Les Deux Alpes (aka Les 2 Alpes) is one of the largest and most important ski resorts in the Southern French Alps. It fills a linear-shaped high col between the Romanche and Veneon valleys, on the fringes of the Ecrins National Park, just over an hour's drive south-east of Grenoble.
Best known for having the largest skiable glacier in Europe, Les Deux Alpes also boasts one of the world's greatest on-piste vertical drops: an exhilarating descent of 2,268m, rideable non-stop all the way. The resort also has one of the biggest snowparks in the French Alps and offers a wealth of freeride and off-piste potential, yet has acres of easily accessible beginners' slopes and plenty of off-slope attractions too. This makes it well-suited to most categories of visitors, and an ideal choice for mixed ability groups.
Much of the resort is uninspiringly utilitarian in appearance, but there's a pretty (if small) old town too, and if you dig a bit deeper and you'll find that Les Deux Alpes has an appealing and amiable soul behind its 1970s facade.
A long-awaited link with neighbouring Alpe d'Huez - the 3km Oisans Express between Le Cret in Les Deux Alpes and Auris's Signal de l'Homme in Alpe d'Huez - is currently scheduled to be built ahead of the 2022/23 season. This would make the two resorts' combined ski area around 470km, the second biggest in Europe.
Les Deux Alpes - Ski Map & Pistes:
Les Deux Alpes' skiing is characterised predominantly by well-groomed blue and red cruising pistes, mostly confined to a narrow backbone of glacial ridges high above the tree line. Despite this linear layout, it contains a good variety of terrain: ranging from sheltered powder-filled bowls to raw glacial summits, and from easily accessible beginners' snowfields to seriously exposed off-piste routes.
The main uplift is via the epic gondola, the Jandri Express, which climbs right up to the foot of the glacier.
There are two distinct ski areas, rising on opposite sides of the town: the compact Pied Moutet sector to the west was the original local ski hill, although it now feels remote from the now much larger main ski area over on the eastern side; there's one chairlift linking the two areas from east to west, plus one piste linking from west to east.
Mont de Lans is the lowest part of the ski area, a short chairlift ride and a red run from the rest of the system and 5 km from the main resort by road.
On the eastern side, the wide and gentle slopes closest to the town centre house bustling beginners’ zones and children's snow gardens, but rise very steeply to the ridges overlooking the resort, meaning that almost all of the home-run routes are graded black. These tend to get icy and moguled too, which adds to their masochistic appeal at the end of a long ski day. If you've not quite got your ski legs yet, you're probably better off swallowing your pride, and downloading on the gondola.
The upper sectors are much more varied: here you'll find further beginners' zones, gentle inter-sector traverses, steep-sided coombes, plus Les Deux Alpes' excellent snowpark and exciting in-bounds freeride features.
The iconic Glacier sector covers the uppermost reaches of the domain, yet its spacious dome-shaped summit slopes are as accessible to novices as they are to advanced ability visitors; it is also the starting point for a multitude of epic off-piste itineraries, and links into the [experts only] La Grave ski area.
Les Deux Alpes - Off-Piste, Backcountry & Ski Touring:
The resort is home to plenty of good off-piste terrain and there's more to be explored nearby in Saint Christophe and, of course, the freeride paradise next door that is La Grave.
Local highlights include the three short but testing Grand Couloir chutes, accessed from the Bellecombes chair, the Pic du Diable off the same chair, (plus an hour's hike!), the Chalance bowl, the long descent from the Dome glacier, and several unpisted itineraries into the La Fee valley.
As always, if you're heading even slightly off-piste, you're strongly advised to book a guide. And that applies especially if you're hankering to cross into La Grave. The route, at 3,600m, involves taking the T-bar up to the top of the glacier, then grabbing onto the rope that drags you along behind a snow cat. Be warned though, there's no cat running the other way, and it's not all downhill, so you have to leave enough in your legs for the walk back. Unsurprisingly, given the height, the link to La Grave is frequently closed if the weather's bad.
Les Deux Alpes - Restaurants, Bars & The Town:
Les Deux Alpes is a fairly sizeable town, with more than 2,000 permanent inhabitants, and it welcomes around 30,000 visitors on high-season weekends, making it one of the liveliest ski resorts in France. It has a good selection of shops, a wide choice of cafés and restaurants, plenty of lively bars, plus three nightclubs; there's also a cinema, two tenpin bowling alleys, and a number of spas and beauty salons.
The municipal sports facilities are also very good, with a full-sized ice rink and heated outdoor swimming pool next to the central town slopes. Snowmobile excursions, snowshoe treks, and tandem paragliding flights are also available, plus there's an incredible ice-cave visitor attraction reached via a tube train which travels under the glacier at the summit of the ski area, accessible to slope users and non-skiers alike.
Non-skiers can also access the on-mountain bars and restaurants at the principal lift and piste interchanges, meaning they can easily meet up for lunch with their skiing companions.
Les Deux Alpes offers arguably the closest equivalent in France to the après ski experience normally associated with Austria. The partying begins mid-afternoon at the slope-side Pano Bar in the Toura sector of the ski area, close to the resort's excellent snowpark, and at the Austrian-style 'Umbrella Bar' next to the Hotel Cote Brune on the base-area slopes, before moving on to popular downtown bars such as Smokey Joes (Smokey's) and La Grotte du Yeti. The nightlife then keeps buzzing into the early hours of the morning, rounding-off at the l'Avalanche nightclub.
Les Deux Alpes - Ski Hire:
There are lots of options for ski hire in Les Deux Alpes, including familiar chains such as Intersport, Skiset, Sport 2000, Ski Republic and Skimium plus independents such as Brun Sports.
Les Deux Alpes - Ski School:
As with most ski resorts in France, the ESF are the dominant players here, offering their full range of group ski lessons and individual classes. Alternatives include the European Ski and Snowboard School and Proski.