With glaciers, couloirs and endless trees, the little backwater of Vaujany is well worth a visit
Vaujany is Alpe d’Huez’s secret little scion. It sits two valleys over but is connected by a large, fast téléférique to the heart of the action. Except that there’s plenty of action on its own part of the mountain, if you know where to look.
The area faces mainly north, for starters, so the snow stays longer. It stays untracked longer too, being quieter, especially the Montfrais area with its Gazex avalanche protection system standing guard high above.
There’s not that much piste (70km) but plenty of freeride terrain with glaciers, couloirs, trees; ideal Fall-Line expeditionary terrain. A tad new-age maybe, but Vaujany seems more ‘engaged with the mountain’ than Alpe d’Huez – famed though that is for the likes of La Sarenne, the (now floodlit) ‘world’s longest piste’ at 16km; or the epic Grand Sablat glacier run to Clavans.
Alpe d’Huez even has a new extreme après-ski experience at the latest branch of La Folie Douce; but when the onesie podium dancing is done, we’re here to shred something most people don’t get to, and this is where Vaujany’s sector comes into its own.
Technically, if you’re not on a glacier or using ropes to access couloirs, you could hire a freeride instructor, but Pascal Le Clech, who runs Vaujany’s ski school, will check out what you really need. If that means a UIAGM guide for ski mountaineering, he’ll find one. It depends on the conditions and your ambition and skills, but options range from two hours in the trees at Montfrais for €65 to a day in the backcountry for €350.
The Les Vallonnets chair, on the far left of the area, gives you access to Roche Melon and down into the beautiful, empty valley below the Col du Couard. Ski down to 1500m and join the piste before heading up the Villette Montfrais telecabine, to get to the Vallonnets chair again.
When visibility is sketchy, the Montfrais side of the hill offers plenty of trees, rocks and jumps for a ‘mini-golf’ frenzy; ending up nicely back at Clement Siaud’s bar Le P’tit Truc behind the Montfrais lift. Clement is a top freeride instructor and knows Vaujany’s lines and likely stashes better than anyone.
The giant Alpette-Rousses cable car takes you to Dôme des Petites Rousses (2800m), where many of the big freeride runs start. On the Vaujany side, taking care not to stray into the off-limits nature reserve, you’ll find famous couloirs such as Perrin Sud, and the north face below the cable car can be a winner too when conditions allow. You can also traverse from the top, heading left and sweeping down to Clos Giraud, back to the Alpette chair or the cable car.
A longer option is to stay high on the ridge to the left of the Dôme des Petites Rousses and traverse to the Refuge de la Fare (almost always buried in snow). To skier’s right is Canyon de la Fare. Above it is a skiable shoulder with three options, depending on conditions. The canyon is south facing so gets soft and needs plenty of snow to bury the rocks that run down its base. The shoulder is more west facing and can be the better option.
Head even further left to Couloir 262 and you’ll find a route all the way back to Montfrais. I say you’ll find a route but bring a guide, as there are a few dead-end cliffs to avoid. Beware: speed riders make some of these ‘dead-end’ tracks…
Another caveat: if you’re staying in Alpe d’Huez, don’t miss the last lift home from Vaujany. It’s a long bus/taxi ride back.
Of course you could always hunker down for the evening at Restaurant La Remise, an award-winning spot that does seriously good steak tartar, and seek out a bed for the night. Vaujany can be cheaper and less frantic than its more famous neighbour, and I suspect you’ll want to be based there permanently next time.