Tignes began as a ski resort in the 1930s, but the original village was swallowed up when the Tignes dam was opened in 1952, submerging the place below the Lac du Chevril. The dam, which you get over on your way up to Tignes, was able to supply a tenth of France's power when it started operation, so a few houses weren't going to get in the way of progress. Fortunately for the villagers, the compensation amounted to white gold and this allowed them to get started in building lifts higher up the mountain. The first apartment blocks were builtin 1956, defining the foundations of modern-day Tignes and producing in the process a concrete behemoth.
Despite its best campaigns at sensitivity and a massive £35m investment in underground parking and wood cladding to offset a generation of ill-conceived design, Tignes would always be Val d'lsere's not-so-good-looking sister bearing concrete tower blocks and bare landscape. Improvements have definitely been made, featuring underground bypasses, free round the clock buses and incentives for landlords to spruce up their apartments. But no one goes to Tignes for the architecture, unless they stay down at the authentic mountain farming village of Tignes Les Brevieres, about 600m below the high-altitude villages. Individuals come to this high-altitude, high-rise valley to experience the unparalleled snow conditions and the enormous ski area that it shares with Val d'lsere.
Set at the bottom of the Grande Motte glacier, Tignes' primary ski starts where some ski resorts end and still able to pack in 1,400m of vertical between the top village of Val Claret and the highest lifts on the Grande Motte. area
The weatherproof but queue-prone Grande Motte belowground funicular takes skiers from Val Claret 1,000m skyward in just seven minutes and gets them at the bottom of the summer ski area and the Grande Motte cable-car, which heads up to Tignes' highest peak, a breathtaking 3,450m. The snow on the glacier is almost always exquisite. If you can't wait, don't worry - the runs going back down from this point are wonderful, particularly the out-of-the-way Genepy piste, an easy but adventuresome blue that strings back down towards Val Claret.
© 2012 Athena Goodlight
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