A trip report: 14-28 January 1995

This is the report of my trip to Tignes in the French Alps early 1995. Currently you won't find any pictures here. I did intend to make a bunch, but the first week I didn't get to it, and the second week the weather worked against me. But read on, you might enjoy it anyway...

Note: I'm European, I'll do metric only :-)


Actually the story starts on Friday, as we left late Friday night. The French Alps are quite a drive, and we wanted to get in Tignes around noon in order to avoid the weekly incoming crowd a bit. We were also unsure about road conditions. The last half of the week a lot of snow had been falling, and the road to Tignes had even been closed for several days.

We drove without any problems through the Netherlands and Belgium. In France we drove the fast auto-routes, and we did have to pay for this, but the road certainly is much better. We arrived at the end of the auto-route near Annecy just in time for breakfast. Annecy is probably worth a visit in itself. The city lies on one end of a magnificent lake, surrounded by mountains. It was quite cold when we got there, so the water was steaming. Along with the snow covering the mountains and trees this made for a nice view.

After breakfast we drove the last part through Albertville, Moutiers, and Bourg-St-Maurice. The latter is the last town located in a valley, and we decided to go shopping there. The prices in the large store were certainly lower than the prices in the small shop in Tignes itself. Just after this town the road really starts to climb, but fortunately we didn't run into any problem. There was some snow left, but hardly anything to worry about. The last part towards Tignes-Val Claret posed no problem either, and we arrived at 13.00. The weather was great! Clear skies, snow on the mountains. Perfect.

Because we were to early for our apartment we decided to shop around for rental skies. The first shop we entered offered us a good deal, ff 800,= for 13 days. We were even more pleased when we could get Salomon Force 9's for that price.

After closing the deal we could get into the apartment, which was surprisingly nice. We had about 36m2 for the four of us, which is quite spacious for French ski apartments. The apartment was clean as well, had windows on the South, and a balcony.

All this good fortune was starting to get on our nerves. Great weather, no problem driving, good skies for a good price. We looked at each other and muttered: "There has to be a catch!". We looked around quite good, but just couldn't find any...that day.

Intermezzo: Tignes

Let me describe the town Tignes a bit before we go on. Tignes isn't really one town, but rather a few pieces of town at different altitudes. When you drive up there you will first come along Tignes-Les Brevieres. This is a small town at about 1550m. It looks like this is the "original" Tignes. Next up is Tignes-Les Boisses. This is just a small numbers of houses, hotels, and shops next to the lake. From there you will arrive in Tignes itself, which is located at 2100m.

This part of Tignes is divided in three different parts: Le Lavachet, Tignes-Le Lac, and Tignes-Val Claret. As you guessed, Le Lac is located next to a small lake, which is usually frozen during the winter. We were located in Val Claret, which is closest to the larger mountains.


On Sunday we got up early. The weather was great, and we were all looking forward to some awesome skiing. Skiing certainly was great. There were hardly any lift lines, the snow was really nice, and the clear skies and sun made for a great morning. I was breaking in my new ski shoes, and one muscle in my left leg started to hurt a bit. I didn't pay much attention to it, as this had happened before with other shoes. The pain started to get a bit more annoying when we decided to have lunch near L'aiguille percee (the pierced needle), an interesting rock formation at the top of a mountain. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a popular spot, so we skied down a bit to eat and drink.

I decided to take off my shoe, and give the muscle a bit of a rest. Guess I shouldn't have done that. It started to swell right away, and became quite firm. Oops. Seems we ran into catch no. 1. We had lunch first, but instead of getting better the muscle got worse. In the end I couldn't even stand on it, let alone ski on it. So one of use skied down to get the rescue service, and I got to take a ride in the sled. At the one hand I was glad that I had an opportunity to take the ride in fairly good condition (and admit it, you would have too), but on the other hand the prospect of not skiing for the rest of the vacation wasn't exactly appealing.

