Skiing Tignes: A Week in the French Alps

Our first winter living in Europe kept us busy exploring a number of new ski destinations in places like Austria, Sweden, Norway, Romania, Italy, and Switzerland. Most of our trips have been long weekends, but in March we decided to spend a full week exploring a new-to-us ski area: Tignes, France! We chose Tignes for several reasons—Tignes and neighboring ski area Val d’Isère constitute one of Europe’s largest ski areas giving us plenty to explore, plus we had friends who were working there for the season.

Where to Ski

With 300 kilometers of marked pistes and 90 lifts, the Espace Killy—the combined area of Tignes and Val d’Isère—gave us plenty to explore for a week. With elevations ranging from 1,550m in Les Brevieres to 3,456m at the top of the glacier (5,085’-11,339’), snow conditions ranged from midwinter powder at the top to spring slush down below, with plenty of varied terrain in between. With considerable avalanche danger during most of our stay, we primarily stayed on and around the marked pistes.

With such a big ski area, it would be impossible to summarize all of the terrain in just a few sentences. Instead, here are a few of our favorite spots:

  • Grand Motte glacier (Tignes): the highest spot in the resort is likely to have the best snow too. The views are incredible on a sunny day, there’s a mix of groomed, ungroomed, and moguls, and the run back down to the village is nice and long.
  • Col de Ves (Tignes): this old, slow triple chair serves some great expert terrain away from the crowds. The naturide (a marked, but ungroomed piste) was especially fun with a little fresh snow on it.
  • The long runs to Les Brevieres (Tignes): From the top of Aiguille Percée down to the village of Les Brevieres, there are several runs for all ability levels. It’s worth going here for the scenery and the tree-lined trails, especially if it’s foggy up high. Sache is a black run that was groomed at the top and featured enormous slush bumps towards the bottom.
  • La Face (Val d’Isère): best skied first thing in the morning, this steep, groomed trail was the men’s downhill course in the 1992 Olympics and has a vertical drop of nearly 1,000m.
  • Fornet (Val d’Isère): the far end of the resort is below tree level and a good spot to ski when visibility is poor. The ungroomed Le Foret run had big, soft bumps through the forest.

Its worth noting that a two day (or longer) Tignes/Val d’Isère ski pass gives you free access to the Le Lagon aquatic centre in Le Lac. An additional €12 will grant you access to the wellness area, which has saunas, a hammam, and jacuzzis which were great treat for our ski-weary legs.

Where to Eat

Settling in for a week, we happily stocked our kitchen with local French specialties. We found the best local cheese and yogurt at Coopérative Laitière de Haute Tarentaise in Le Lac, and also became regulars at Chevallot, a bakery with locations in Val Claret and Val d’Isère (the Val Claret location was just a stone’s throw from our apartment). There is also a small regional market in Le Lac on Sundays and Thursdays, where Andrew stocked up on all varieties of saucissons, the local dried sausages.

On-mountain dining in Espace Killy offers a full range of options from pricier, sit-down lunches in mountain chalets to more affordable cafeteria-style dining. We enjoyed hearty but affordable lunches at La Cascade near the Glacier du Pissaillas and Les Marmottes near the base of Borsat chair.

Après-ski is popular in Tignes, and a number of restaurants in Val Claret tempted us as we came off the slopes each day. We found ourselves at Couloir most often (they offer great après-ski deals and a frequent buyer discount card) but we also liked the views from the nearby Grizzly Bar (albeit the service was a bit slow).

For dinner, we sampled some of the best restaurants Tignes had to offer and loved these options:

  • Couloir: The same as the aforementioned après-ski spot, Couloir has a cozy restaurant above the bar offering creative, locally-inspired food.
  • Pizzeria La Pignatta: Fantastic wood-fired pizza (plus other Italian specialties) in the heart of Val Claret.
  • Oh La Vache Bistro Alpin: Owned by the same brothers as Pizzeria La Pignatta, Oh La Vache offers hearty alpine cuisine with great options for both meat eaters and vegetarians.
  • La Ferme des Trois Capucines: One of the highlights of the week was indulging in perhaps the best fondue we’ve ever had at La Ferme des Trois Capucines. We also loved the café gourmand, small samplers of their various desserts served with coffee or tea. Located a short walk from the center of Le Lac, reservations are a must.

Where to Stay

We had many options when deciding where to stay. Tignes ski area was purpose-built as a resort in the 1960’s and now consists of five villages—Les Brevieres, Boisses, Lavachet, Le Lac and Val Claret—dotted along the valley. While the villages in Tignes largely lack the charm of more historic Val d’Isère village, they do offer a plethora of (mostly apartment-style) lodging. We narrowed our search to Le Lac and Val Claret, the furthest two villages up the valley and the most central for skiing, and settled on an Airbnb apartment in Val Claret which would give us easiest access to the Grande Motte Glacier. Tignes offers a free shuttle bus connecting the villages, so we knew no matter where we ended up, it would be easy to visit other towns for dinner or shopping.

Getting There & Away

We flew into Geneva Airport in Switzerland, and booked a round-trip bus transfer on Altibus. Along with several other transfer companies, Altibus provides convenient shuttles to mountain destinations around Geneva and it meant we didn’t need to rent a car or pay for parking in Tignes. Once in Tignes, we found the free shuttle convenient to use, and there’s also bus service available between Tignes and Val d’Isère.

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