Tignes, France Ski Resorts
Snowboarding in Tignes, France
Tignes started out as a ski resort back in the 1930s, but the original village was buried when the Tignes dam was opened in 1952, submerging the place under the Lac du Chevril after five years of protests. The dam, which you cross on your way up to Tignes, was capable of supplying a tenth of France's power when it opened, so a few houses were not going to get in the way of progress. Luckily for the villagers, the compensation amounted to white gold and this enabled them to start building lifts higher up the mountain. In 1956 the first apartment blocks came along, shaping the foundations of modern-day Tignes and creating in the process a concrete behemoth.
In spite of its best efforts at sensitivity and a monumental £35m investment in underground parking and wood cladding to set off a generation of misguided design, Tignes would always be Val d'lsere's ugly sister having concrete tower blocks and stark landscape. Improvements have decidedly been made, with underground bypasses, free 24-hour buses and incentives for landlords to slick up their apartments. But nobody comes to Tignes for the architecture, unless they remain down at the bona fide mountain farming village of Tignes Les Brevieres, some 600m below the high-altitude villages. People come to this high-altitude, high-rise valley for the unequaled snow conditions and the tremendous ski area that it shares with Val d'lsere.
Seated at the bottom of the Grande Motte glacier, Tignes' main ski area begins where some ski resorts end and still manages to pack in 1,400m of vertical between the top village of Val Claret and the highest lifts on the Grande Motte.
There are four primary sectors to Tignes' skiing - Grande Motte, Toviere, Palet and Aiguille Percee - all interconnected and generally perfect intermediate cruising territory. The weatherproof but queue-prone Grande Motte underground funicular whirs skiers from Val Claret 1,000m skywards in only seven minutes and gets them at the base of the summer ski area and the Grande Motte cable-car, which goes up to Tignes' highest point, a breathtaking 3,450m. The snow on the glacier is virtually always exquisite, a fact not lost on the crowds lining up for the cable-car. If you can't afford to wait, don't worry - the runs back down from this point are delightful, especially the out-of-the-way Genepy piste, an easy but adventurous blue that threads back down towards Val Claret. There are also a few reds back down from here, but these tend to be busier and shadier.
The busy Toviere sector, reachable from Val Claret or Tignes Le Lac via jumbo gondola or fast chair, separates Tignes from Val d'lsere and witnesses numerous cross-border traffic, but it's a necessary evil if you prefer to explore Val's tougher skiing. There are also a few decent blacks back down to Tignes if you want to avoid the overcrowded motorway blues. Toviere's lower heights are home to Tignes' suitable nursery ski slopes, just on top of Le Lac.
On the other side of the bowl from Toviere, a battery of more antiquated lifts leads up to Tignes' highest non-glacier skiing at the Col des Ves and some of the region's toughest runs, including the steep, challenging Ves piste, which can be reached by a very cold chairlift. From here you can zigzag your way along the mountainside to the Aiguille Percee, local natural landmark and the starting point for the celebrated Sache black run - and varoius off-piste variations - down to the area's lowest point at Tignes Les Brevieres. There's likewise a blue run all the way down to Brevieres via Les Boisses, but even this can be tricky as conditions are usually icy near the bottom, where the sun does not shine.
Every mountain sector has enough if overcrowded restaurant. The Panoramic at the top of the Grande Motte funicular, lives up to its name having splendid views from its giant terrace, plus a choice between self-service and gourmet table-service fare. Over at Toviere, the imaginatively named Toviere features simple dishes and skier-friendly portions. If you like a bit more rustic with your repast, then ski down to the old hamlet of Les Brevieres, take your skis off and head into the village, where there are a couple of decent lunch options, including Sachette.
Tignes is a really popular snowboarding spot, with guaranteed snow and a great snow park. Located above Val Claret, it has a vertical drop of 120m and includes a half-pipe, quarter-pipe and rails. There's also a Snowspace pass that gives access to the snow park and 20 other ski lifts.