2nd February 2023 | Jane Peel, Vaujany, France
PlanetSKI packed a lot into a flying visit to the unknown – to us – ski village of Vaujany in the Isère region of the French Alps. Downhill skiing, a ski tour, a snowshoe trek to watch the sun go down and more. NEW
If you’ve never heard of Vaujany you’ve probably not been to the much bigger and well known ski resort of Alpe d’Huez.
Vaujany’s slopes are linked by lift to Alpe d’Huez but the village itself could hardly be more different.
Its reputation is of a family-friendly, intermediate resort but those in the know will tell you it’s much more than that.
PlanetSKI arrived on a sunny afternoon to find a pleasant, tiered village on three levels with easy access for pedestrians by escalators and lifts.
Its location is opposite the Grandes Rousses Massif – where all the skiing happens – on the opposite side of the valley.
Vaujany dates back 1,000 years and has the feel of a traditional mountain village.
Only 350 people live here year-round, though its peak winter season population is 3,500.
But it’s one of France’s newest ski resorts.
Skiing here dates from the late 1980s.
Before that it was a mountain farming village where everyone worked on the land.
Between 1950 and 1980 there was a mass exodus of young locals and the population dwindled.
That all changed with the building of a dam and one of France’s most powerful hydro-electric plants, the Grand Maison.
The massive construction project and underground pipes were all on Vaujany land.
It brought a lot of money to the area – still does thanks to the high taxes paid by the electricity company EDF – and the locals seized their opportunity.
They created a new ski resort that opened its first cable car in 1989.
Hotels, apartments, restaurants and everything else that’s essential for a modern ski resort were gradually developed, all the time in keeping the original look of the village.
We’re staying in an old building that’s been completely renovated for this season, but more of that later.
“In 30 years we went from the middle ages to the 21st century,” explains the Mayor, Yves Genevois, who was born and raised here and has witnessed the transformation.
It’s also gone from poor to rich and turned itself into a popular ski area, mainly for French, but also British and Dutch skiers and snowboarders.
You can buy a lift pass for Oz Vaujany – Oz being the name of another village – or for the whole Alpe d’Huez area.
- 30 pistes: 6 green, 12 blue, 10 red, 2 black
- 53km of slopes
- 20 lifts
- 20km cross country trails
- 485 snowmakers
- Skiing up to 2,080m altitude
Alpe d’Huez Domain
- 100 pistes: 42 green, 37 blue, 39 red, 18 black
- 250km of slopes
- 68 lifts
- 28km cross country trails
- 963 snowmakers
- Skiing up to 3,350m altitude
Our guide was Luc Smith, a dual French-British national whose English parents were seasonal workers and who grew up in Alpe d’Huez.
He’s been an ESF instructor in Vaujany for 7 seasons.
It was the first day of February and we were lucky enough to have blue skies and sunshine with typically cold temperatures for the time of year.
Before blasting around the pistes, we spent a morning ski touring.
We skinned up only around 200 metres vertical from the top of the Montfrais chairlift beneath the cliffs of the Grandes Rousses Massif, or Big Ginger, as Luc calls it.
It was an easy, gentle route.
Easy, that is, apart from the initial short, steep climb.
That was a fight against gravity in the knee-deep soft snow.
Gravity was definitely winning, even when Luc kindly relieved me of my skis.
Any pride I might have once felt in refusing to let someone 35 years my junior carry my kit has long since vanished.
I hate climbing and I am not a great fan of the effort required for skinning which I’ve learned, through experience, you should always do at your own pace, even if it becomes a solo affair.
But, as always, once I’m away from the crowds and the noise of the lifts, it’s all worth it.
I could say the same about tramping uphill on snowshoes.
However, the more I do it, the more I appreciate it.
Mountain guide, Alain Hilion, was the first person to introduce guided snowshoeing to Vaujany in the 1993-94 season.
He says it’s become more and more popular.
Along with his 3-year-old border collie, Polka, he takes us for a late afternoon trek on a route only possible in snowshoes.
But this is what we’ve really worked for.
Watching the sun go down with no one else around but our small group.
Our all too short trip ends with a visit to Vaujany’s newish museum.
It opened in January 2020 just before Covid struck and it was forced to close temporarily two months later when the French lockdown was ordered.
I’m often underwhelmed by museums but not this one.
There’s none of the usual ‘don’t touch the exhibits’.
It’s completely interactive and is brilliant for kids …of all ages.
I could have spent another hour there, learning about the local nature, wildlife and history.
Even soaring over the landscape in a flight simulator.
What’s more, everything’s in English as well as French and entry is free.
Highly recommended and, if you can’t drag yourself away from the skiing, it’s definitely a place to go if the weather turns bad.
Finally, as promised, a word about the Hotel les Cimes where we stayed.
Originally a locals bar and very basic inn, it also closed during Covid and has since been completely renovated into a modern hotel.
It opened for customers in December 2022.
There are just 10 rooms, a bar area and a restaurant where they serve breakfast and dinner.
It is in a central location and is relatively inexpensive.
It can be booked through PlanetSKI partner, Ski France.
There are nice touches like free chocolates, fruit and water in the rooms.
And best of all for us at PlanetSKI – fast Wifi.
It was a bit intermittent in our room but worked fine in the bar.
Fine by us!