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Tignes: Adventures on ice

The course supervisor throws out a gloved hand in front of us. “Wait!” she barks. Like children at a busy roadside, we stop, look left and right and listen. Nothing. It seems clear. We start to shuffle forwards across the icy track towards the row of two-seater dune buggies on the other side. But again the glove stops us.

Tignes: Adventures on ice

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Muffled snarls of a turbo-charged monster are rising from the depths of the snow labyrinth.

Seconds later, it’s upon us. A Subaru Impreza, sliding sideways in a wide arc through the apex, tyres a blur of black and white as they struggle for grip. For a split second I glimpse a face on the passenger side as the vehicle powers past us — frozen halfway between terror and elation. And then, with a throaty gurgle of throttle, it disappears back into the ice maze, and it’s silent again. The glove beckons us on. “Everybody across. Quickly!”

I’d tried go-karting before, on a stag do. Haring round corners inches off the ground like Super Mario. But that was on tarmac; the tightly coiled gulleys of the Tignes les Brévières circuit are frozen water. And our vehicles, it seems, are rusty, battered bed frames with beach buggy wheels. This would be Mad Max on ice.

We pair up and I squeeze into the passenger seat and strap in. As the engines splutter to life, I can’t hear the marshal’s words but his gestures are loud and clear: go with the right pedal, stop with the left; stick a limb over the side… it’s coming off.

And with that, we lurch forward down the straight. After a lifetime of warnings never to make a journey on icy roads unless absolutely necessary, all my instincts rebel as we accelerate into blind bends, feeling hopelessly exposed in the open chassis as we bump and skid inches past the other buggies, yet I’m laughing hysterically — even trading good-natured insults as we pass stricken rivals embedded at an odd angles in the frozen perimeter.

I yell to my colleague — hunched over the wheel, limbs rigid, face a clenched mask of determination — that he looks like a pro — like a rally driver. He shouts back that this is due to a lack of coat and gloves. (It’s -6C but feels positively Arctic at 20mph.) Nevertheless, I’m confident the adrenalin — and the Bond-esque views — must be numbing his pain. On the horizon, rearing up 600ft from the valley floor is the monstrous concrete mouth of hydroelectric dam Barrage de Tignes, holding back 230 million cubic metres of water. To the right of us, on the Alpine face, skiers shimmy down the resort’s black run. On the same slopes, through the window of our minibus, we’d earlier glimpsed a family of ibex nibbling shoots beneath the 15ft icicles of a frozen waterfall.

My stint behind the wheel gives us further opportunities to admire the panorama. I learn the hard way that the buggy demands brute force with the steering wheel and a surgeon’s sensitivity on the pedals. It’s our turn to soak up the abuse as we sit waiting for the marshal to scramble to our rescue.