World's LARGEST open-air Gondola

World's LARGEST open-air Gondola

Crystal-clear views of Mont Blanc to my right, the Vanoise National Park to my left and the Grand Motte glacier below – these are views often saved only for paragliders, pilots and soaring birds of prey, but you can experience it in the world's largest open-air cable car!

Replacing an older lift, the cable car has two cabins and provides access to the top of the Grand Motte glacier at 3,456m. But the addition of the viewing terrace on each makes for a revolutionary ride.

During the five-minute journey from the starting station, next to the Panoramic restaurant, to the top of the glacier those lucky enough to ascend the spiral staircase onto the roof deck, made secure by shoulder-height safety rails and transparent perspex, are blessed with stunning views of the Alps.

This means they are able to run the lift at full speed, transporting 1,000 people per hour, and reducing the risk of queues building up to access the resort’s high slopes.

Downstairs the two new cabins have space for up to 100 passengers each and are prime examples of modern lift technology. Designed in Switzerland by Garaventa AG the gondola has the latest safety technology plus floor-to-ceiling windows and a slick modern outer shell.

The opening of the new lift is the first phase of a three-year €17 million development called Altitude Experiences. The updated departure station for the Tignes funicular in Val Claret, which has been transformed with a sleek modern design decorated with information points about the glacier and the surrounding National Park.

On completion in 2020 the Altitude Experiences project will also feature a new arrival station at the top of the funicular, The Bearded Vulture’s Flight bridge – an extended platform hovering 500m in the air next to the Panoramic restaurant – and The Alpine Ibex Observation Deck, a 15-meter curved footbridge above the glacier.

The project is a collaboration between STGM, the Vanoise National Park and the resorts and is the first of its kind.

“We’ve never managed a project of this magnitude before, for us it’s a first,” said Nicolas Provendie, director of STGM.

“The challenge is to turn visits into an opportunity to build awareness for the environment,” said Eva Aliacar, director of the Vanoise National Park.

The entire project is aimed at promoting and educating visitors about the natural habitat they are in, its fragile nature and how it can be protected. Posters and signs will be erected both in the new funicular stations and on the viewing deck and bridge, which will point out particular areas of concern and challenges that the surrounding mountainous areas face, due to global warming.

“The glacier is also an extremely sensitive area. It is a ski area that is both in the heart of the Vanoise National Park, in the heart of the Tignes-Champagny Nature Reserve and partially in the Natura 2000 area,” said Provendie.

“It’s a win, win project,” said Dominique Marcel, chairman and chief executive of of Compagnie des Alpes, the company that operates some of the biggest resorts in the French Alps.

“Firstly it strengthens the attractiveness of the site and helps to promote and protect the landscape.

“We are well aware of the consequences of global warming on our business. We must spend our money in the right places and prepare a number of action plans to face this challenge,” said Marcel.

To ensure the impact on the environment of this multi-million-Euro project is kept to a minimum all building and infrastructure have been made reversible, so it can be deconstructed without leaving any permanent marks on the site. No new areas of the mountain have been disturbed during the building process and STGM has promised a huge clean-up operation will be carried out every summer, over the next three years, to remove left over waste and obsolete pieces of equipment on the glacier.

The effects of climate change on high-altitude resorts like Tignes was evident on the day of the lift opening. The resort had planned to open the slopes on the glacier the following day, but as I stood on top of the terrace and looked down at the area below, the surface remained bare, with rocks and crevasses exposed. Following a very hot summer, which caused the deep snow coverage remaining from last season to melt, and a dry autumn, which prevented any new snow from falling, the resort has had to postpone its opening.

Article Credit: Lucy Aspden,