It’s 2,000 metres from top to bottom, 16 km in length and it’s famed for being the longest black run in the Alps. We’re talking about the Sarenne, the signature run at Alpe d’Huez which I’ve done a couple of times in the last few days – despite the fact that it’s actually closed.
The Sarenne is no longer open because, not surprisingly at this time of year and given all the sunshine in the Alps of late, sections of it are rather patchy. In fact we had to walk for about 200 metres around three-quarters of the way down due to the lack of snow.
But mere ‘Fermé’ signs and a lack of snow are no reason for not giving this iconic ski run a go – it would be a different story were there the risk of avalanche and general death and destruction, but this was not the case so it seemed only right to take advantage of the bright sunny conditions and the lack of skiers and hit it.
The run starts at the top of Pic Blanc, the 3,330-metre high point of Alpe d’Huez, which surely has some of the finest mountain panoramas in France, and since this is glaciated terrain the morning snow here provided good grippy skiing on the steeper upper sections of the descent.
Eventually we came to the ‘closed’ sign where we nipped around the edge to the best of surprises – a pisted slope with barely a skier on it. It appears that the piste bashers had been doing their thing overnight in order to create a good surface for the pisteurs to ski down as they removed signage and barriers from the Sarenne now it’s closed.
This meant we had perfect soft, creamy spring snow to slice through and it couldn’t have been more fun. Eventually aching quads demanded a rest at which Vicky, the lone snowboarder in our group, spotted a bunch of chamois lower down the mountain. We watched their nimble-footed scamper across the rocks as they took alarm at the sight of skiers, and then carried on.
‘Lewis Panther hits the dirt’ pic Alf Alderson
By now a few rocks and stones were showing through the snow so we needed to pay attention to where we were skiing before we eventually hit the aforementioned bare patches.
Skis on shoulders our descent continued but within a couple of minutes we’d clipped back in for the final and easiest part of the Sarenne, a gentle schuss along the bottom of the Sarenne Gorge through woodlands where the sun was by now pretty hot, until eventually we arrived at the Alpauris chair for our return ride to the centre of AdH.
I have no idea how long the descent took us because for me this ‘world record’ black run is more about immersing yourself in the various mountain environments you pass through, from glaciated peaks to mellow woodlands; indeed, with an average gradient of just 11 per cent (thanks to the flat lower sections) the pedants out there will even argue that the Sarenne isn’t technically a black anyway.
‘The patchy section of the Sarenne a couple of days ago’ pic Vicky Norman
But blue, red or black, who cares? The Sarenne is certainly a descent I’d recommend to any skier – even when it’s ‘closed’.