When we were offered the chance to ski the Sarenne by Night we had no idea what to expect, but at 16:30 when we arrived at the DMC 1er Troncon station we were greeted with an extremely warm welcome and a handful of Milka bars – things were off to a great start!
The two of us, along with 13 other guests filed onto the gondola and headed for the 2700m station. We then switched to the Pic Blanc cable car, to ascend up to the 3330m Pic Blanc. As soon as we left the cable car it really hit home how isolated we were up on the mountain - not one single skier in sight, and just the group of us for company.
We spent 10 minutes admiring the beautiful dusk scenery descending over the mountains; we were extremely lucky that it was such a picturesque sunny and calm evening to enjoy the far-reaching panoramic views over the Alps.
After a short descent down the beginning of La Sarenne, we stopped outside an inconspicuous looking building just to the left of the main slope. During the day you would assume that it was an engine house or maintenance storage, however, after being introduced to Sebastien, we stepped inside to discover a cosy warm mountain refuge, with tables set up with snacks and drinks for all the guests.
At this point, sunset was well under way, so we left the warmth of the refuge to witness the entire colour spectrum present itself on the horizon - it was an amazing sight. The following 45 minutes consisted of the mountain guides attentively topping up cups of Vin Chaud and relaxing with the guests. By the end of the stop the 15 of us had polished off the lot! There were snacks laid out on the tables, as well as individual bottles of the famous Chartreuse (Don’t worry for those of you that don’t fancy tackling the Sarenne after a few drinks - there was plenty of squash, fresh juice and cola as well!). The guides told us how students studying the glacier had used the building as a base, but unfortunately the climate in recent years had meant this was no longer possible. By the time we left the refuge, total darkness had set upon us. Equipped with powerful head torches to guide our way down the famous run, we began our descent into the darkness below!
The snow was completely different to during the day. The piste bashers had just groomed the snow making it surprisingly soft, forgiving and ice-free! Honestly some of the best conditions we’ve ever skied on. The pace was gentle and relaxing, and the mountain guides made regular stops to give our legs some respite - after all, the majority of the group had been skiing all day, including us.
During the summer a large amount of money was invested on new snow cannons for the run, maximising the amount of time that the run will be open from the start to the end of the season. A bonus to having these cannons is that they’re equipped with floodlights, aiding our journey down Europe’s longest run.
Alpe D’Huez officials were present when we did the run, along with their plentiful camera equipment. I’m not sure whether my skiing was up to scratch after all the Vin Chaud, hopefully I don’t make the final cut of the video!
As the high mountain piste made transition to the more gently winding path that runs down the Sarenne Gorge parallel to the river, we were warned to keep a safe distance from each other, as it could be icy in places. We needn’t have worried though as it was such a serene and gentle ski.
After 16km in total of skiing, we reached the Auberge de la Combe Haute, a traditional alpine restaurant located at the bottom of the gorge; completely secluded from any of the surrounding villages. Upon entering the restaurant and leaving the pitch black, we instantly felt the welcoming heat of the fire and an enticing smell of our meal being cooked. The table was laid out and we sat down, helping ourselves to the carafes of red wine (just to top up on what we had already drank!).
We should probably mention at this point just how friendly the atmosphere had been. We were the only English on the experience, but the staff and fellow tourists were extremely warm towards us, and were more than happy to translate any French we didn’t understand. The group also skied at a pace suitable to everyone, with no pressure for anyone to go any faster than they felt comfortable or safe.
After chatting around the table for ten minutes or so, the waitresses brought out bubbling dishes filled with that famous local dish, Tartiflette. We had never tried it up until that point, and were very much looking forward to it after a long day and night’s skiing. At the end of the day, who doesn’t like the sound of potatoes, onions and bacon smothered in cheese?! There was certainly no shortage of food and we always had someone offering to top up our plates and our glasses. The meal was amazing and we were ready for the final part of the ski… We didn’t realise that dessert was still to come - a home-made slice of Tarte aux Pomme, delicious!
After much more chatting and laughter, we jumped back into our skis and headed into the darkness of a picture perfect tree run. The run was long and winding so the group was separated slightly, giving the impression of being alone. It really was an awe-inspiring experience. The gradient levelled out and we had to take our skis off and walk the final stretch of the run back to Huez. It may sound daunting but with a belly full of Tartiflette and the confidence of the wine we made light work of it.
The night bus picked us up in the village of Huez at 10pm, and dropped us off in Les Bergers. All the guides and staff, as well as the other tourists staying on the bus until the top of the village wished us a good evening and hoped that we enjoyed our experience.
To say we enjoyed it would be a huge understatement – it truly was one of the more unforgettable experiences that either of us have ever had. Staying in the refuge at 3000m watching the sunset with a Vin Chaud in hand was like something from a movie. Skiing by head torch on Europe’s most famous run was a strange and mysterious thing, it made us all feel like we were intrepid explorers seeing the valley for the first time! We’ve skied the Sarenne numerous times during the day, but at night it becomes a totally different piste, and you really appreciate the length and diversity of the slope.
We would like to thank the mountain guides for keeping us entertained, and our glasses full, but most importantly for making us feel extremely safe. Also the pisteurs for grooming the snow to near perfect condition, and all the staff at the restaurant for providing us with a delicious meal!
It was a magical evening, something that no visit to Alpe d'Huez should be complete without!. Find out how to book this experience for yourselves here.
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