With or without skis, the Les Deux Alpes glacier offers an unforgettable experience that is not to be missed. The view from 3400m is stupendous, the new Skywalk is heart stopping, and the Ice Caves take you right into the heart of the glacier.
To reach the glacier, get a lift pass and take both stages of the Jandri Express from the centre of town right up to 3200m, changing gondolas at the 2600m mid-station.
If you are on skis and the queues are big, you can take the Diable, Bellecombes and Glaciers express chairlifts to reach the same point [find them on the piste maps]. From here, pedestrians should turn right and head to the Ascenseur (lift), signposted 'Funiculaire'. Skiers can ski down to the entrance to the funicular. This underground train takes you beneath the glacier to 3400m. Skiers will usually exit the top funicular station via the lift to the Puy Salié and Jandri 5 pistes, but for the views it is best to exit by the back door which leads to the Viewpoint platform. This is equipped with a telescope and a circular table naming all the mountains in view, including Mont Blanc in the distance, and La Meije much closer by.
Once you have drunk in your fill of the views, a track will take you to the new Skywalk at the top of the summer snowpark. This is a cantilevered walkway out above the cliffs that lets you look right down into the Vallon de la Selle, almost 2000 metres below. Standing above the abyss, with only a steel mesh separating you from empty space, is quite an experience.
After the Skywalk, the ski pistes or the funicular railway will return you to 3200m and the top of the Jandri Express. Opposite the top station of the lift, just across the Signal 1 blue piste, is the entrance to the Grotte de Glace, or Ice Caves. This small wooden hut guarding a tunnel into the ice is easily missed, but it is well worth taking the time to seek it out. The caves were created by two mountain guides, and burrow up to thirty metres below the glacier’s surface.
After paying the entrance fee, you enter a long straight tunnel that takes you deeper and deeper into the ice. Multi-coloured lighting adds to the atmosphere as you enter the heart of the glacier. An unexpected flight of steps leads you up into the main part of the Ice Caves, where the passages are filled with incredible ice sculptures.
This part of the caves takes the form of a circuit, with lighting provided by discrete tunnels to the surface as well as by the atmospheric electric lamps. There are sculptures of all manner of strange beasts to be seen and it is worth pausing to consider how long this spectacle must have taken to create. In fact, it is a work in progress with new parts being added each year. So, while some of the features are new, the caves as a whole are the result of several years of careful digging and sculpting.
For me personally, the most fascinating aspect is to look at the walls themselves, carved out of aeons-old glacial ice. Ice that until the relatively recent incursion of the Ice Caves, had never been seen by human eyes. After viewing the sculptures for a while, I could spend just as long gazing at the ice, and the patterns nature has left there for us to admire.
The Viewpoint and Skywalk are free of charge to use whenever the lifts are open, and the Ice Caves are open every day from lift opening until 3.30pm.
Entrance to the Ice Caves costs 5€ per adult and 4€ euros per child. Tickets can be bought at the entrance to the caves, or at the lift pass offices in the village. To reach the glacier you will need either a ski pass, a pedestrian lift pass (54€ per adult or 43€ per child/senior for six days), or a return ticket to the glacier (26€ per adult or 20.80€ per child/senior).
Read more from Ian on his website.
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