By Patrick Tapper (a New Zealander doing his first season in Tignes – Val d’Isere)
Plenty of fresh snow already, some afternoon blue skies and some seriously good bars opening – yes, Tignes – Val d’Isere is already offering up some of the on-and-off-snow action that it is famous for.
The promise of 79 ski lifts and 10,000 hectares of skiable territory offered by Tignes -Val d’Isere is enough to get any snow-lover excited. The sheer size of the fields was a serious draw card for me as my local ski field in New Zealand has 6 small lifts. I had seen the ski area be transformed from grass and rock to a white paradise in a matter of days the previous week, all the while being regaled with stories from locals and seasonnaires about the “endless oceans” of powder on offer during the winter and the best spots to find it (albeit some of those stories were heard in the Marmot Arms in Le Lac and TC’s Bar in Lavachet at rather late hours). The 30cm snow base (100cm upper mountain) was dismissed by some of the seasonnaires I talked to as “barely a dusting”. If that’s true, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the winter offers up.
On opening day I took the Olympique telecabine up the hill and scouted plenty of snow coverage despite some poor visibility due to cloud cover. I took my first turns of the season along “3j”which was well groomed. “OK Coupe du Monde” (off the Marmottes lift) offered pockets of powder just off the trail that provided enough deep turns to whet the appetite.
After sampling the “borsat” piste accessed by the Borsat chair (which had a ton of snow due to all the snow cannons but also some slow sections), I decided to try and head out of the clouds into the lower elevation pistes in Tignes. The Col de Fresse was closed so the only link with Tignes was via the Tommeuses chair. I headed down “henri” en route to Val Claret which was a little tracked out but had some fun patches.
The clouds completely closed in as I headed up the Tichot lift and then along the Grattalu lift because the Col Des Ves chair was closed. Luckily the huge size of the Espace Killy ski area means there is a reasonable chance that some part of the field will have some skiable conditions. Sure enough, I broke through the clouds at the top of the Grand Huit lift on the eastern border of the Tignes ski area (with some seriously good views of the Alps). With barely a skier in sight I was able to enjoy some great snow conditions on “perce-neige” and “beau plan”. The off-piste snow was a bit wind-swept but there was plenty of good skiing on-piste.
As if on request, the cloud lifted at lunchtime, supplying bluebird skies. There hadn’t been quite enough snow to open the lower lifts in Tignes to access Les Boisses or Les Brevieres, so I headed up to Le Lac to catch the Palafour chair lift up. The Palafour was a great place to spot areas of off-piste powder that were accessible in the early-season conditions. I followed a few tracks off-piste onto “oelliet” which still had some untouched areas of powder. The snow coverage was a little variable so I had to exercise some caution in avoiding a couple of thin patches and a few partially exposed rocks.
I decided to make the most of the clear skies and scout out some more pockets of powder via the Toviere gondola. I spotted patches of untracked powder off the side of “trolles” which left me frothing for the run down. The snow didn’t disappoint, with plenty of dust to slash. The “trolles” piste linked me back with the Toviere gondola which was quite tracked up by that point of the afternoon. Nevertheless the powder stashes around “trolles” were too good to turn down so I spent the rest of the afternoon cutting new tracks, only calling it quits when my legs started to fatigue. I had to reserve a bit of energy for the opening night of Underground Bar in Le Lac and Blue Girl in Val Claret, both of which had been talked up by the locals and seasonnaires. The opening night definitely lived up to the hype and I found myself in Blue Girl until the early hours.
If opening day in Tignes – Val d’Isere is anything to go by it is going to be one hell of a winter.