We went skiing last week-end at the Alpe d'Huez in the French Alps. The resort offers a variety of runs in amazing settings. The view from any run is breathtaking...
Something I really liked about the resort, and that not many travelers or snow sport aficionados think about, is the variety of lifts the resort offered. This is about the 4 different kinds I saw.
In the majority of resorts I've been to during my childhood, there is only one type of lifts, not that commonly found in the United States: the "tire-fesses", or "pull-butt", translated literally. Quite an appropriate name, since it's a pole at the end of which is a disk. You take the pole when it's your turn, and place it between your legs. The pole pulls you forward at varying speeds, up the slope.
The difficulty is that the speed of pull is not constant, and that the skis/snowboard remain in contact with an uneven slope at all times, which means a lot of beginners fall, in snowboard even more than in ski, especially at the very beginning of the pull, where the pull of the pole tends to be the strongest and most sudden.
The Alpe d'Huez offered the faster "tire-fesses" for the more experienced skiers and snowboarders, but it also offered alternative lifts for pedestrians and beginners.
For the first leg, a slow and rather narrow lift I'd never seen before takes travelers from the "Maison du Tourisme" (Visitors' Bureau), where you can purchase day passes, to the actual foot of the main runs. These lifts are made out of metal, look like cages, and hold about 4 batches of 3-4 people (standing) at a time, provided they didn't have too much gear to haul. My brother-in-law found that for that portion of the resort, it's actually faster to walk than to take the lift, but if you want to stare at the landscape on your way to the first run, it's a great way to do it.
A more common type of lift was offered after the first leg of the resort, in direction of more advanced runs. The open-air "telesiege", or "bench lift", scoops up to 3 people up onto a metal bench, off the ground. This lift is pretty good for beginners as well, because the only challenge in using it comes at the exit, when you have to stand up and glide out of the lift's way. For beginners, it's recommended to stay away of the middle spot in this bench-lift, as it's usually harder to get out of the lift's way - there are people on either side of you trying to get out, in addition to the continuous movement of the lift.
The fourth type of lift offered at the Alpe d'Huez came in 3 flavors - small, medium and large. The small "cabine telepherique" or "cabin" is seen here. In these lifts, you actually gets to sit. In the small ones, about 4 people gets to sit across from each other, 2 on each bench. In the medium (up to 15 passengers) and big (up to 40 passengers) versions, the edge of the "cabine" has half-size benches, at bar-stool height, while the middle of the "cabine" has poles. About 25% of the passengers get to sit, while the others stand. The average lift ride was about 20mn, but could extend to 30mn when going to the top-level runs, which got you to the very top of the mountain. The high level runs actually started very steep, but you enjoyed a panoramic view of the chains of mountains around you.