Tignes is a high-altitude, purpose-built ski resort at the end of the Tarentaise Valley in the French Alps. There’s a series of satellite villages mostly located around the 2100 metre level, with two other lift-connected branches lower down the valley. The resorts height and its surrounding terrain, reaching up to the Grand Motte cable car station (3459m) mean it’s one of the first ski resorts in the Alps to open during late November or early December, with the glacier skiing normally available from the start of September onwards.
Most of the area, including the villages of Val Claret, Le Lac and Lavachet, is above the treeline with the lower slopes down to Le Brévières providing some tree-lined runs. This kind of landscape opens up an enormous amount of terrain that is well suited for intermediates and advanced skiers and snowboarders and the resort attracts winter sports enthusiasts from all over to world to experience the extensive piste and off-piste possibilities.
The area is linked with Val d’Isère and is known collectively as Val d'Isere - Tignes – one of the world’s largest ski areas with a reputation of being one of the best in terms of the quality of terrain and slopes available.
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Skiing in Tignes
The villages of Tignes all offer access to this vast ski area that is split into four main sections. Even without including the slopes of its Neighbour, Val d’Isère, the resort of Tignes boasts around 150 kilometres of piste alone and 47 ski lifts. The skiing is mainly above the treeline and this means some of the most reliable snow conditions in the Alps, but on bad weather days it’s possible to find solace on the forested slopes down towards Brévières or by dropping into the La Daille area, on the Val d’Isère side.
The four main ski areas of Tignes include, The Grande Motte, l'Aiguille Percée, Toviere and Brévières – all with their own identities and all offering something unique for different levels of skier or snowboarder. There’s beginner areas in all of the separate satellite villages and a good progression from there into higher blue runs, especially on the Toviere side. Whilst Tignes has a reputation for its extensive expert terrain, there’s actually a lot on offer for beginners and intermediates looking to increase their confidence with long blue runs on every sector in the resort.
There’s some genuine opportunities for second or third week skiers to ramp up some serious mileage and explore a wide area. But perhaps where Tignes comes into its own is the menu on offer for keen intermediates who can explore virtually every section of the mountain with the exception of the odd tough black run here and there, such as the Trolles down to Tignes Le Lac which can be viscous in the wrong conditions. The black runs down to Brévières, including the Sache, are long but technically not too demanding for confident skiers looking to step up their piste credentials. This area also has some classic off-piste skiing in powder snow conditions and in the springtime, especially once the snow has transformed into the smooth ‘corn’ variety – but taking a guide here is a sensible precaution.
Tignes has one of the largest skiable glaciers in the Alps and normally opens in early September, when professional ski race teams and clubs from all over the world come to train.
The combined ski region of Tignes and Val d’Isère (previously Espace Killy), includes 300 kilometres of piste and about as much off-piste potential as any ‘powder hound’ can muster. First or second week skiers and snowboarders might struggle to make it over the other side of Toviere or over the Col de Fresse and down into the Val d’Isère sector. But there’s some decent green and blue runs on offer just over the other side if you can make it and it’s a relatively easy way for skiers to start exploring a wider area away from the resort.
For intermediates who can tackle blues and easy reds, the whole Bellevarde and La Daille sectors open up another area with partly tree-lined slopes and the chance to try the World Cup downhill run simply named the OK. For more confident skiers and snowboarders, it’s straightforward enough to head over to the far side of the mountain to enjoy the Solaise and Fornet sectors of the resort – offering up long reds, tough black runs and classic off-piste routes such as the Col Pers and the trees above Le Fornet, serving up some of the Alps’ best forest powder skiing in the right conditions.
Although Val d'Isere - Tignes isn’t the World’s largest area, the sheer combination of size, choice of slopes and quality of terrain makes it arguably the best for all levels of skiers and snowboarders in search of the ultimate ski resort experience.
Tignes Resort Overview
Tignes as a ski resort is actually a collection of five different villages that are all purpose-built for winter sports, with the exception of Brévières, the very lowest of them all and the most traditional in feel. Tignes 1800, just above Brévières, is the newest part of the resort, built around a church that was built during the 1950’s as a replica of the original that’s now deep underneath the dam lake that was built around the same time – destroying the old village and eventually creating the new Tignes that developed into the modern resort we know today.
This new village at 1800 metres is built more in the traditional Alpine style of the region, whilst the remaining three centres above at 2100 metres are far more modern and built with convenience for skiing in mind and snow reliability. Le Lavachet is slighter further removed than the other two and being out on a limb means it’s quieter and more relaxed.
Le Lac is the centre of the resort and named because it literally sits on the side of a lake, frozen during the whole of winter. It’s a good general base for easy access to the slopes. Val Claret is right at the head of the valley and overall has the best access to the slopes and also the most interesting après ski options. All of the villages are well connected by a bus service and have their own bars and restaurants to choose from.
