Two thousand one hundred meters -- that's nearly 7,000 feet -- above the sea in the Haute-Tarentaise region of the French Alps, the purpose-built resort of Tignes is readying itself for the fourth edition of the winter X Games.
Renowned for its freeriding terrain and sheer size, Tignes is fast developing into a freestyle paradise with two snow parks as well as the X Games setup. But there's far more to Tignes than a SuperPipe and a slopestyle course. Here's our guide to enjoying the finer points of Alpine living.
Tignes is spread across five villages. The lowest, beneath the impressive Tignes dam -- the one with the crazy mural of French alpine ski-racing legend/Olympian Jean-Claude Killy -- is Les Brévières, at 1,550 meters above sea level. Then comes Les Boisses (at 1,800 meters) and, higher still, Le Lavachet, Le Lac and Val Claret, all at 2,100 meters.
The X Games arena is in Val Claret, home to the majority of self-catered apartments in Tignes -- sort of like the furnished condos you can obtain as a short-term vacation rental in most American ski towns. The combination of Tignes' glacier and sheer altitude makes Tignes one of the most snow-sure resorts in Europe.
Where to stay
Proximity to such prolific powder also means you don't get as much for your dollar as you would lower down in Europe. So don't expect too much space from your rental in Val Claret (and don't be surprised by quickly dwindling availability the closer it gets to the X Games). Then again, if luxury is your thing, Tignes also caters to that. Both the L'Écrin des Neiges in Val Claret and The Village Montana in Le Lac provide pampering for those who like to go all out. Check out Tignes.co.uk, a great accommodation company that rents out apartments on a weekly basis and also provides airport transfers.
If you want to plug into the shred mainline at Tignes, there is only one choice: the Dragon Lodge, a snowboard institution owned by the legendary John Bassett. The Lodge is run by the seasonaires-in-the-know with a heap of experience under their belts and the best advice on everything from snow conditions to the best nightspots in Tignes. They're stoked to make sure guests see the best of Tignes both on and off the mountain.
You can't hit the French Alps without checking out fondue. Tignes has an array of fine fondue purveyors, with the finest on offer at La Ferme, a rustic French eatery in Le Lavachet where they make their own cheese on site. Make sure to head to the back of the restaurant to get a glimpse of the farm animals chowing down on some hay.
Breaking the mold is Tignes Cuisine, Tignes' coolest place to hang out while eating fresh global comestibles -- think sushi meets Thai. Lunchtime sees a simple menu that'll fill your boots (chicken noodles are off the chain) while not breaking the bank, while at night things get stepped up a notch with an extended menu of incredible curries (massaman is a personal favorite) available to eat in, take away or have delivered to your hotel or apartment.
Being so close to Italy, you can guarantee a good pizza in almost every venue. But for some truly authentic Italian cuisine, head to the Jam Bar. Delphine and Rocco make the best coffee in town, plus they grill a mean Italian bruschetta and create world-class pastas right in front of your eyes.
Burger fans should slide into TC's Bar. TC is a local legend and has had this place for 11 years. He's a giant of a man, well over 6-foot-10 and built like Hagrid. Tell him a joke: If he laughs, he'll give you a shooter. Also home to the TC Jib Fest, you can be sure his mini-shred park shapers will have something exciting lined up for X Games week. At TC's, his mum's secret recipe makes for a knockout menu.
Other favorites include the Marmot Arms, whose weekly special always blows minds, and the Loop Bar in Le Lac; as well as putting on the best après in town, they make a mean chili burger and have some great food deals to provide some ballast.
Other things to look out for in Tignes include Tignes Spirit, a high-end snow-services company that will help you arrange lodging, lessons and transportation and will even deliver gear rentals to your chalet door. SuperRad snowboard school is also a popular newcomer with a fresh, fun and innovative look at snowboard instruction. Done riding? Kick it at Tignes' swimming pool, The Lagoon, made to look like a rock face and with views out across the frozen lake and onto a famous Tignes freeride spot, The Fingers.
Rendez-vous à Tignes!