Tignes was the third stop on our freeride road trip. Having enjoyed fresh snow in Megeve and Sainte Foy, the snow gods again delivered plenty of fresh snow overnight – perfect to conduct a Tignes freeride snowboarding holiday review.
The abundance of snow and a lack of snow chains – honestly we tried to by some but nowhere had the right size – meant we expected the drive from Sainte Foy to be pretty hairy. However the 4WD Kia Sorento handled the conditions brilliantly, with just one minor skid en-route.
In our excitement to get on the slopes we parked in the first car park we found. This turned out to be as far from where we were meeting our guide as possible, and the opposite end of town to our hotel. This one mistake delayed our riding by at least 20 minutes, which feels like a lifetime when there is knee deep fresh snow and lifts are already running.
So Tignes probably doesn’t need much of an introduction. As one of the favourite ski resorts of us British, home to the ‘Brits’ (which has now moved to Laax for 2016), and host to a range of events throughout winter, most snowboarders have heard of it. As part of Espace Killy, but a cheaper alternative to Val d’Isere, many have visited.
Espace Killy has 300 km of piste, covering a 10,000 hectare area, ranging from 1550 m up to 3550 m. It is known for having plentiful lift served off-piste with great vertical. With the Tignes glacier summer skiing is possible. It also means guaranteed snow during the season, which from the end of November to the start of May is one of the longest in France.
If you like your freestyle there are two large and excellent parks offering a range of features for different abilities. There is also one of the best half pipes in France and a natural freestyle area. If you like to play on the piste there is a huge variety of runs, ranging from epically long blacks for experts to cruisy blues for beginners – plus everything between.
Tignes is split over three bases Tignes Val Claret, Tignes 2100 and Tignes 1800. Of these Val Claret is the highest and liveliest and is where we were staying, while 1800 is the quietest. There is a free bus service running between the resorts that runs until around midnight so staying in the quieter resorts does not mean there is no nightlife available.
Day 1: Epic Tignes freeride snowboarding
We met our ESF guide at the base of the Funicular, he kitted us out with transceivers and avalanche gear and away we went. Obligatory warning: off-piste is dangerous, you need to know what you are doing, have all the right gear and go with someone who knows the area and preferably a guide.
We started with the Tichot chair followed by the Grattalu chair, we then took the red Le Murs run from the top. I was enjoying playing around in the powder on the side of the piste, but after crossing some blues things got a lot better. We popped off the right side of the piste and under a fence for our first bit of proper off-piste – the Tignes freeride snowboarding holiday review had begun!
The guide took us through a varied landscape. As visibility was pretty poor we had to stick close together and certainly couldn’t find our own lines or ride at speed. After crossing a couple of ridges visibility improved and at last we could take the brakes off., enjoying a long, fast run through untouched powder in the Lognan area. We jumped on the bus for a few stops to get back into Val Claret.
We then took the same lifts, but this time headed off the left side of the Le Murs piste very early. We crossed a ridge and enjoyed some lovely undulating freeride terrain before a steeper section towards the Grand Huit lift. The guide told us a long flat section was approaching, however carrying pace was not possible due to poor visibility, we played it safe and had a long walk.
From the top of the Grand Huit chair we rode between the blue and red to the Percee chair. I am not sure what run we took from the top but the aim was to ride down into Tignes 2100 between the pistes. This got off to a great start with some deep powder in a fun, mellow gully. But we went too far and had a long walk back uphill – fortunately on a skidoo trail.
Once back on track we boarded down to Tignes 2100 and took the Toviere Gondola heading towards Val d’Isere. A short blue from the top took us to Marmottes chair which takes you to the top of Bellevarde overlooking Val s’Isere. We took the Olympic black run ‘Le Face’ down into town, playing in the powder off to the side, for a well deserved lunch.
After lunch we took the Solaise Express and continued the Tignes freeride snowboarding holiday review by doing two contrasting runs in the Lavancher area. The first started in a fun bowl with deep powder, it lead into a little valley and through the trees to Piste L. On the second run we stuck close to the black Rhone Alpes and enjoyed tight lines between the trees.
Nearing the end of the day and our endurance, we took the Olympique funicular to the top of Bellevarde for a quick blast down to the Tommeuses Chair. From the top we took Creux run for a short way before cutting right across a ridge – where I gauged my board pretty badly. By keeping as high as you can on a longish traverse, you get access to a steep bowl and the unpisted Envers de Campanules.
This turned out to be a steep descent in the deepest powder of the day. At the base of the valley it flattens out and you need to be careful of sinkholes caused by a stream, they are pretty obvious but you need to be careful in poor visibility. From here it is fairly mellow runout over undulating terrain, just make sure you carry plenty of pace as there is a short uphill before you join the Prariond run.
Day 1 of the Tignes freeride snowboarding holiday review complete, we said goodbye to our guide and hello to the pub.
Day 2: Tignes freeride snowboarding with a hangover
The second day was much clearer, a shame that our heads were not. A few too many drinks the night before meant that two of the four of us were a bit hungover – the other two were a complete mess. A long breakfast, paracetamol, caffeine and an unhealthy amount of head in the hands groaning, and we were ready to go.
We started by returning to the top of Grattalu chair cutting left off the top of Le Murs piste to do the same run down to Grand Huit lift – but in the sunshine this time. It was a great run with a couple of steep bits followed by flat sections to catch you out. This time we managed to carry enough pace to at least reduce the long walk at the bottom.
As we had loved the area the day before we returned to the Envers de Campanules area via the Tufs chair. On the first attempt at the traverse myself and one of the others failed to make it to the starting point of the day before. By dropping into the run earlier it less steep at the top, and less flat at the bottom. So still a great run.
