We’ve all got a favourite mountain bike destination. Morzine, Les Arcs, Alp D’Huez …
But would you ever consider Tignes as a must-ride mountain bike holiday spot? Nope, us neither, till now.
Time for Hutch and Pete to hit the road and sample one of the Alps’ lesser-known spots.
Words by Chris Hutchens | Photos by Pete Scullion.
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Back on the road
I zipped shut my bike bag with excitement after carefully packing for my return to the French Alps. It had only been a week.
I’ve been heading there in various ways and to various places over the past fifteen years since I first savoured the big mountains and lift-serviced trails of France.
As a Brit with limited access to chairlifts, the appeal of getting out to the mountains and on the lifts just never goes way.
“You’ve gotta go man, it’s awesome”
Tignes has always been a resort I’ve known about but not one I’ve had the chance to ride.
I’ve known friends that have spent ski seasons there and met plenty of others that have sung the praises of its mountain bike trails. Most recently, I spent a cold winter’s day trail building with Tom Durham who raved about the epic scenery, endless single track and free lift passes.
Despite all that, Tignes had so far evaded me and it was time to sort it out.
An afternoon flight with travelling comrade Pete Scullion took us from Manchester into Geneva where our host Ellie from Mountainsun greeted us.
Where is Tignes?
If you haven’t heard of Tignes, it’s in the French Alps near the Italian border.
Tignes refers to a little group of villages, rather than a single place, and includes Val Claret and Tignes Le Lac villages. More on why that is in a minute …
Tignes sits amongst the well-known resorts of Les Arcs, Ste Foy and La Thuile just across the border in Italy.
You can get there from the UK by flying into Geneva and getting a transfer or hiring a car. The drive takes about 3 hours.
Our first ride
The first thing I learned about Tignes is that Tignes isn’t a village or a resort as I’d thought. It’s actually the whole area and is made up of a collection of small villages. Our home for the week was Tignes Les Boisses, in the north of the area.
Sitting at 1850m you can already feel the body working a little harder. Once you head up to Tignes Le Lac and Val Claret, which sit at just over 2100m in the shadow of the Grande Motte, the usual snappy climbing doesn’t come so easily and you’re reminded that legs need oxygen.
A quick bus, provided for free, from Les Boisses takes you to the heart of the mountain biking, with lifts then ready to take you to over 2700m.
Our first trail of the trip was Wonderboisses and became an instant favourite.
The trail runs all the way from the centre of Tignes down to Les Boisse with some incredible views and fast flowing singletrack. We raced through fast, pristine singletrack surrounded by wild flowers and stunning views. With 4km of fun, easy to ride trail ahead of us it was tough to stop the flow and take photos.
The backdrop of the ride is the Lac Du Chevril, a bright blue lake with a huge and imposing dam at its northern end. I learned that the lake covers what was once the original sizeable village of Tignes. After years of controversy the village was displaced, flooded and the dam was complete in 1952. If you get up close enough you can just about see an enormous painting of Hercules that was painted on the dam’s wall to celebrate the 1992 Winter Olympics.
With our first day and first taste of Tignes mountain biking done we rolled back to the chalet for a wonderfully prepared three course home-cooked dinner. We’d travelled, transferred, ridden and done a photoshoot in one day… so a good meal and a few beers in the newly refurbished bar were definitely welcome. We’d definitely kicked our trip off well!
Free lift passes?
Day two was our first full day in Tignes. Our guide for the week Rab was keen to make sure we got the full experience of the area… and I got the feeling he had a big day in store for us.
A surprise came when, fumbling for our wallets at the lift station, we discovered that Lift Passes in Tignes are actually free. The resort is really making the effort to promote the area as a summer destination offering free of charge lifts is their gesture to welcome in the tourists.
Where you’d normally pay something like 30EUR a day for the lifts, that’s a huge reason to visit Tignes.
With our lift passes in hand we rolled on to the lifts, up the hill and hit the Green, Blue and Red trails on the North West slopes of Tignes. These are the perfect introduction for beginners but are still fun and playful for the seasoned pros. If you’re in the area I’d recommend you start there and then head across the valley to Val Claret to give Kamasutrail and Gypsy a try.
On to the bigger stuff
With the warm up done Rab moved us swiftly on to the bigger stuff. A mix of bike park jumps, North Shore features and some lunar off-piste made sure we were awake.
