We arrived in Val d’Isere about 4PM Thursday. With some fatigue and jet lag we got up to the top of Bellevarde about 10:30AM. Friday was a dazzling sunny day and no doubt a great finale for most of the British holiday ski week visitors. We had set up some guided days at Val d’Isere and decided to explore Tignes on our first day. This was probably the busiest day Liz had ever seen in the Alps, though my first trip to Chamonix with NASJA in 2004 coincided with the February holiday and thus had some major lift queues. As Fraser and others had said, the lifts here are quite efficient so the larger lines in the Val Claret and Tignes 2100 base areas maxed out around 5 minutes.
We rode the Borsat chair and entered Tignes at the Col de Fresse. We were pleased to see this short diversion.
We could have entered this area higher up via a traverse from the top of Borsat, but of course we didn’t know that on our first run.
Back on piste, here’s the view down Fresse to Val Claret with the Tichot chair going up the other side.
The tracks in front of us face south, so a day late to check that out.
From Tichot we rode the Col de Ves lift. The Aiguille Noire de Pramecou dominates the view there.
Liz stayed on piste, but I was too tempted to traverse out to this face overlooking Tichot.
This was direct north facing so the powder was good for nearly 1,000 vertical. The storm Wednesday was a relatively modest one as the powder was maybe 4-6 inches deep so you could feel the subsurface on many turns. Snow stability issues were not on the few north facing powder slopes but on steeper sun exposed slopes with wet snow instability. We saw a few wet slides over the next 3 days.
This time from Tichot we took a groomer lap on Grattalu. There is also a surface lift serving a terrain park nearby. Grattalu faces south and had a very pleasant spring surface at noon. Most of the intermediate groomed runs in both areas are in the 8,000 – 9,000 foot range, and they seemed to hold up well. Snow did not get that heavy until below 7,000, so I’m sure the British holiday skiers were delighted. I doubt you would ever see this many people at a North American resort in April. Grattalu had moderate skier density but as we moved farther west in Tignes the pistes were much quieter. We skied Merles to the Grand Huit lift, which afforded a panoramic view of the upper terrain in Tignes.
Fresse is at far left and Grand Motte at upper right.
A closer view:
The traverse line under the mountain center is the one I took to ski the powder below. At left are the two chairs going up to the base of the Grand Motte tram. At upper right are a Grand Motte tram tower and its unloading station at 11,500 feet.
We next moved to the Aiguille Perce lift, so named for this distinctive feature.
From here we skied the 4,000 vertical Sache black piste to the lowest ski base at Tignes 1550. Sache is one of those long “wilderness” pistes in the Alps, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it this empty.
The piste comes from upper left, but the upper center/right terrain is Vallon de Sachette, a prime off piste sector we would ski with a guide Sunday.
Here we are nearly at the bottom, so snow was heavier, but still good skiing at 1:20PM with so few people.
We took a short break and then embarked upon 6 lifts to get us from Tignes’ lowest point to its highest. After the Sache gondola and Aiguille Rouge chair, we have good view of the peaks south of Toviere.
You can see tracks coming out of a couloir onto the broad face below. They lead to Lac de Chevril where the guides have a helicopter pickup to return to Tignes. In France it is illegal to use helicopters to drop off skiers above a ski route but not to pick them up at the bottom. A longer tour goes from Val d’Isere’s glacier to Bonneval sur Arc with return by heli.
Here Liz is on the Bluets piste on the way to Tignes 2100.
We rode the Paquets chair at center left and skied to Val Claret at far center right. That Henri piste was the only one all day that I thought had excessive skier density.
In this zoomed view you can see Les Lanches lift we rode 2,400 vertical out of Val Claret.
To the right of the lift you can see openings through the rocks where I was able to ski later while pistes go around looker’s left.
After Les Lanches, we took the Vanoise lift with an impressive view.
Closer view of Grand Motte:
Note the off piste tracks between the rock with the tram tower and the glacier.
The tram was a big one, but on a nice day like this it was a 2 bucket wait. From the top, Liz is by a buried surface lift with a crow flying overhead.
We traversed right to where some people were looking over the edge of an interesting couloir.
This takes a lot of morning sun and probably had questionable stability. There is likely a hike out to reach the Leisse chair.
We skied far right of Grand Motte. Snow was packed powder but wind affected, skied well if you made turns in smooth spots and not in the windblown chunks.
The biggest obstacle was the road being prepared to access the summer surface lifts.
As for now the 1,500 vertical tram is the only access to Grand Motte. But you can extend the run to 2,500 to the Leisse chair.
This section far skier’s right was the best. If you drifted left, the aspect bent a bit east and had some crust.
Here’s more summer slope preparation.
They obviously want people skiing only the middle piste now.
When we exited the Leisse chair it was 4:10PM but still dazzlingly bright. The French Alps are quite far west in the Euro time zone so the lifts run until 4:15 even at the far reaches of Espace Killy, and until 5:00PM for some base area lifts (Take note, similar situated Utah areas when daylight time starts). We needed to get down to Val Claret’s Fresse lift by 4:45 and got there at 4:35 due a few off piste explorations along the 3,300 vertical descent.
The runs descending into the center of Val d’Isere have an unpleasant reputation at the end of the day, with steep sections and congestion from lower end skiers. So we descended to La Daille on red and blue pistes with more than adequate elbow room, even diverting into a short section of moguls under a lift. We finished with 4,100 vertical in Val d'Isere and 19,300 in Tignes.
The free Val d’Isere shuttle bus runs every 5 minutes from 8:15 to 5:15 from Le Fornet in the east to La Daille in the west. We got down at 5: 05 and even though there was a big crowd waiting for the bus, two of them showed up almost immediately so we got back to our hotel efficiently.
This year's robust Alps snowpack is much in evidence even in town this late in the season. Here's the view from our dining room window.