Keep carving- summer skiing on the Tignes Glacier
Monday, 25 August 2014 | Evan
In July I received a few quizzical looks as I ported my skis through Gatwick airport. "Maybe he's off skiing to Chile", I overheard someone say. I was going skiing, but a lot closer to home; I was heading to the French Alps for a week of glacier skiing.
I have to admit that I love summer skiing. I love the contrast between the snowy, cold glacier world above and the green, warm valley below. I love carving turns in the morning, then swimming, mountain biking, hiking or just lazing about in the afternoon. I like the fact that the accommodation is much cheaper and that every shop has a sale on. I pretty much love everything about it and I highly recommend that you give it a go.
So if you want to give it a go, first things first, where can you do it? In France, there are the glaciers in Tignes, Val D'Isere and Les Deux Alpes. Austria has the Hintertux and Stubai glaciers, Switzerland has summer skiing in Zermat, while in Italy you can get your pasta fix and summer ski in Cervinia. Not all of these places are open for the whole summer, but you'll be able to find at least one open for any given week.
I was heading to Tignes, which during the summer has approximately 20km of skiing on the Grande Motte glacier. I based myself in Tignes Le Lac, at the Hotel Gentiana, which was very comfortable and provided a hearty breakfast. My typical daily routine was geared around getting the best of the snow conditions. As summer skiing is very much like a compressed version of spring skiing, the key is to get up and out early. This meant that I aimed to get on the free shuttle bus to the bottom station by 7.30, allowing me to be "up top" by 8am. At this time in the morning the snow just beginning to transform and can give gorgeous skiing. Typically the snow is skiable for 4-5 hours, depending on the temperature, before it eventually becomes too heavy to ski. Afternoons I then spent doing some of the multitude of activities that are available in the summer Alps- for example, in Tignes there is mountain biking (with free lift access), hiking, climbing, via ferata, sailing, canoeing, archery, golf, tennis, volleyball, basketball and many more activities. Surprisingly, many of these are free, with the commune using them to entice summer visitors. You can even do the (frankly mad) activity shown in the video below- again, all free.
As the ski area tends to be quite limited in the summer, it's a good idea to do some structured activity with your skiing. This summer I did a race course with Snoworks, but there are plenty of other options open- for example, Warren Smith has a very active summer instructional programme based in Cervinia. Having said that, the 20km of piste in Tignes actually provided a fair bit of variety, with slopes ranging from blue to black difficulty- certainly enough to keep you interested if you came for a week but only wanted to ski for a few days.
So if you want a bit of winter in the middle of summer, give it a go!