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Ice diving beneath Lac de Tignes

I’m in Val Claret for the week, the ski resort just above Tignes where I have been coming for 20+ years for a pre-Christmas boost of unrepentant, politically incorrect downhill ski-ing. I keep thinking I should grow out of this, but I constantly rediscover that I am still addicted.

Most lunchtime stops are a bowl of soup in a mountain restaurant, but today was different. I had decided to try ice-diving under Lac de Tignes, with Evolution 2 and it was completely unlike anything I have ever experienced. I mean, I have dived before, but in warm water and maybe a wet suit, not under an ice ceiling in a dry suit having arrived on skis and departing shortly after, also on skis, but winded: because of the high altitude (2100m/7000ft) and low temperature, the regulator delivers less air than you expect, and would freeze if turned up to a normal setting. So you suck air, greedily. And wear blue rubber gloves that are locked on at the wrists.

Courtesy of Evolution 2 and marinebio.com, here are a couple of pictures. They aren't actually of me, but easily could be as everybody looks the same in a dry suit and full-face mask:



The colours are extraordinary. The air bubbles trapped underneath the ice take on the curiously convex, reflective quality of mercury. Unlike when sea diving, there was no fish life nor live corals to view. I was certainly not cold, nor even faintly damp nor frightened. But it was as different from the world of lift queues, après-ski and pisted fluency as outer space.

The instructor holds on to you at first, all part of the beginner treatment, but then asks (in sign language) if you prefer him to let go. Of course I did, but it wasn’t nearly as easy as sea diving, where I am very much within my comfort zone. I found myself fighting the buoyancy and striving to stay upright. I would probably be more competent next time around, but I’m not sure if I need to do it again.

Of one thing I am certain: I will never again look at the blank surface of Lac de Tignes in quite the same incurious way. Now I know what lies beneath, there is literally a whole new dimension on the familiar mountain experience.


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