Tignes and Val d’Isere are two of the biggest resorts in the Tarentaise Valley. With about 300km of pistes, two glaciers, and about 90 ski lifts, the Espace Killy’s legendary histories include the likes of the 1992 Winter Olympic Games, the 1992 Winter Paralympic Games, and the 2009 World Championships.
The two valleys have a deep and interesting past, so indulge yourself into this brief history of the Espace Killy and understand the mountains you ski on in a whole new light.
In the 13th Century, the original villages of Les Brenieres and Tignes were built. They were established as farming communities but also profited from smuggling between France and Italy.
After the second world war, France decided to take advantage of the site and build a hydro-electric dam. The mass construction, which still towers over the valley today, was built at the price of drowning the old Tignes village in 1952 and submerging it underwater for good. Unsurprisingly, there was a great deal of resistance from the village which shaped an interesting political time in the valley. Many stories about the flooding of the village speak of ‘the lady of the lake’ who refused to be moved from her house for the creation of the dam and was subsequently drowned as she clung on to her home. However, this is now understood not to be true. But the legend does live on and there is even a statue of the woman looking over the lake and her lost village.
The village is still present deep beneath the lake – Le Lac du Chevril – and is only seen every ten years when the dam is drained for maintenance. To restore a piece of its history, a replica of the original Tignes church’s spire was built in Les Brevieres, and the church building was replicated in the village of Les Boisses.
The dam was decorated with a painting of Hercules in 1989 by Jean-Marie Pierret with the assistance of eight mountain climbers, funded by private corporations interested in giving the Olympic Winter Games of 1992 a marketing boost.
While other forms of generating electricity have been invented since its creation, the hydro-electric system still generates 4000mW per year for the national grid – enough electricity to power a city the size of Grenoble.
And despite the unfortunate loss of the original village, the dam did generate a fair bit of money. This financial boost meant the region could be made into the world-famous ski resort that it is today.
In 1967, the development of the resort was handed to Pierre Schnebelen, who went on to build out the valley with lifts, hotels, apartments, and restaurants. However, Schnebelen went bankrupted and this, along with the devastating avalanche of 1970, meant his job was stripped from him and later passed on to the Compagnie des Alpes in the 1980s. This company still controls the resort to this day.
Modern day Tignes is now made up of five main villages: Tignes Val Claret, Tignes le Lac, Le Lavachet, Tignes Les Boisses and Tignes-les-Brévières. The original village of Les Brenieres is now called Les Brevieres and remains the only part of the original Tignes villages, giving it the reputation as the prettiest village in Tignes.
The main power generation plant from the dam in Bourg St Maurice has been upgraded recently after over 50 years of continuous use, and is used to fuel all sorts of things, including tesla cars for journeys up to resort!
Humans have inhabited the region of Val d’Isere since before the Roman times. The mountains gave people the appeal of security, a good water source, and a good place to farm.
Fast forward years of being a largely derelict community, in 1637 the town gained parish rights and had its parish church built in 1664. This church still remains the landmark of the town.
When the first hotel was built in 1888 – L’Hotel Parisien – tourism began to take off in Val d’Isere.
It’s transformation into a ski resort began in the 1930s when the Alsatian industrialist Charles Diebold took hold. A drag lift was built on the Solaise slopes, which was later followed by the resort’s first cable car. Diebold opened his first ski school between 1936 and 1937, at which time Austrian instructors began to travel into the region to offer lessons.
Following the creation of the ski school, the road to the Col de l’Iseran was opened, enabling the village to be open during winter and summer. And as the years went on, the village gradually became established as a world-famous ski resort.
After the war, French industrialist Jacques Mouflier joined Diebold and the mayor Nicolas Bazile to put a new push on the development of Val d’Isere as a ski resort. From there, the size and population of the resort accelerated, and the economy boomed.
In 1947, Diebold launched the Spring Prize which soon became a major sporting event, later becoming known as The Criterium of the First Snow. The resort also hosts the Alpine Ski World Cup every year, and previously hosted the Olympic Winter Games and the Paralympic Winter Games in 1992, and the Third International Ski Congress in 1954.
From 1942 to 1956 the population of Val d’Isere more than doubled. The creation of the National Park of Vanoise in 1963 also brought a new element of appeal for holiday goers.
In 1968, Val d’Isere resident Jean-Claude Killy won three gold medals at the Olympic Games in Grenoble by winning the downhill, the giant and the slalom. In his honour, the region of Tignes and Val d’Isere were named the Espace Killy.
Over the past decades, the resort has grown in size and popularity and is one of the most famous resorts in the world.
The modern Espace Killy is famous world-wide for its size, and great links across the valley making it a vast and incredible ski resort. It is also famous for having some of the best apres ski in the world.