Expert guide to Tignes
France’s dependable winter destination
A combination of enviable snow cover, a variety of impressive terrain and a season that lasts most of the year makes Tignes one of the most snow-dependable winter destinations in France, if not Europe.
It still feels as if the season never really goes away here – weather dependent, the Grande Motte glacier is usually open for summer skiing and snowboarding from late June to late July, and reopens in late-September for the winter season. The full Tignes ski area opens in late-November (subject to snow conditions).
Tignes shares its huge ski area with neighbouring Val d’Isère, offering 300km of pistes for all abilities served by 78 lifts. However, the villages of the two famous resorts could not be more different in character. Tignes is purpose-built with its main villages set on a beautiful mountain plateau, while Val has an ancient centre and a 17th-century church.
Inside the resort . . .
Tignes is made up of five villages of varying altitudes, and offers some of the finest lift-accessed slopes in Europe – or anywhere else in the world. This natural feast is not matched by the architecture, although much has been done to re-clad some of the monstrous apartment blocks thrown up in the 1960s, and more recent additions are far more aesthetically pleasing.
Of the five villages, Val Claret (2,100m) has easy access to the glacier and, together with Tignes Le Lac just down the road, it’s the most convenient place to stay, having the pick of the hotels, restaurants and shops. The cheaper, ski-in/ski-out apartments of Tignes Le Lavachet lie very slightly lower and are linked to the lifts by ski bus – Le Lavachet also has its own lifts and there are pistes going back here from the main ski area.
Further down the mountain at 1,800m and 1,550m respectively are the satellites of Tignes Les Boisses (aka Tignes 1800) and Tignes Les Brévières. Both are well linked into the ski area with their own lifts, but they’re isolated from the central hub and have limited shops and restaurants.
Because of the spread-out nature of the villages, it’s important to be aware of the location of accommodation before booking. However, apart from Les Brévières, they are all linked by free local bus.
The non-ski activities are plentiful, with ice diving on the resort’s lake, a 3km tobogganing slope, a unique ski-bungee jump, snow-shoeing trails, dog-sledding, indoor climbing wall and the giant Lagon aqua centre, with pools, water slides and wellness area. The resort’s app is a handy way to navigate the pistes, check the weather and browse all that’s on offer.
On the slopes . . .
Navigate Tignes’ ski area with our insider’s knowledge of the local slopes and beyond, on and off piste, ski schools and terrain parks.
Tignes-Val d’Isère’s 300km of varied terrain reaches from Tignes Les Brévières at one end of the ski area to the Pissaillas glacier above Val d’Isère at the other. It’s not essential to be an expert to ski or snowboard here, but to get the most out of it takes strong legs and the confidence to tackle dark blue runs and testing reds that sometimes seem to go on forever.
From the main accommodation centres, Val Claret and Tignes Le Lac (2km apart and jointly known as Tignes 2100), lifts travel up either side of the resort, in one direction towards Val d’Isère, and towards the 2,750m Aiguille Percée in the other. The latter is also the route to long runs down to the lower satellite villages of Tignes 1800 and Tignes Les Brévières.
Tignes’ pièce de résistance is the Grande Motte glacier, reached from Val Claret by the resort’s funicular lift and then the Grande Motte cable car, which has 100-person capacity cabins and a rooftop viewing platform (only open in summer), carrying up to 1,000 passengers per hour. The top cable car station at 3,456m is the starting point for some of the resort’s most spectacular descents, both on and off piste, and the highest slopes here are also open in the summer. By the middle of November it’s possible to tackle the thigh-burning 1,350m vertical red all the way back down to the funicular station in Val Claret – a greater drop than many North American resorts can offer in midwinter.
To reach Val d’Isère from Tignes, a chairlift from Val Claret or gondola from Le Lac ascends to Tovière, the ridge separating the two resorts. The main run back down into Tignes, the black Trolles, is steep and challenging. The alternative is to head down towards the hamlet of La Daille and everything Val d’Isère has to offer.
Tignes is home to some truly outstanding powder terrain, including a selection of steep couloirs around La Grande Balme and La Petite Balme, two rocky outcrops at the southern end of the valley.
There is also an array of freestyle terrain park and boardercross fun and games to be had. The resort’s terrain park is accessed by the Grattalu and Merles chairlifts towards the Col du Palet and has lines for all abilities; the main boardercross course is also here, along with an easier extension. The beginners’ Gliss’Park, reached by the Les Almes four-person chairlift or the Palafour chairlift, has a mini boardercross course and parallel slalom course. The main boardercross course is reached by the Col du Palet lift.
Who should go?
Tignes is one of the most dependable winter destinations in France. What’s more, the piste grooming is some of the best in Europe making it a reasonably safe bet for both early- and late-season ski holidays, at both Christmas and Easter. It’s not essential to be an expert to visit Tignes, but to get the most out of it takes strong legs and the confidence to tackle dark blue runs and testing reds that sometimes, wonderfully, seem to go on forever. There are some spectacular descents, both on and off piste. What’s more, it’s home to some truly outstanding powder terrain. There’s an array of freestyle fun and games to be had too.
Know before you go . . .
Ambulance (samu): dial 15
Police: dial 17
Fire (pompiers): dial 18
Emergency services from mobile phone: dial 112
Tourist office: See tignes.net, the website for the Tignes Tourist Board, for weather reports, lift status, webcams, traffic details and local event listings, or use the user-friendly resort app, a handy in-your-pocket guide to the resort. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the one of the offices at the foot of the slopes and lifts in Le Lac or Val Claret.
Telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 33, then leave off the zero at the start of the 10-figure number.
Time difference: +1 hour
Local laws & etiquette
- When greeting people, formal titles (Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle) are used much more in French than in English.
- The laws of vouvoiement (which version of “you” to use) take years to master. If in doubt – except when talking to children or animals – always use the formal vous form (second person plural) rather than the more casual tu.
- When driving, it’s compulsory to keep fluorescent bibs and a hazard triangle in the car in case of breakdown.