Coming from the UK or certainly Scotland, there’s always a nervousness hitting the 15m gap jumps and committing to the jumps found in mainland Europe. Rab made sure we boosted them and my riding buddy Nathan McComb and I got sendy.
With ten trails on this side of the hill alone there was no chance we could ride everything. A return trip seems likely just for this area of Tignes alone. Loads of riding, free lift passes, great scenery… It was starting to feel like a good trip.
It didn’t take us long to work out that Tignes has natural singletrack in abundance and we crammed in trails by the bucket load. We skirted beneath the Aiguille Percée on the Palaf trail dropping us onto the Rocky trail and eventually down to Les Boisses.
With a huge day of riding in the bike park done it was time to pull out the maps and plan something a bit more adventurous. This is where Rab’s knowledge of the area and his ability as a guide really came into it’s own.
We ventured higher into the mountains towards La Grande Sassière, first by van and then riding and eventually hiking. Reaching the summit we stopped for photos, to feed the ‘Gram and for a quick snack. We pointed our bikes down towards Bourg St Maurice and feasted on a traverse of a gigantic scale that’s only possible in proper big country like Tignes.
“real mountain biking”
We dealt with the exposure early on, riding with the view of Mont Blanc coming and going as we skirted around the flanks of the Aiguille de la Grande Sassière. At times the trail disappeared and we had to call in Rab’s bloodhound trail senses to sniff it out, invariably finding it again on the far side of a remote farm or hidden over a brow.
Lunch was well earned and descended into ‘Hobbiton’ (the French village of Le Monal) affectionately named by Rab given its quaint houses and ancient village charisma.
We stopped for a classic ham and cheese sandwich washed down with some excellent, strong coffee to keep us going for the rest of the day. The ‘off piste’ trails along this route towards Sainte Foy and Bourg St Maurice where as Nathan McComb, who joined us for the day, said, “this is real mountain biking”.
We were being spoilt and treated to rugged, smooth, fast, slow, tech, easy and a whole host of other variations of single track. This could be the knockout punch for me.
As the day vanished, you could tell we were all worn out. Talk of ‘one more run’ changed to sampling some of the activities in the village and we eventually took up the challenge of mini golf and a spot of archery to round off the day. The day finished as we’d become used to, with a well earned beer and a dip in the hot tub back at Chalet Melezes.
The gap between Mickey’s Ears
On our final day we woke up to rain and were sure the trip was done.
Miraculously, as our first coffee was sunk the clouds passed on and the sun shined just in time for the lifts to open. On went the riding kit and we got stuck in to lapping the gondola.
Something I really liked about Tignes was the variety of riding. You can ride fun, flowing singletrack or you can hit big, boosty jumps and push your riding on. Our final day say us step it up to hit some of the bigger gaps on Mickey’s Ears and Kamasutrail, geed up by a few days of riding great terrain and big mountains.
We finished the day with a spot of stand up paddle boarding and a few shots at the airbag jump before reluctantly packing our bikes, bidding our new friends farewell and hitting the road for Geneva.
You really do have to go, man.
Tignes really made an impression on me. It’s trails offer something for everyone and the benefit of free uplifts and a whole host of free activities make this resort a real bargain.
It’s a family destination, somewhere for the lads and ladies and provides options for beginners to experts.
It’s less than 2 hours flight time from the UK, it’s a short(ish) transfer from Geneva to the resort and being a lesser known area the cost of accommodation, bike hire, guiding and all that stuff is really good.
And our hosts
Mountainsun made things easy with transfers, food and a room all included in what they offer. It’s relaxed and welcoming accommodation at the bottom of one of the highlight trails allowed us to squeeze in as much riding as possible and push the lift opening times to the limit.
While we crammed in what we could, there were plenty of activities we didn’t manage to do, including whitewater rafting, climbing, canyoning and all the free stuff in Tignes but that’s just an excuse to head back again next summer, or even this October.
Tignes sits high with access to the glacier for skiing all year round. October especially gives the chance to ride and ski in one day, or just ride if you wanted. Mountainsun are providing various packages to get your Alps fix when you thought it was too late, including free uplifts in the Autumn.
Thanks to Mountainsun
Hutch and Pete spent the week of their Tignes trip with Mountainsun – a holiday company run by Brits and based in the mountains. They were kind enough to cover the costs of the trip.
Mountainsun cater for snow and dirt holidays all year round and offer short or longer breaks – including 3 day / 3 night trips with guiding, uplifts, transfers and bike hire for £340 per person.
You can learn more about them on the Mountainsun website,