La Grave Review
Located in the Southern French Alps, La Grave isn’t your typical ski resort. In the shadow of La Meije (3982m), La Grave is widely known for its amazing off-piste opportunities and being suitable for only the best skiers. With a mere 2 marked pistes, what makes La Grave so unique is that it is completely up to you to navigate the rest of your way down the mountain. However, La Grave does come with its risks; we recommend you don’t ski it on your own (as with all off-piste) and that you employ the services of the excellent local guides at all times. It is an unpatrolled, high mountain region with many lethal dangers. We discovered that La Grave isn’t the sort of place you’d go to for a 5 star hotel, but it does offer some cheap and cheerful accomodation nonetheless. Instead of a spider web of lifts disfiguring the landscape, there is a single tramway and a couple draglifts. La Grave really is the place to go to escape the concrete jungles and enjoying skiing at its purest.
• Great for experts – Nothing quite as challenging as having to navigate yourself down a mountain.
• Small Resort – People come to La Grave for one thing and one thing only, the skiing; no posers just skiing.
• A mecca for off-piste skiing – almost unlimited backcountry to ski on.
• 2150m of vertical decent.
• Not for the faint hearted – a serious amount of experience and guts is needed to navigate yourself through trees and rocks completely off-piste.
• Not at all suitable for beginners.
• Lack of an après-ski – there are no clubs that the larger resorts offer, however what La Grave does offer is a nightlife where serious skiers get together to talk about what they love, skiing.
• Powder monkeys – the off-piste opportunities makes La Grave one the top ski destinations for those crave fresh powder.
• Those who are fussed about where they stay or what shops the village has to offer.
• Those who want to stay in an actual ski village rather than a modern purpose built one.
• Beginners- not the place to go if you are looking for a few gentle slopes to ease you in.
• Those after a huge après-ski scene – as mentioned before La Grave is not famed for its selection of nightclubs.
• Families – La Grave only has two marked pistes and even those are at the very top of the mountain.
Ski Lift Capacity: – The 3 Ski Lifts in La Grave are able to uplift 450 skiers / snowboarders per hour.
There are three airports within two hours drive, so ski weekends, snowboard breaks and short ski holidays to La Grave are perfectly feasible.
Skiing in La Grave
La Grave is a legendary off piste ski destination with very little pisted terrain. Officially there are 12km (7 miles) of prepared terrain, graded either easy or intermediate but this is made up of several very small and basic areas with a couple of drag lifts each and a blue run at the top of the long two-stage gondola which ascends a remarkable 1,750 metres from the village at 1,450m to 3,200m. The blue run is use to make the link over to the huge ski area of neighbouring Les 2 Alpes. However few folk come here to use that service, most are here for the infamous off piste.
La Grave has held its place as an off piste mecca for many decades now. The village is said to have changed little in the 900 years it has stood there and the same can be said for the ski area. There are dozens of legendary descents, the longest being 2,400 metres. These include lÓrciére de Droites which descends from the Dome de la Lauze at 3550m. Those who do attempt it need to be prepared with risks involving avoiding crevasses, avalanches and probable wind slab; skiers and boarders attempting it needs route finding skills to successfully get down its complex route – as well as ropes and a harness for one part.
Before leaving the top lift station you should have a good idea of your route down. There are two primary itineraries; the Vallons de Chancel and the Vallons de la Meije – either side of the ridge on which the telecabin is installed. Vallons de Chancel provides the easier run but both options offer spectacular off-piste descents with a mixture of steep, open powder fields and (lower down) forest. Access to each valley requires initial care through fairly narrow, sometimes rocky, entry points. The common route into Vallons de la Meije requires negotiation of a fairly steep scree slope with an entry that can be narrow.
The start of either run should be enough to get the pulse racing but from then on your guide can choose a specific route to suit your preferences and ability. Cliff drops and steep, narrow couloirs are available for those that wish (or those who ski without a guide!) but good snow conditions should see you enjoying powder all the way down to the tree line where trails will take you back to P1 or the village.
Snowboarding in La Grave
Natural terrain creates a freestyle paradise for boarders. There’s no park or pipes for boarders, just a dream world of unlimited natural hits for those already technically gifted off-piste. Beginners should stay on the short piste at le Chazelet or le Lautaret.
La Grave Aprés Ski
La Grave is not a good choice if you’re looking for buzzing night life. If you’re happy to share a few (probably quiet) beers with some serious skiers and boarders then you shouldn’t be disappointed. Believe it or not there is an O’Neills Irish theme pub, which along with the Glaciers Bar and Les Vallons are usually the livelier of the half dozen choices available. However, unsurprisingly there are no nightclubs.