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Summer Skiing: European Glacier Skiing


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There may be no better way to spend $60 than summer skiing on the spectacular La Grande Motte glacier above Tignes, France. For roughly that amount of francs, you can get two hot meals, a warm bed with a view of the run where Donna Weinbrecht won the first Olympic mogul gold in 1992 and a lift ticket to ski thousands of acres of terrain.

Tignes includes several villages at altitudes from 5,000 to 7,000 feet. Val-Claret is the highest, and it also provides the easiest access to the glacier. From Val-Claret you first must survive the aggressive queue at the underground funicular, which climbs 10,000 linear feet in just six minutes, disgorging skiers and riders at a mid-mountain restaurant with 270-degree views (the food, alas, doesn’t quite match the scenery). From there, a tram rises to the 11,343-foot summit of La Grande Motte, while several drag lifts fan out above and below in three directions. Last fall, the French national team was running full-length downhill on 2,000-plus feet of vertical, and there was plenty of air time being logged in an assortment of halfpipes and terrain parks. While ski racers and freeriders tend to dominate the scene, there is enough elbow room and gentle terrain for recreational skiers: Just don’t expect to be pampered in a T-bar lift line with members of the French junior national team. Cross-country skiing is also available, and you shouldn’t miss the para-skiing activity.

Tignes, which hosted the freestyle events of the 1992 Albertville Olympics, is an unfortunate example of the French concrete ski architecture of the Seventies, which placed little importance on style or human scale. While the resort is still not known for ambience, there has been a concerted effort to make the village more people-friendly. The Hotel Diva is located in the center of Val-Claret, and offered the aforementioned $60 stay, ski and eat package last fall. Tignes’ villages include several restaurants, shops and Europe’s highest bowling alley. There is also a golf course and a lake. Just a few minutes away is the historic village of Val d’Isère, the home of Jean-Claude Killy and the antithesis of Tignes. In the winter, the two are connected by ski runs, creating the massive Espace Killy, which boasts 97 lifts.

Tignes is just one example of European summer glacier skiing, which is far more vast than its North American counterpart. Resorts such as Innsbruck, Sölden, Kaprun and Hintertux in Austria and Saas Fee and Zermatt in Switzerland offer summer terrain that is equal to that of a medium-sized North American ski area in the winter.

The Stubai Glacier, about 40 minutes above Innsbruck, is arguably one of the two or three finest in the world. It has to be in order to lure anyone up from Innsbruck, a city of 130,000 that has enough culture to fill a week-long vacation. Innsbruck has far too many museums, theaters and concert halls to be narrowly niched as a ski town. But it has hosted the Winter Olympics twice (’64 and ’76), and there are six nearby ski areas, including Stubai, that share a common lift ticket.

Stubai has 19 lifts, a new high-speed six-pack, a summit elevation of almost 11,000 feet and a single run that stretches nearly nine miles. The snow is reliable, and the scene vibrates with skiers, snowboarders and terrain park freeriders. The pitch of the hill is best suited for intermediates, though there are some black-diamonds. Innsbruck is hard to pass up as a lodging choice, but the traditional Tirolean village of Neustift, just 12 miles from the glacier, is an attractive alternative.

European glacier skiing may not be reason enough for a trip abroad, but it makes for an attractive diversion. Rentals of all kinds-from skis to ski suits-are available at most glacier resorts, allowing you to get a head start on the next ski season. Plus, your newfound glacier savvy will provide relief in a bad snow year: If it fails to snow in Europe during your next winter visit, a sidetrip to a glacier can savee your vacation-and skis

Contact the Tignes tourist office at 011-33-479-400440; email, or visit The Innsbruck tourist office is at 011-43-512-59850; email; website The Neustift tourism office is at 011-43-522-62228; website; email

Ski Las Lenas, Argentina with Dave Swanwick and Kim Reichhelm.