image as one of the best – and most beautiful – in the Alps.

Opened at the end of last year, until April 23, Alpe d’Huez grand domaine Ski has updated its Signal area with two new chair lifts, a fresh green run and more snow cannons.

SATA, Alpe d’Huez’s ski lift management company, has invested 12 million euros in the modernisation work, bringing it up to scratch with the rest of the resort.

A new Telemix hybrid express chair lift carries 3,300 passenger per hour.

  • The new green run, equipped with 22 snow cannons, assures the area’s welcoming reputation for beginners and families.

Starting from the peak of the Signal, at an altitude of 2,108 metres, the piste crosses the summits of the Sarasins and arrives in the beginners area at the ‘Grenouilles’.

Beginner skiers can also have fun on the mini jumps, slaloms and obstacles en route.

The Signal Bis piste has also been equipped with seven new snow cannons to ensure the coverage is plentiful throughout the season – particularly useful at this time of year.

  •  For skiers who are new to Alpe d’Huez grand domaine Ski, or those who enjoy spontaneous skiing adventures, SATA has introduced the Alpe d’Huez Express, a new pay as you ski lift pass, that allows visitors to ski first and pay later.

Skiers simply have to buy a card for €20 pp, register it to their credit or debit card, and then start exploring the resort. Alpedhuez-express.fr then charges skiers’ bank cards for the number of days skied.

Those using the Alpe d’Huez Express ski card will automatically make the most of promotional offers available throughout the season, with reduced rates for skiers spending more than three days on the mountain.

  •  If you fancy the quiet charms of Oz-en-Oisans, which is linked to Alpe d’Huez by a cable car, you can make the most of the new ski-in, ski-out Moontain hostel. Great value and with room sizes to suit varying budgets and preferences of skiers, prices start at a bargain €23 per bed per night. Visit moontain-hostel.com

Fact file:

Where to stay:

Chalet Eterlou is priced from £2,049 for the whole chalet sleeping up to 20 people for a week. Catering options are available for an additional price. Visit: www.chaletbeyond.com or call: +33 2 04 70 26 26

Getting there:

  • Skiers can fly to any of the neighbouring airports: Grenoble, Lyon and Chambery
  • Return flights are available from London to Lyon with easyJet from £45


  • Breakfast catered by Monts et Merveilles: +33 06265575 00
  • La Fruitière, La Folie Douce Alpe d’Huez – www.lafoliedouce.com
  • la Grange Restaurant - +33 04 76 11 03 66 restolagrange@hotmail.fr
  • La Ferme d’Oz: +33 04 76 11 05 49

Getting up there!

  • A 6-day lift pass for adults fro the Oz-Vaujany ski area is priced from £114/€134.50
  • A 6-day lift pass for adults fro the Alpe d’Huez grand domaine Ski area is priced from £177/€207.5


And getting around:

Other activities: