Monday, 17 March 2014

Skiing in Tignes

I'm sorry things have been a bit quiet on the blog front recently.  We finished our run of Hobson's Choice the week before last (more about that to come) and then I was somewhere where internet reception was a little bit sketchy to say the least.
I hope you can forgive me!
Steve and I have just got back from a week's skiing in the French Alps, in a little town called Tignes (pronounced Teen) near to Val d'Isère.  Well, I say a little town.  This place is actually pretty lively, very sporty and was absolutely buzzing when we were there.  I do realise that the below picture of the Tignes central square right by the main gondola looks utterly deserted but I promise you it was packed!
I've skiied since I was 6 years old.  I used to slalom race (we don't mention the time I skidded through the final gate on my backside as I lost control!) and although I am much more of a leisure skier these days (I look at a red, look at a green, look back at the red and can't help thinking that the green looks much more relaxing) I still love the sport. 

Steve first skied when he started dating me and came on a family holiday to Cervinia and has been bitten by the bug ever since.  It had been 5 seasons since we touched ski to powder and we were both getting a bit fidgety about the whole thing. 
We decided that we were going to book last minute and try to go back to Sauz D'Oulx in the Italian Milky Way Valley as this is where we got engaged.  Steve was originally going to propose to me on the top of the mountains when we were out skiing, but I scuppered that plan the first morning when I announced that I don't wear jewellery when I'm skiing.  It's too dangerous (if it gets caught in a fall you are liable to rip your ear or throttle yourself) and you also put gloves on and off so often that I have known rings to come off with the glove, go flying into the snow and be lost forever, so I don't risk it.  Instead he proposed in our room on the morning of my birthday with the shutters flung open to allow the alpine sunshine to come streaming in.  I was so excited I forgot to say Yes and instead called my mum, leaving the poor guy waiting for an answer.  Oops.
Anyway, that was 5 seasons ago and it was time we went back!  Unfortunately we left the booking so late that Sauz was actually full.  There were no hotels for love or money (and we tried offering both) which would also have meant that the slopes themselves would have been packed. 
We then looked at Finland, Austria and Andorra before finally setting on France.  We had originally discounted France completely as we had skiied for one fateful day in Montgenevre and had hated it.  However, the deals in France were too good to pass up and after a lot of research on piste conditions, snow fall, hotels, flights etc (all done by Steve I hasten to add.  I just sat back and marvelled at his single minded determindeness to go skiing) we finally selected a hotel in Tignes with Mark Warner (more on the hotel and the Mark Warner experience to come later this week).
After a bit of a nightmare trip out, we finally made it, collected our skies and boots and ventured out onto the slopes bright and early on the Monday morning.  The week before had seen an 80cm dump of fresh snow so the piste conditions were perfect.  The sun was out, the temperature soared and we hit the slopes.
Slope conditions were interesting - the mornings were wonderful; soft, powdery, not too many ice patches and whilst they were a bit crowded in places, it wasn't difficult to choose a trajectory.  In the afternoon things got trickier.  The sun was very, very strong (peeling nose whilst writing this, despite wearing Factor 50, and this from the girl who wears Factor 8 in the tropics) and the warmth combined with the number of people on the slopes meant that by 3pm the lower slopes into the towns were getting very slushy and quite thick.  Some days it was a bit like trying to ski through soup.  The French also have a very strange habit of funnelling people coming down the home runs by putting barriers in place, forcing you to go around them and leaving only two or three exits off the runs.  This results in a bit of a backlog on the slopes as people wait their turn, plus the conditions going through the exits aren't great as the snow has been churned up so much.  I can only presume this is to manage the flow of people to the gondola and chair lifts back up the mountain, but it was very strange!
I was really impressed with Tignes as a resort.  The scale and variety of the runs available to you is huge and they cater for all levels, from broad, easy, relaxing green runs in the tranquil zone (so beginners shouldn't be bothered by boarders show boating and cutting people up), through to a significant off piste ski-able area, as well as clearly marked blue, red, black and black and yellow runs.  There are numerous mogul and slalom areas, gliss parks for practicing your tricks and an adorable kids zone which had me cooing over the very little ones as they practiced going downhill with hoops and aiming straight for the giant teddy bear slides.   For the truly adventurous (insane?) ski-ier, there is even the un-patrolled zone.  I stayed well away!

We had Espace Killy passes which gave us access across the entire region, although we stuck mainly to Tignes and Val Claret and we could also go to the glacier and into Val d'Isère.  There are hundreds of runs and the entire place is very well signposted.  I only got lost twice by taking a wrong turn.  The majority of the runs are serviced by 6-8 man chair lifts, a couple of gondolas and some button lifts to get to the slalom runs.  My only fall of the week came courtesy of one of the chair lifts when a woman at the far end used the bar as a support to get herself out, bringing it down in the process and hitting me on the head with it.  I was so disorientated I got my skies stuck on Steve's and ended up in a tangle on the floor at the base of the lift - not an ideal situation to be in!
Then there are the bars and restaurants scattered around the mountain.  As I have said, I'm a leisure skier and we tend to ski bar to bar.  We found one in a perfect position right in the middle of our favourite area (Les Marmottes) and just kept skiing back to it.  That was on the Val Claret side, on the Tignes side our favourite bar was La Savouna and although the prices here were steeper than at Les Marmottes (€8 for two cokes) it was always easy to find a space and soak up the sun.
Generally speaking, food and drink prices on the mountain varied significantly and it was often cheaper to eat and drink on the Val Claret side instead of the Tignes side, and cheaper still to eat and drink in Val Claret town itself at the base of the home runs.  The higher you got, the more things costs as well.  Hot chocolate was not Italian Ciocolata, despite what was advertised and this was one thing we really missed about Italy, but the coffee was generally good.

Avoid the tea. 
We didn't eat too much on the mountains but what we did eat was perfectly acceptable, if overpriced for what it was.
I had a slight set-back on day 2 when I did my boots up to find that I had somehow managed to bruise my shin bone and I was in agony.  Luckily, one (very painful) ski back into Tignes and a limping trek to the boot shop later, I had changed my boots and the new ones were possibly the most comfortable boots I have ever worn (they were by the ski brand Head).  I never seem to get my boots right the first time and always end up changing them!
One thing Steve and I did notice was that there is a very different culture in France to Italy.  In France, it is clear that skiing is a sport, and a competitive one at that with manners on the slopes being slap dash at best and accidents a common occurrence as people don't observe the rules of the piste (a boarder landed on top of Steve in a restricted area and didn't apologise, despite scraping his board all the way down Steve's back and we witnessed a horrific collision between a girl on skies, speeding and playing the fool, loosing control and wiping out a beginner).
In Italy skiing is an activity, one that whilst people take seriously, their time on the slopes is all about the entire experience, skiing to relax and copious amounts of rest breaks in bars!  If I am completely honest, whilst I loved Tignes, I still prefer skiing in Italy and the culture that goes with it (a statement that horrified another guest at the hotel!)
As value though, Tignes was unbeatable.  The main chair lift were a stones throw from the hotel (walk down the hill for about 30 seconds and you were at the lifts or the free bus into Val Claret) and we thought that the entire resort was really well maintained with all the runs being groomed every night.  Tignes also had a bowling alley, ice skating rink and a few restaurants although we didn't explore these as we were absolutely shattered each night!  I'll go into more detail about the hotel and Mark Warner later this week.

Then there were the views.  I always forget just how breathtaking the mountains really are, and how quiet and subdued they can be away from the hustle and bustle of the main runs.  They are awesome in the antique sense of the word.  
We had a truly wonderful time and would definitely consider going back!  If you have any recommendations for other places for us to try out, please let me know!


  1. Wow! What a wonderful holiday. I'd love to learn to ski. I've been to the Alps just once and tried (and failed miserably!) snowboarding. Gorgeous photos :)
    Rachel x

    1. Hi Rachel, thanks for commenting! Skiing is addictive so be careful! I've never actually tried snow boarding or blades before - we get to ski so rarely that I don't see any point in wasting a day on the slopes learning a new way of getting down them! Maybe one day I'll take some dry slope board lessons....