THE FRENCH ALPS What's behind Alpe d'Huez's 350 Million Euro Investment?

In response to increasing demand, Alpe d'Huez is set for a 350 million euro face-lift. Is this enough to put one of France's first ski resorts back to the top?

THE FRENCH ALPS

What's behind Alpe d'Huez's 350 Million Euro Investment?

In response to increasing demand, Alpe d'Huez is set for a 350 million euro face-lift. Is this enough to put one of France's first ski resorts back to the top?

Photo Credit: Lucille Pine

If, on the off chance, you happened to spend last Christmas in Alpe d’Huez, you would have benefitted from a celebration beyond the usual festivities. After 10 years of discussions, mayor Jean Yves Noying finally succeeded in approving plans for a 350 million euro investment into one of France’s first ski resorts.

A high altitude resort with sunny south facing slopes, Alpe d’Huez welcomed its first skiers in 1902, quickly establishing itself as one of Europe’s premier ski destinations until the 80’s, when a new wave of purpose-built resorts such as Val Tourens, Les Menuires and Les Arcs began to gain popularity. To maintain its edge, the resort focused on extending its already sizeable ski domain, resulting in a surface area that now encompasses one of the largest ski-able regions in Europe, with a range of runs that challenge advanced skiers and soothe beginners. Also a regular stop on the Tour de France, it has evolved into a globally renowned destination for both summer and winter activities. Yet without the continuous modernization of services and accommodation, standards over the past few decades have slipped below the demands of the increasingly demanding tourists traversing its slopes. 

The development plan comes as a much welcomed reaction to this growing potential, a holistic face-lift that encompasses everything from the resurfacing of roads to re-roofing of flat buildings into sloping alpine chalets, underground parking and the development of new districts. For skiers, one of the crucial cornerstones of the project is the plan to connect Alpe d’Huez with Les Deux Alpes by 2021 via gondola, totaling a mind-blowing 475 km of ski terrain to beat Val d’Isere and Tignes’ Espace Killy, making it the third largest ski domain in the French Alps.

Despite the impending disruptions, the local community are enthusiastic about the plans. “We are delighted”, explains Patricia Grelot Collomb, director of the resort's leading hotel Les Grandes Rousses and the great grand-daughter of the Alpe d'Huez's first hotelier. ‘My great grandfather was the first to offer rooms to the ski pioneers who began to arrive in Alpe d’Huez in 1902.  It’s quite a special story. He was an orphan who lived as a goat farmer and used to come to town to read and write letters for the villagers while selling wine. He saved enough to obtain a license to open the first café and built a room next to the stables that was heated by the goats for the skiers to sleep! From there, he went on the build Alpe d’Huez’s first hotel’. Following in his entrepreneurial footsteps, his son, Patricia’s grandfather, was responsible for building the road between Alpe d’Huez and Huez during one of his several terms as mayor, as well as launching Pomar, the company that now manages the resort’s ski lifts. 

In response to the increasing demand for luxury services from global visitors, Patricia has invested considerably in renovating Les Grandes Rousses since she took over in 2012, incorporating a swimming pool and spa, while raising its star rating from 3* to 4*. Her plan is to extend to a further 45 rooms in the coming years. “High-level accommodation is rare in Alpe d’Huez at the moment and the demand is growing, it’s a high altitude resort with fantastic facilities”.  

One factor she highlights is the sophistication of the ski service equipment, including snow cannons that stretch from 3350m down to 1200m, enabling skiers to enjoy snow-packed slopes from early December through to Mid-April – a scope that few others can match. “We are seeing growth in new clients exploring the resort,”. explains Patricia, “Russians, Chinese and the Middle Eastern visitors make up the new demographic and expect a higher level of luxury and services. It’s a boost for both the hotel and the local real estate market”

For the property market, such an infrastructure investment is expected to have a significant impact. “We have already seen prices rising in the last few years, but as the project comes into evolves to completion, this will accelerate”, explains Patricia. Along with the launch of 3 new hotels, including a 5* property, a handful of real estate projects are expected to satisfy the new level of demand, while according to the Patricia, the municipal investment will enable skiers to ski in and out of the majority of accommodation within the next 3 years. Additional measures include offering owners of current apartments easy access to well priced loans to renovate properties. 

For tourist director Francois Badjily, the overall objective is to turn Alpe d’Huez into a pedestrianized ski station, meaning more trees, less cars, a reduced carbon impact and a higher quality of life.  But for locals, its the creation of 500 new jobs as a direct impact of the project that really underscores the significance of the development, “Its a real turning point”, smiles Patricia. 

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