After several failed attempts, I made it to the French Alps for the first time from 4-10 February. My chosen resort was one of the largest ski areas in Europe: Tignes-Val d’Isère. Located in the département of Savoie, it is known as Espace Killy and is divided into two sectors: Tignes (which is made up of the areas of Les Brébières, Tignes 1,800, Tignes 2,100, Tignes-le-Lac and Val Claret) and Val d’Isere (a much more heavily-wooded area, which includes the town of Val d’Isère, La Daille, and the areas of Le Laisinant and Le Fornet). A total of 300 skiable kilometres (153 slopes) with 1,900 meters of difference in altitude and 78 lifts.
Discovering the resort
The highest point in the resort, the Grande Motte lookout, is located 3,456 meters above sea level, crowning a glacier that can be skied all year (even in summer). Because of these peculiarities (I don’t think I’ve ever been higher up) and because of the means of getting there, I decided to track this journey between this point and Val Claret, where I stayed, using Ski France app.
The week I was there, there was heavy snow and fog, and it wasn’t until Thursday (9 February) that, from behind the heavy clouds, I got a glimpse of the most brilliantly turquoise sky I’ve ever seen. That was the only day that week that the glacier section was open.
Heading to the Glacier
The most common (and, at the same time, uncommon) means of accessing the area is to take the Perce Neige funicular railway, which leaves from Val Claret and arrives at 3,020 metres above sea level at La Grande Motte (this point can also be reached by taking two chairlifts). It’s like a metro that climbs the mountain at an incredible speed: 10 metres per second (360 km/hour) on average. Once you reach 3,020 metres, you take the Grande Motte cable car, which takes you to the summit.
When I arrived, I was left breathless. Literally, because my lungs aren’t used to such high altitudes, and metaphorically, because the views were unbelievable. Besides the now-frozen glaciers and all the peaks over the valley, my camera captured the most legendary summits of the Alps, including the emblematic and imposing Mont Blanc (the highest in Europe). While I admired its beauty, the other skiers set off, allowing me to complete most of my descent alone.
My run down
The route (6.33 km of red slopes) is made up of three fairly distinct sections that combine perfectly, allowing you to go at different speeds and apply all the different techniques. The first section is the Glacier slope, a broad curve of new, powdery snow. This connects with Rimy and La Face, which were also covered in virgin snow, but which have a straighter, slower trajectory until you get to Double M. Like everywhere else in the ski areas, the descent includes many changes in pitch, which keeps your adrenaline pumping.
Right at the beginning of the Double M, on the left-hand side you get one of the most spectacular views at the resort: a massive cliff towering over the slope and, in the distance, a perfectly-framed Val Claret. From here to the bottom, you get a constant view of the town to guide you on your way.
The next section passes right beneath the Les Lanches chairlift, with its columns dividing the slope in two, essentially creating two parallel courses. In this sector, lovers of freeride have the chance to leave the marked area and to ski on completely virgin snow. Where the slope leaves the chairlift behind, a third, much wider section begins. At first, it’s slower than the last, until you take a right-hand curve and Val Claret suddenly comes clearly into view. As though it were a magnet drawing us in, the slope becomes steeper and wider, letting speed lovers gain momentum until they make it to the bottom. As a matter of fact, here the app lets me know that I beat my own speed record on skis: I reached about 82 km/hour which, if I may say so, is far beyond what I’ve reached in motorcycle trials.
But back in Tignes, when I reached Val Claret I was both satisfied and impressed. Here’s my track; I hope you also get to enjoy the beauty of this route.
Track from La Grande Motte lookout (3456 m) to Val Claret (2300 m), via the Glacier, Rimaye, Face and Double M slopes (Tignes-Val d’Isère)
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By Skitude user @gemmiAS