Picture sensational sunset views over 1/5th of France holding a warm cup of vin chaud. Imagine riding down the longest black run in Europe with just the moonlight to guide you. This is what skiers and snowboarders have the opportunity to experience every Wednesday evening here in Alpe d’Huez.
The Sarenne piste starts up at the glacier and drops all the way back down into a valley below the resort. It is the most well-known piste in Alpe d’Huez and is often a challenge that skiers and boarders alike set themselves for the end of the week. “By Friday, I’m going to have skied Sarenne!”
Sarenne, fondly known as the ‘La Piste Mythique’ in France, is 16km long and drops 1,800m in total. It starts with quite a steep and daunting incline, but by about half way down, it becomes more like a red so you can pick your head up and admire the incredible views all around, and by the end, you are cruising through an almost ‘mythical’ forest alongside a stream until you reach the bottom of the Sarenne gorge. This is quite an experience during the day but by night, it really is something else.
Everybody meets at the bottom of the DMC gondola at 4.30pm to reach the top of the glacier by the time everyone else is off the mountain. A group of piste patrollers and ski school instructors accompany the group of about 100 thrill-seekers. At the top of the glacier, you enjoy a nice warm vin chaud or hot chocolate whilst taking in the breathtaking views of the orange sky above the white mountains.
You can see Alpe d’Huez resort lit up far below you and you can even see down to the famous 21 bends of the ascent to the resort too. Across the way, the neighbouring resort of Les Deux Alpes is lit up too and you can admire the size of its glacier. You will not be able to put your camera away up here!
Just as it starts to gets a little darker and the sky is a bright navy blue, the group gathers to start their descent. Some people bring their own head lamps, others ski just with the light of the moon. It was with a mixture of fear and excitement that I pushed myself over the top! But don’t be afraid, there are LED lights that light up the piste at certain intervals and the winding lines of head lamps ensure enough light to see where you’re going! The only thing that is a bit off-putting is the cameraman who skies with the group filming you all. Great if you’re a fantastic, confident skier!
The descent in total takes about 1 hour and is very varied. My favourite part of Sarenne by Night was without a doubt the bottom where you are in the gorge, casually sailing through the trees, with the sound of the stream next to you and moon and stars bright against the black backdrop above you. By this point, the group is more spread out as people are going at their own speed. This allows you a moment of peace all alone to take in the ‘mythical’ atmosphere of La Sarenne.
Coming towards the end of the famous slope, you make a final pit stop, at Auberge de la Combe-Haute. This is where you get to finish the night feasting on typical alpine food. We enjoyed a heavily-cheese based, 3-course meal with wine in this beautiful little mountain chalet. The food was great, the people were fun and the atmosphere was very enjoyable. Returning back from the Sarenne gorge, we needed to take the Alpauris lift back to resort. Alpauris is widely known as the ‘scare-chair’; it drops very sharply down one side of the valley and very sharply up the other side. This was particularly spooky in the dark but a great end to a great evening!
Sarenne by Night runs every Wednesday evening (weather permitting) and costs a very reasonable price of 73 euros per person. You must be a good skier or boarder and you must have a valid lift pass to take part. Make sure you get booked up as soon as possible as places are very sought after!
Words by: Elsie, Alpe d’Huez Resort Manager 2015