Watch: Ski Sunday’s Graham Bell takes on his favourite black run in France

Advice

Ski Sunday presenter and ex-Olympic downhill ski racer Graham Bell knows a great run when he skis one.

That’s why Telegraph Ski and Snowboard asked him to pick stand-out runs from around the world and talk us down each one – all the while filming himself navigating them on skis.

From much-loved pistes to infamous off-piste routes, Bell selected only the finest runs for this video series. So far he’s tackled a number of French favourites including the Grand Couloir run in Courchevel and the Face de Bellevarde (La Face) black run in Val d’Isère as well as Austria’s steepest piste the Harakiri in Mayrhofen, his favourite run in Kitzbühel and one of the most scenic routes in Italy, the Lagazuoi piste in Cortina d’Ampezzo. He’s also taken us heliskiing in Alagna, revealed the secret side of Austrian party hot spot Ischgl and navigated the run that another Austrian resort, Saalbach, hopes will win it the chance to host the 2025 World Championships.

For his latest instalment the Ski Sunday presenter is back in another French favourite, Tignes, which shares a 300km ski area with Val d’Isère. A high-altitude setting and enviable snow record makes Tignes one of the most snow-dependable winter destinations in France, with a long season that starts in November. This is boosted by its Grande Motte glacier, which opens for summer and autumn skiing as well as in winter. 

But the purpose of Graham’s visit isn’t to check out the glacier, he’s there to share a favourite black piste, Johan Clarey, renamed last season after the Tignes-born ski racer, who has recorded the fastest ever skiing speed in a World Cup race.

graham bell tignes

Bell heads to Tovière at 2,704m to begin his descent

The 39-year-old Frenchman made his racing debut aged 22, and has racked up several medals in World Cup and World Championship super-G and downhill races since, including this season. But, Graham explains, “Clarey is probably most famous for setting the top speed in a downhill race, down the Hannegschuss in Wengen; he went over 100 miles an hour.” 

The Hannegschuss is the fastest section of the Lauberhorn World Cup run in Wengen, Switzerland, one of the most famous descents in ski racing, and Clarey set the record on the course in 2013. 

While he may not quite reach Clarey’s record-breaking 100mph, part of the reason he’s chosen this run is that it is usually quiet, so there’s a real chance to pick up some of the speed that Graham, as a five-time Winter Olympian, loves as much as Johan Clarey himself.

Starting his run from Tovière at 2,704m, Graham takes us all the way down to Tignes Le Lac at 2,100m. Le Lac is one of Tignes’ five villages, close to lively Val Claret and quieter Le Lavachet, the three collectively known as Tignes 2100, with purpose-built accommodation that’s very convenient for the lifts.  

Holidaying skiers and snowboarders also have the option of staying in lower-altitude and more villagey Tignes 1800 (aka Les Boisses) and Les Brévières (1,550m), with gondola lifts into the ski area. 

We join Graham as he speeds down the red Combe Folle piste from Tovière in the sun, to the approach the black Johan Clarey, when the sun starts to disappear. “This run is west facing,” Graham says of Johan Clarey, “so it stays in the shade for most of the day.”

Tignes

Tignes is one of the most snow-sure resorts in the Alps

Credit:
tignes

Both runs look immaculately and smoothly groomed – until Bell takes us over a rise to the steepest part of Clarey, and is faced with bumps, since the run hasn’t been groomed by piste bashers overnight. Naturally he skis them barely losing a breath – and then, over another rise, says, with obvious excitement, that this is the point where “you can really let the speed run, just absolutely fly”!

As well as being in the shade, which means it will keep its snow well, Graham tells us that the Johan Clarey run is also special because not many skiers come down it, which is why, if it’s empty, there’s the chance to really open the throttle. 

As Le Lac comes into view below, this is ably demonstrated by Graham as he hurtles down the final, thrilling, straight-line descent to the village, before whizzing through the safety net chicane at the bottom – laughing with the fun of it as he does so – and, as befits a true Winter Olympian, calmly drawing to a halt by the gondola lift back up to Tovière. Bravo!

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