As you approach the sinkholes you can join the same route or you can stay right of the sinkholes. This means you stay above the Prariond run and can prolong the freeride across fun undulating terrain almost all the way into Tignes Val Claret. I think this is linking up with the unpisted black Campanules.
As the sun was shining, the snow deep and relatively untouched we played in this area until the hangovers got the better of us. We found that in the section after the sinkholes above the Prariond run there were lots of natural features to do little tricks off – perfect for our Tignes freeride snowboarding holiday review.
Day 3: Tignes freestyle snowboarding
Half our group headed home at the end of the second day, leaving just the two of us for our last two days in Tignes. As most of the fresh snow had been tracked out we decided to go freestyle for day three, so we busted out our jib sticks to check out the parks.
Starting on the Tufs chair out of Val Claret we headed towards the slopestyle park between Tignes and Val. But after two days of riding a big, directional powder board Nathan was struggling to adjust to his tiny freestyle weapon of choice and took a big spill.
So after one run through the park it was clear he was a danger to himself and we decided to blast around on the piste while he remembered how to ride. Conversely I had found switching to my Pathron Sensei freestyle board to be like coming home and was riding like I owned the mountain.
It wasn’t just in the park that I was popping tricks, but off every lump or bump I was getting decent grabs and 360s in. I felt like it was the best snowboarding of my life.
Once Nathan found his legs we headed over to the Tignes snowpark between the Col Du Palet and Grattalu lifts for a few runs in the park. Despite visibility not being the best I was hitting the kickers with progressively more speed, getting in some big grabs, and even pulled off – what felt to me but was unwitnessed – a huge Method.
After a couple of hours we decided it would be the last run of the day. I started by landing three of the the biggest backside 360s of my life – I felt invincible. Having left the park I crossed the piste and did an innocuous frontside 180 and my invincibility ended as I was shot in the leg. It turned out I had a torn a calf muscle, my Tignes freeride snowboarding holiday review was over.
I say it was over, but I still had to get off the mountain with only one working leg. Unfortunately Nathan was miles ahead so I just had to deal with it. The pain was just about bearable on my heelside, so I ploughed the slope looking like a petrified beginner.
Initially the liftie didn’t want me to get the chair down – apparently you can get it down as long as you are NOT injured. If injured you have to get mountain rescue, which means a compulsory trip to hospital and huge fees. Which for a muscle tear would be a complete waste of everyones time and a lot of money.
Fortunately the liftie changed her mind and we got the chair down. Having hopped, hobbled and hitched my way back to the hotel – thanks Nathan not sure how I would have made it without you – I put my leg up and on ice and downed a beer.
What is Tignes Val Claret like?
As ski villages go Tignes Val Claret is fairly large with lots of restaurants and bars. I have to be honest we saw a lot of the bars and not many of the restaurants. For this leg of the freeride road trip we met up with a couple of friends who were down from Geneva for the weekend, so it was inevitable that we would have a big night out.
We started in La Taverne des Neiges – because it was the nearest pub when we finished boarding. Then went to Le Dahu because it was the next place we came to. I am not sure of the order of bars after this but I am pretty sure we visited Drop Zone, Saloon, TC’s, the Melting Pot and the Blue Girl Nightclub. A great time was had and we didn’t even visit the Folie Douche.
As ski resort nights out go it was relaxed, not too expensive but very lively. Late in the evening we were not the only ones still in ski gear and in general people were not overly dressed up. There was a real studenty vibe to the resort with lots of happy hours, drinks promotions and people far younger than us having a good time.
Accommodation: Belambra Clubs Borsat IV
We accidentally parked in the wrong car park near the entrance to Val Claret, however there is a car park right next to the Belambra Clubs Borsat IV. Our first impressions were not great, the accommodation is pretty tired and in need of a refurb. Check in was not very welcoming, more of a set of rules than an explanation of what is available.
On arriving in the room things did not really improve. It could have done with a deep clean, there were hairs in the shower and stains on the mattress. It just felt very dated and unloved. The Belambra Clubs Borsat IV is very cheap accommodation targeting those on a budget, it could certainly be improved but I am sure then the prices would increase.
On the plus side the apartment was large and had all the amenities self-catered accommodation needs. The beds were comfy and the curtains were black-out meaning I slept well. Its location is very good being right on the slopes with easy access to the lifts.
I spoke with Belambra about the cleanliness of the accommodation and they told me the feedback has been acted upon and cleaning improved. It will still be decoratively dated, but it is budget accommodation and if it is clean and comfy many people will take that if it means more funds to spend on other aspects of their holiday.
Ski Bonjour provide a high quality chalet experience, in fantastic locations, at an affordable price. They combine the high quality service of a top hotel with a the relaxed and friendly atmosphere of a family home. A friend of mine stayed with Ski Bonjour a couple of years ago and raved about the experience.
To find out more about Ski Bonjour visit their website: www.skibonjour.com or contact them by phone: +44 (0)1765677787 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tignes freeride snowboarding holiday review: Conclusion
I have visited Espace Killy on a couple of other occasions, but always stayed in Val d’Isere before. So I knew the area fairly well, and had already done a fair amount of freeriding – although mainly in the Val d’Isere side of the ski area – so I know how good it can be.
It was great to see what Tignes has to offer, and having a guide meant we explored some great freeride terrain we would never have found on our own. The opportunity for off-piste in Espace Killy is fantastic and I thoroughly recommend a Tignes freeride snowboarding holiday, particularly if you are on a budget, as it’s significantly cheaper than its neighbour.
To find out more about Tignes visit: www.tignes.net