Riding down in the sled is actually quite uneventful. This doesn't really surprise me, as you don't want to bump people with broken bones around too much. The guy who took me down was certainly quite professional, didn't even think about tinkering with the leg himself. He did remind me I shouldn't have taken the shoe off, and then put my leg in a metal harness. In my case this probably wasn't needed, but with a broken leg this looked like a good idea. Then he wrapped me up in cloth, and secured my with some rope. The first part of the ride was exciting, going down fairly steep, but after that we just got blue runs, and nothing much happened.

At the end of the ride the ambulance was ready, and I was quickly moved into it. It took me down to the local medical center in Le Lac. Obviously, the doctor there had experience with skiing injuries. He did make some X-rays just to be sure, and then quickly diagnosed the problem. His English was about as good as my French, which made for an interesting conversation. (I should say I am moderately good at French, as he was moderately good at English). What it came down to was that he though the sole of my shoe was turned around the long axis. This made the muscle be stretched out all the time, and with the added pressure from skiing this caused to muscle to become inflamed. He added I could probably ski again in a couple of days, but warned me not to do it on these shoes.

We drove to Val Claret in our car, got some prescription drugs from the local drug-store, and I started to pout a bit. Like I wasn't going to ski on my brand new shoes anymore...


Monday the weather was great again, and this made it twice as bad for me. I would have loved to go skiing, but the muscle was still hurting. I wished the other guys good luck (yeah, right), and set off to read in the sun.

In the afternoon I decided I'm not an engineer for nothing, and I started to tinker around with the shoes. I ended up placing some bundles of paper in strategic locations. I was pleased with this. I didn't have a computer around, but still I could make a nice hack.

I had just finished this when one of the other guys came back suspiciously early. He didn't look happy at all, so I concluded we ran into catch no. 2. Turns out he broke his ski, a K2 extreme, on a particular nasty and rocky off-piste track. The fact that these skies are very hard to come by in France didn't make things any better for him.

When the other two guys came in they brought additional complains with them: one fell pretty bad, and the other had painful toes. It makes you all wonder? Why go skiing in the first place?


Tuesday answered that question. The weather was nice again, although a bit windy. The dirty hack in my shoe certainly worked, for I skied all day without problems. We stayed fairly close to Val Claret, for I didn't really feel like another ride in the sled.


The wind had gotten worse this day, and high up in the mountains this wasn't always very pleasant. We decided to ski on towards La Daille. La Daille is essentially the first outskirts of Val d'Isere, and can be easily reached by ski. Because La Daille is located a bit lower, and because the slopes are within a valley, the wind was much less here. We didn't ski all that much, but couldn't resist some "chocolat chaud" halfway down the slope.

In the afternoon we decided to go shopping again, so we drove down to Bourg-St-Maurice.


Last night we had some great snow, but in the morning the sun was shining again. Snowing conditions were excellent. Some of us did some off-piste skiing, traversing the powder.

Later that morning we went for La Sache. This is a black slope running all the way down to Les Brevieres. Overall this run is very do-able, although there are some bumpy, steep and narrow parts in there. (Ok, you guessed it by know, I wasn't the best skier of the group :-) In Les Brevieres we decided to eat the local speciality: Croûte Savoyarde. The top of this oven-dish is covered with melted cheese, but I won't tell you what's in it.

In the afternoon we went back to the valley between Tignes and La Daille. We went to a lift quite far out, with hardly a soul in sight. Beautiful. You'd almost forget being in a busy skiing resort.


Very heavy clouds this day. I always hate this, since the bumps in the snow are much less visible. But everybody felt pretty good, there wasn't as much wind, so we decided to try and reach the far end of L'Espace Killy. On our way we skied through Val d'Isere, which looked like a nice town. We didn't really stop there, though. One striking difference was that in Val d'Isere, much more wood had been used for buildings, as opposed to the concrete in Tignes. We skied beyond Val d'Isere, but we didn't make to the last bit. We could get there without problems, but getting back would have required taking the bus from Le Fornet, as there were no lifts back. We didn't feel like doing that, so we had lunch, and headed back to Tignes. Quite a trip. L'Espace Killy is definitely a large region.


