My parents having keenly advanced from their Levi and washing up glove days, I’ve been lucky enough to ski at a few different resorts around the world. I remember Hakuba for its pristine canteens, where lunch breaks would see hundreds of Japanese skiers slumped on tables as though in a nuclear fallout scene from a Stephen King film (ah if only we could all master the Asian power nap!). Vail had the gingerbread clock-tower and ice-rink, though my most distinct memory is being asked to flash for Mardi Gras beads on a chairlift (like that was going to happen at -14°C!)
Varsity at Tignes was my first experience of the French ski resort. Aside from the size and snow coverage, I definitely noticed a lot of differences from Australian ski resorts. Based on my single experience of this single French resort, allow me to make a bunch of sweeping generalisations:
Staff and safety on the slopes
Australian resorts seem a lot more relaxed than their Euro counterparts. Even the run names (Dog Leg, Devil’s Playground, Lover’s Leap) are cheeky, where the Tignes trails (Rosolin, Leisse) sound like prim medieval princesses. One thing Aussie resorts do take seriously, though, is snow safety. If someone struggles to get on a chairlift, the whole thing shuts down for 15 minutes. T-bars will be guided right under your butt-cheeks and a Liftie will send you off with a chipper, ‘Ready, Steady, Baked Spaghetti!’ There is more signage than snow coverage; you can’t ski more than a minute without encountering the Alpine Responsibility Code, Slow Zone or vigilant Ski Patrol.
In Tignes, however, I saw at least a dozen first-time skiers clattering unsteadily off the chairlifts (or just going around in infinite circles like an abandoned suitcase at baggage return because they couldn’t work out how to get off). With no-one staffing the T-bar, you’re forced to grab it yourself, and either huff-and-puff until you can manoeuvre it behind you…or just end being dragged behind it. The Slow Zones were definitely not enforced (though that may just have been because certain people wiped out the signs).
Friendliness on the slopes
In Australia, people are very chatty. You’d never catch a T-bar by yourself; rather, you’d bellow, ‘Any singles?’ to get a giggle from the crowd and (hopefully an attractive) lift buddy to share your up-slope journey. Chairlift rides are also treated as prime convo time (…and notice they’re a similar length to speed-dating cycles?). In Tignes, there is a lot of solo-riding. Whether because of cold temperature or cold disposition, people also keep their goggles on and neckwarmers drawn up on lifts so you feel like you’re having a conversation (read: awkwardly unreciprocated monologue) with the Stig.
Drinking and dining
Lunch every day on the Tignes slopes was a joy. At Le Panoramic, everything was fur and sheepskin covered. The waitstaff wore chocolate-coloured berets and served a stunning array of tartiflettes, salads with smoked fish and roasted vegetables, crème brulees, galettes and cherry tarts. Steaming vin chaud was doled out by the carafe. In Australia, the only thing draped over the plastic tables and chairs is sweaty ski gear and hungover teenagers. The bar staff are more likely to wear hobo beanies and last night’s makeup than a chic uniform, and your choice is between burger (with pineapple ring and bacon if you’re fancy), hotdog and fries. Pitchers of beer replace vin chaud, though I’m sure you could get some microwaved Ribena if you asked nicely.