Restaurants & bars
There really is a good choice in Tignes when it comes to restaurants. In Val Claret, the Village Montana and its Restaurant Le Gourmet offers up one of the smartest and most sophisticated dining experiences, not only in the village but the whole of the resort. Of course, it’s also one of the most expensive, but its reputation is excellent. But the Ursus, also in Val Claret, is a serious dining option with 5-course tasting menus costing around 98€ per person. The Taos in Tignes Lac also offers a high level of cuisine in modern surroundings, serving steaks, ribs and serious burgers as well as some seafood options. Another high-end option in Lac is Les Campanules, a more traditional setting with a French-based menu. For a completely different experience, Tignes Cuisine, also in Lac, serves up a mixture of Asian style cuisine at very reasonable prices. For a bistro style dining experience in Lavachet then try La Queue de Cochon, which also has a bar too. In Tignes 1800, the restaurant Ô 1800 is an interesting mix of traditional Savoyard cuisine and modern cuisines such as burgers and prawn risotto. There’s plenty of bars in Tignes, although Val Claret has more concentration than any of the other villages. Some of the hotels have their own bars which tend to be good options for a quiet drink, then there are some seasonaire favourites too.
There’s plenty of on-mountain restaurants to choose from in Tignes, but because of the way the villages are essentially laid out, almost on the slopes, nipping back into town at lunchtime to eat is a sensible option. Right at the bottom of the Chaudannes chairlift in Tignes Le Lac, the La Ferme des 3 Capucines serves up traditional cuisine with a modern twist and is highly regarded. Le Soli, at the top of the Chaudannes chairlift, is another good option if you’re looking for a self-service restaurant that offers up good local and French specialities. For a budget alternative, the Aspen Coffee Shop in Val Claret – yes in the village but so easy to walk to from the Bollin or Tichots lifts, serves excellent burgers and sandwiches, plus lots more. Perhaps the best experience in the area is the La Sachette, down in Brévières – serving traditional plates, pizzas and salads. For a more upmarket experience, Le Panoramic on the Grande Motte is the place to settle into on a stormy day and splash some cash.
Tignes might not be the classic après ski resort or a destination on the top of a party weekenders list, but there are some lively bars and clubs for anyone who feels the need to continue the action once the lifts have closed down. Before that time though, why not dip over the Val d’Isère – Tignes border at Toviere and experience La Folie Douce, a kind of nightclub on the slopes that kicks off around 1 pm. But be sure to get the last lift back over before it closes or you face a taxi ride from La Daille back home. Back down in Val Claret, the Couloir Bar is good for après after the slopes and also later in the evening – it’s also good for sports matches on TV. Over in Tignes Lac, the Loop Bar is lively after skiing being so close to the slopes and continues into the night. There’s afternoon DJ’s and live music during both après and evening sessions. There are several bars in Le Lavachet, including TC’s that serve a wide selection of bar meals too. Down in Brévières, Le Moose is a popular place to head to. If you make it past the usual drinks hours and fancy a late night, then the Blue Girl Nightclub in Val Claret could be an option, as it only opens at midnight and closes at 5 am.
Tignes might seem like the ultimate skiers and snowboarders paradise but there are also lots of other activities to do on the mountain. There’s paragliding, snowshoeing, ice skating and tobogganing but also some more unusual activities too. Ice diving takes place in the large lake in Tignes le Lac, then there’s ice driving too and also snowmobiling. But perhaps the most unique attraction is the Bun J Ride, a kind of a cross between extreme skiing and a bungee jump where you throw yourself off a huge ramp into the air attached to a bungee rope whilst onlookers look on in amazement.
Tignes has some excellent facilities for non-skiers or those looking for some alternatives to the slopes. The huge indoor sports centre, Tignespace, has tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, a climbing wall, squash courts, gym, a golf simulator and even a pole vaulting pit. There’s a separate swimming pool at the Lagoon Sports Centre – both are located in Tignes Lac. For a more ice cold experience, it’s possible to dive underneath the frozen lake that forms a large feature of the resort, of course, dry suits are provided. There’s a cinema showing films in English and plenty of spas that can be booked up, including at the Village Montana in Val Claret, which has its own outdoor heated pool. Non-skiers can also purchase a pedestrian-only lift pass for a vastly lower price than the normal rate and make use of many of the ski lifts to get around the area and experience the mountains – with some winter walking tracks and snowshoeing options available.
Who is Tignes Suitable For?
Looking at the piste map of Tignes you’ll see immediately that it’s dominated by blue and red. A ski pass here gives intermediates more than enough pistes to cover a week's skiing and then some. The slopes are well prepared and there are some extra challenges too for anyone who wants to push themselves that little bit further. Long runs, a few mogul fields and some black pistes that would challenge any skier or snowboarder. In general, the slopes in Tignes are a little easier on the legs than in neighbouring Val d’Isère, but the choice for intermediates is second to none in the Alps when it comes to classic piste skiing above the treeline.
High altitude/snow sure
Tignes has one of the best snow records in the Alps, mainly due to its high altitude – it can start snowing in the village during October and normally it stays on the ground from then onwards. The Grand Motte glacier backs any major lack of snowfall up and is always a good go-to destination for guaranteed skiing during the early part of the season. The skiing here starts in September and ends in May, with a summer season in June and July too. The altitude also means that the powder snow off-piste can stay fresh, light and dry for several days and even longer after a snowstorm. Of course, skiing or snowboarding off-piste comes with its dangers, so a guide is always recommended.
Ski in / ski out
Lots of the accommodation in Tignes, especially in Val Claret and Tignes Le Lac is located right on or very close to the slopes, making the resort very convenient in regards to access at the start and end of the day.
Tignes is a good resort for group trips. The sheer amount of accommodation of all shapes and sizes and the variety on offer in regards to the ski slopes means that everyone is catered for. There’s also enough bars to meet up in and some large restaurants on the mountain that can cope with numbers.
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