Tignes - Skiing at Altitude in France

Tignes is the ultimate in French 'convenience skiing': a collection of hamlets above the snow line in one of the biggest ski areas in the world where skiers can fall out of their apartments and onto the runs. In the evening, restaurants, bars and nightclubs are a short walk away, while those who are looking to concentrate on their skiing can fend for themselves in the masses of self-catering apartments.

Of course, there are downsides to the resort (just as there are with any destination). Visitors who are looking for an authentic mountain village are unlikely to find what they seek in the purpose-built apartment blocks and hotels. In bad weather the slopes can be very inhospitable. And neighbours from over the mountain in the connected resort of Val d'Isère may look down their noses at the standard and extent of the après ski and nightlife. (Fans of Tignes would equally give a thumbs-down to the snobby bars and less convenient access to the slopes over the hill.)

Tignes Hamlets

Despite the lack of resort flair, Tignes skiing has become quite 'in' with boarders and expert and freestyle skiers. Part of that is down to the regular staging of the Winter X Games European competition since 2010, an extreme winter sports event organised by the TV channels ESPN and Canale+ with freestyle skiing and snowboarding competitions.

Those who are looking for a holiday which is based mainly around skiing - with convenience, snow and cost their major criteria - will find what they are looking for in one of the villages of Tignes.

History of Tignes

The original settlement of Tignes was a small farming hamlet which took advantage of the sunny summer pastures in the high valleys. First mentioned in the 13th century, the parish of Tignes included the neighbouring valley and pass where Val d'Isère now stands. This lasted until the 17th century when the inhabitants complained about the danger of traversing the gorges in winter to get to the church in Tignes and were granted their own rights.

As with many villages in the high mountains, life was hard and frequently shorter. Many worked seasonally on the pastures and then left for jobs in Italy or the south of France. Lacemaking was a source of extra income for some of the women, while smuggling added to the income for the men.

Tourism can really be said to have started in the period following the First World War. The protection of the road up from Bourg-Saint-Maurice from avalanches had been improved, while the town in the valley was now linked by train to the rest of France.

Skiing became popular in the Tignes area and a number of new hotels were built in the main village, as well as the 'hotel refuge' at the lake. The first ski lift was constructed in 1936.

Plans for a dam in the Tignes valley were first discussed in the 1930s, but it wasn't until after the Second World War that construction work started with nearly 6000 workers building the massive dam walls which finally flooded the old village of Tignes in 1952. Money for the development came from the Marshall Plan for Europe.

The village of Les Boisses was supposed to replace the main village and its surrounding hamlets, with the church being constructed in the same style as the one underwater, and the six bells representing the six hamlets which no longer existed. Eventually however, Tignes Le Lac became the main administrative centre of the area.

Tignes ski resort as we know it now really started in the 1950s with the first large-scale apartment complex at the lake. The highest hamlet, Val Claret, was developed in the late 1960s and the lifts on the Grande Motte were built at the same time.

In recent years, there has been much work on the modernisation of the resort infrastructure, for example, the improvement in the size and standard of the chairlifts and gondolas. Tignes Les Boisses is now being almost completely redeveloped with the Kalinda Village eco-project, including a four-star hotel and apartments.