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Alpe d'Huez

The history of the ski resort of l'Alpe d’Huez

Situated at an altitude of 1,860m on a south-facing plateau in the Grandes Rousses massif in the Oisans region, Alpe d'Huez, founded in 1936, enjoys a favourable microclimate that guarantees plenty  of snow and sunshine, earning the resort the nickname of "L'Île au Soleil" (island in the sun). On a clear day, there are spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding mountains from the 3,330m summit of Pic Blanc. This is the history of a resort that has been able to capitalise on its many natural assets to become one of the largest ski resorts in France. 

History of the Resort

A History Dating Back to the Middle Ages

Occupied since the end of the Middle Ages, the original settlement was made up of two villages  - Huez and Brandes at an altitude of 1,500m and 1,800m respectively - where the main economic activity was silver mining. Designated as an historical monument in 1983, the medieval settlement of Brandes includes remains from this era and bears witness to the first important period in the area's history, prior to the advent of skiing in the 20th century. 
  

The Development of Skiing

The appearance of skiing in the early 1900s marked a turning point in the history of Alpe d'Huez. This new sport transformed the lives of the local inhabitants, giving birth to an important economic activity and source of income. With the arrival of the first skiers came the need to offer them accommodation. Realising the tourist potential of Alpe d'Huez as early as 1923, the Touring Club de France converted a mountain pasture chalet into a dormitory refuge for visitors. This was the first step towards organised tourism. 

From the 1930s onwards, Alpe d'Huez became a recognisable ski resort, with the construction, in 1934, of the first hotels - Les Trois Dauphins, Le Refuge, Le Bel Alpe, and l'Éclose. In 1936, the first Jean Pomagalski drag lift was installed. The hotel business continued to develop, and by the eve of the Second World War in 1939, Alpe d'Huez was already a busy resort with sixteen hotels, three drag lifts taking skiers up to an altitude of 2,000m, and a ski school affiliated with the Ski Club de Paris. 

 

Photograph: ©Cyrille Quintard

The First Ski Lifts and the Birth of a Major Resort

At the end of the war in 1945, Alpe d'Huez restarted its rapid development. Thanks to the growth in hotel capacity, skiers flocked to the resort, and its popularity grew to the point where an expansion of the lift infrastructure became necessary. The opening of the cable car in 1955 increased the maximum altitude of the ski area from 2,000m to 2,616m, taking skiers to the summit of the Petites Rousses and opening up access to new pistes with good snow cover and varying levels of difficulty. Despite this, the resort's lift capacity did not keep pace with the explosive growth in hotel capacity, with long waiting times and a number of pistes remaining undeveloped as a result. In response, the SATA lift company (Société d’Aménagement Touristique de l’Alpe d’Huez) was founded in 1958 with the objective of managing the development of the lift system.

Hoteliers, business owners and instructors in Alpe d'Huez are obliged to donate a proportion of their income to SATA, and the commune of Huez is also a shareholder in the company. SATA's first act was to purchase the cable car and take over its operation, along with the exclusive right to develop the resort's lift system, a monopoly that was intended to avoid the risk of any conflicts. Through SATA, Alpe d'Huez had created a unique indigenous business model, in which the businesses in the resort and the commune are the collective owners of the lift system. Since its formation, SATA has continuously developed the lift system, allowing Alpe d'Huez to become one of France's biggest ski resorts. The value of Alpe d'Huez as a tourist destination remains unrivalled even today.

In addition to the growth of the lift system, Alpe d'Huez's history is marked by the development of its various districts, tourist facilities and events. Some key dates:

  • 1980 to 1989: Development of the Éclose district
  • 1982: Creation of the Maison d'Alpe housing the tourist office, ESF ski school and lift ticket counters, and opening of the Museum of Huez and Oisans
  • 1985 to 1990: Development of the Les Bergers district
  • 1986: The resort celebrated its 50th anniversary with the opening of the Palais des Sports et des Congrès (sports and congress centre), the opening of the Grandes Rousses DMC (double mono cable), and the opening of the Marmottes gondola
  • 1989: Launch of the VISALP lift pass based on the principle of "à la carte" holidays giving access to all the ski lifts as well as numerous activities in the resort such as swimming pool, ice rink, museums, sports and congress centre, etc.
  • 1997: The first edition of the Alpe d'Huez International Comedy Film Festival 

The Ski Resort Today

Driven by the development of winter sports and tourism, this small mountain community has become a major ski resort with an international reputation. Part of the Alpe d'Huez Grande Domaine Ski, one of the largest ski areas in France, Alpe d'Huez now has 250 kilometres of pistes and 67 ski lifts. The unrivalled off-piste area has over 70 itineraries suitable for all levels of skier. 

These days, Alpe d'Huez is a winter and summer resort, and has developed the facilities to offer holidaymakers an extensive range of mountain, skiing, and non ski sports activities. The resort also hosts a number of major sporting and cultural events each year. 

 

Photograph: ©Laurent Salino
Cimalpes was born in the French Alps from the dream of two entrepreneurs passionate about their Alpine lifestyle. Today, Cimalpes’ mission is to share this passion with its guests by hosting them in the most charming chalets and apartments, and by accompanying them to organize a memorable holiday in our ski resorts. The Cimalpes teams will be delighted to meet your every need; let us treat you to the Cimalpes promise.

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With more than 3,000 reservations per year, Cimalpes enables more than 25,000 holidaymakers to benefit from hotel comfort in their own accommodation each winter.

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