The high-altitude resort of Tignes enjoys some of the most snowsure slopes in the Alps, and is linked seamlessly by a world-class lift system.
Whilst the big story from the Alps this season has been the lack of snow, with many resorts unable to open until well into January, on my New Year trip to Tignes I found quite the contrary: almost too much snow. Unable to resist the untouched powder in between the groomed runs, I soon found myself floundering in waist-deep powder, and regretting not having packed my powder board to cut fresh tracks in the superb conditions.
Tignes is geographically blessed with some of the highest slopes in Europe. The majority of the vast domain Tignes shares with neighbouring Val d’Isère lies above 2,000 metres. So whilst the Alps has experienced an unseasonally warm start to the ski season, with the heavy rainfall at lower altitudes wiping out the snowbase, I’m in the midst of a powder fest up in Tignes.
More snow has fallen overnight so there’s only one place to head first: La Grande Motte, the highest summit in the region and home to some of Europe’s finest glacier skiing. Getting to the top is all part of the adventure: a funicular railway (world’s fourth longest) up through the heart of the mountain, then a switch to a high-altitude cable car to the summit. It feels otherworldly up there, the snow is light, the air so crisp, and the panoramic views of the other great Alpine peaks – including Mont Blanc and Les Grandes Jorasses – leave you gazing in wonder.
Yet the best part is still to come: the descent back to Tignes, with 1,600 metres of uninterrupted vertical, and an endless choice of itineraries, both on and off piste. Skilled freeriders can opt for La Trilogie, a trio of Freeride World Tour itineraries, including the classic 48-degree Pramecou north face. Recreational folk like me, skiing with kids, have the choice of glorious marked runs that go on forever.
I could have spent my entire trip exploring the La Grand Motte playground, but it’s just one section of the massive Tignes-Val d’Isère area. On a five-day trip, we explored one area per day, giving a great taste for the area whilst realising we would return to delve deeper. One day we explored the runs around Aiguille Percée, a natural rock arch and alpine version of Durdle Door; the next discovering the slopes around La Tovière. The lift system works so seamlessly you cover some serious kilometres in a day, and it was always our legs rather than time that got the better of us.
I was skiing with my two kids, who were spending only their second week on skis, so it was a tricky balancing act of exploring new terrain whilst fuelling their appreciation for why a ski holiday is by far the best getaway you can do as a family.
A ski trip does however require extra planning to get things right. Unlike say a family beach holiday, in which a half-decent pool will keep the kids smiling, with skiing you have other variables. There’s the equipment and clothing, ski lessons, lift passes, corralling a family of mixed abilities and adrenaline thresholds, not to mention praying the snow gods will deliver. And none of this in the midst of credit squeeze comes cheap. At times, you question if it’s worth the hassle, but when the sun is out and the snow good, everything clicks.
The operator of Tignes, STGM, has retained a policy to keep skiing an affordable and an equalitarian pastime. Children under 8s ski for free, under-18s have discounted passes, whilst the five villages incorporate superb beginner areas with free lifts. This worked out so well for my wife, who’d never skied and found the easy access to facilities at Tignes Les Lac a joy to learn on, and whet her appetite to return for more.
The skiing for all approach has its root in Charles de Gaulle’s post-war Fifth Republic, which facilitated a national plan of connecting the masses to the Alps and immersing themselves in nature. The landscape would become a field of experimentation for urban design, led by the modernist architects Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand.
Resorts including Tignes, Les Arcs, Val Thorens, Flaine and La Plagne pushed the boundaries of mass alpine living, masterplanned to be car free, and buildings designed to have as minimal a visual impact on the mountain landscape. They were progenitors for what we now coin as sustainable micro living.
In these credit-squeezed times, I set out to see if I could still get the family to the Alps on a tight budget. We bagged a week during the peak New Year season, staying in traditional Savoyard village of Tignes Les Brévières for under £400. Equipment hire we booked online and collected from the local Intersport. We kept food costs to a minimum by shopping in the local supermarket and making full use of the kitchen, as well as packing sandwiches for lunch. Throughout the ski area, we also found prices for food and drink fair and the quality decent.
Equally, you can live the alpine high life, should you be willing and able. For the ultimate in high-altitude gastronomy there’s Jean-Michel Bouvier’s Le Panoramic at the Grand Motte mid-station. On the accommodation side too, you can find the very best in sumptuous living. The brand new Club Med Tignes Resort brings all-inclusive sparkle to Tarantaise. Chalet Charlie Tango and Chalet Banksy Tribute are among the host of alpine palaces for high-fliers wanting to experience Tignes from upwards of €30k.
Yet you always get the sense that even the high rollers were there to ski, rather than seen to be skiing. Tignes is a purist’s resort, big and confident yet friendly and brimming with joie de vivre. It’s impossible not to be seduced by the world-class terrain, the brilliant lift system, and the fun activities after the slopes close. And everyone, from the shop staff to lift team, exudes a warmth that comes with living in an alpine paradise.
No. runs: 300kms
Max altitude: 3,456m (top of the Grande Motte cable car)
Min altitude: 1,550m (Tignes les Brévières)
Tignes hosted freestyle skiing competitions in 1992 Winter Olympics and co-hosted 1992 Winter Paralympics
Home to highest marked runs in Europe
For full details about Tignes visit tignes.net