Summer Ski Plus 2011 - Fresh snow and great fun in Tignes


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Skiing in the summer - what's that all about then?

It was the outright stares as I walked across Terminal 1 at Heathrow that made me realise what an odd sight I must have been. Actually, not so much me but the ski bag I was wheeling across the concourse was the odd sight. Check-in at the Swiss desk resulted in a quizzical look, but it was depositing the skis at Oversize Luggage that led to the inevitable question: skiing in the summer - what's that all about then?

I was travelling from Heathrow to Geneva for a week's skiing in Tignes, which is one of a handful of places in Europe that offers glacier-based summer skiing. It was my first experience of summer skiing, so I was also keen to learn what it was all about. I was taking the trip to coach on a couple of Summer Skiing Clinics run by the Inside Out Ski Club. The piste network on the Grand Motte glacier in Tignes offers a good range of terrain for training purposes, from gentle blues to steepish red/gentle black. There is also a small snowpark for freestyle fun, and usually a bumps run but set up as a World Cup rut line so not for the faint-hearted (or weak-kneed).

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The Inside Out Ski Club was based on the Hotel Les Melezes in Tignes Les Boisses, operated by our accommodation partner Mountain Sun Ltd. In the winter it is usually possible to ski back to the hotel, but in the summer it was cows rather than piste markers that dotted the terrain. It is interesting to see the resort in the summer, with green fields and walking trails where you normally see pistes, and fisherman wading in the lake shallows rather than nordic skiers striding across the ice.

A typical day means a fairly early start. The first funicular up to the glacier is at 7.15am and is a good way to ensure the best snow of the day, but we aimed for a slightly more civilised 8am departure from our hotel. We had timed our trip for the opening of the summer ski season which offered two advantages: it is likely to have the best of the snow conditions, and the glacier would be quiet as not many junior race clubs would be training. It's a short minibus ride from the hotel to the base station at Val Claret, then a 15 minute ride up the hill on the underground funicular. It's a bit like travelling on London Undergound's Northern Line, but your destination is normally more enjoyable than a day on the office! From the top of the funicular you have a few uplift options: the Grand Motte cable car which takes you to the high point on the glacier (3,600m), three chairlifts or three t-bars.

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At this time of year queues are non-existent, so it's very quick to lap around on whatever piste you choose. With relatively limited terrain there is the possibility of boredom beginning to creep in after a short time, but if you have a focus for your skiing (such as being on a training course or working on a particular things) the glacier provides the perfect location for skiing at a time of year when most skiers are only dreaming about next winter. Even on the weekend there were probably no more than 100 people skiing on the glacier, including the Inside Out club, a couple of junior race clubs and a large group of French trainee ski instructors. It was interesting to see that we were often using the same sets of ski drills to develop our skiing, although the kiddie racers tended to do things at a slightly higher speed!

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Typically summer skiing is a morning-only activity as by midday the temperature, even at 3,500m, means the snow starts to soften and it can get very slushy. But with an early start it's still possible to get a good five hour's skiing in, and still have the rest of the day to sample some of the mountain activities that are available at this time of year. We tried a range of things, from walking around what would be pistes in the winter, a bit of mountain biking, a terrific afternoon of via ferrata (assisted rock climbing), and probably the highlight of the trip: whitewater rafting down the valley at Bourg St Maurice. All this made for a very full three days, and as one of our club members said, "it feels like I've been away for at least a week already!"

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It was clear that such a special trip deserves a regular place on our calendar of coaching holidays, so we'll be heading back to Tignes in June 2012. Can hardly wait...

To see the gallery of photos from our Summer Ski Plus trip please click here.

Photo credits: Rob Rees, Jason Gibson, Emmeline Cane-Honeysett, FranceRaft