We had been looking forward to Saturday, because this is the day on which most people either arrive or leave. Most people from the surrounding area ski on Sunday, so we figured Saturday would be pretty quiet. It was. And so was the weather. We had excellent skiing conditions, including a fresh 10cm of snow. We packed a bottle of white wine for our lunch on the mountain, just for the occasion. But it appears that we had been the weather gods pretty bad up 'til then. Just before noon clouds started to appear, and the weather threatened to turn bad on us. We made the decision to go back home, muttering at the weather. Just as we reached our doorstep the sun broke again, and the great weather came back in a wink. You can call it coïncidence, but we don't think so anymore.

In the afternoon we split up, and my technique got brushed up quite a bit. Thanks Eelco!


You'll understand that we had been muttering (well, cursing) quite a bit on the weather gods on Saturday, so they punished us. We wanted snow? Well, we did get snow. At first we were thrilled, then that turned around pretty soon. It just didn't stop. Sure, throw in some wind as well. At one time we couldn't even see the apartments just down the road. Great. We didn't feel like skiing in this weather, so we set off to wax our skies. The apartment building had some room to do this. It wasn't the best of places, but good enough.

In the afternoon we did some skiing, but it was no fun. Most of the higher slopes were closed because of avalanche danger and heavy winds, so tons of people were skiing on just a couple of runs. Heavy traffic, long lift lines. We went back to the apartment.


Guess what? Yup! Snow again. Pretty much the same weather as on Sunday. From the looks of it we had snow all night as well. Because we had had a week of skiing already we decided to stay in and play Hacker from Steve Jackson games. Too much...


Tuesday morning we went shopping again. Our car was carefully hidden under tons of snow, so we had to work pretty hard to get it going again. Fortunately the road was pretty good. The people in Tignes certainly try very hard to keep all roads open.

In the afternoon we went skiing anyway, despite the weather, but it wasn't all that much fun. The vin chaud was, though.


The weather finally cleared a bit, although it still snowed. But sometimes the clouds broke a bit, and some additional runs opened, so skiing really wasn't all that bad.


Clear skies! Really! We got up in a hurry, and went quickly to the lift, which we thought would open at 8.30. It didn't, we had to wait until 9.00. But our mistake was fortunate, because when the lift finally opened we had a long queue of people behind us. Mind you, the queue was even orderly and civilized. It seems everybody had spotted the clear skies and wanted to get up that mountain.


Friday again didn't look that good. We went out to free the car from snow in preparation for our leave on Saturday. Suddenly the skies broke again, and it started to clear really fast. We rushed back for the skies, and had some of the most perfect skiing conditions you could imagine. The snow was amazing, the sky was clear. The only drawback was a sharp cold wind, but we could live with it. We had a great day of skiing to end our vacation.


On Saturday we drove back to the Netherlands. But before we could do this we had to solve our engine trouble! The car had started without much problems that morning, but after loading all our luggage in it the car refused to start again. Eventually the batteries went dead. We had to get a garage to send us a truck. The two guys who came obviously knew what they were doing, and had the car in working condition in a matter of minutes.

The first part of the trip back went very slow, because we had to drive with chains on the wheels, and because there was some very heavy traffic, possibly related to some accident. As soon as this cleared we had no trouble getting back to the Netherlands, even though by that time large parts of Western Europe were inundated.


My overall impression of Tignes is certainly very positive. It is an ideal town for skiing. I don't really seek out the night life, so I can't judge how that would be, but as far as skiing goes Tignes is a winner. The town itself is pretty high, which is good. We went to La Daille one day after it had been above freezing one day, and everything there was ice. In Tignes we still had pretty good snow.

Tignes also has an excellent collection of runs, with many different types of things. From Tignes itself you can go in three different directions, two of which give you access to other large parts of the whole area. We didn't get bored even after two weeks, and in fact I do plan to return there some time, maybe even next year!


I'll probably revise this first draft in the next few weeks. If you want to know more about Tignes you can always send me mail, and I might add some additional stuff to this report: J.J.deGraaff@twi.tudelft.nl.

I'll see what I can do about the pictures I took, and possibly about the ski map. I didn't make many pictures, though, mainly because of the bad weather during the last week.