La Grave Ski Resort

A small village in the French Alps, La Grave makes all other ski resorts seem tame. Across most of its ski area there are no gates, piste markers, patrols or avalanche-protection: just steep North-facing slopes with a vertical drop of over 2,000m (about 7,000 feet) and enough ‘ski sauvage’ to challenge even the most experienced off-piste skiers and freeriders.

Many ski resorts offer something for everyone, but not La Grave. If the words “off-piste”, “backcountry skiing”, “freeriding”, “piste hors”, and “ski touring” mean nothing to you, or fill you with dread, then don’t come here. There are few lifts and even fewer pistes; the nightlife is rudimentary; and the village has no nightclubs or famous restaurants. And yet each winter thousands of the most knowledgeable and experienced skiers on the planet choose to holiday here and take the small-capacity pulse-gondola lift up from the village at 1450m to over 3,000m, and then a chairlift, which ascends to nearly 3,600m.

There are very few clues on the piste map as to why they come. It features a solitary blue piste and two ungroomed intineraries that are neither patrolled nor avalanche-protected. The real draw, however, is what is not on the map: the long off-piste descents, often partly through steep and narrow couloirs, back to La Grave or other points along its valley road from where you return to the village by bus or taxi; or even longer runs ‘off the back’ to St Christophe and its valley, from where you return to Les Deux Alpes, to which la Grave is linked by a primitive snowcat tow.

And that really is it, skiing-wise. You can, of course, spend time in Les Deux Alpes which has proper pistes and lifts, but if you want to do this regularly you would be better off staying there. There is also a small beginners-focused ski area on the other side of La Grave at Le Chazelet but this is of no interest to most of the skiers who come to La Grave. Much more useful is nearby Serre-Chevalierjust 30 minutes’ away by car, which has some of the best tree skiing in Europe, and provides welcome relief when the weather is poor.

The village of La Grave, whilst unlikely to adorn a chocolate box, is welcoming and set in a scenic location beneath the towering La Meije mountain. There are some good value places to stay in, and a few cosy bars and basic restaurants, usually filled with like-minded off-piste enthusiasts. There are also lots of ski guides, and you are strongly advised to use them if you want leave in one piece.

La Grave Pros & Cons

+ Superb off-piste skiing with a guide

+ Welcoming traditional village

+ Link to Les Deux Alpes

+ Relatively short drive to Serre Chevalier

– For off-piste fans only

– Through road can get busy

– The main gondola is old and slow

– Infrequent buses to other resorts.

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La Grave Ski Area

In the shadow of La Meije, the last major Alpine paek to be conquered by climbers, La Grave's vast snowfields, high glaciers, giant seracs, difficult moraine fields, and menacing couloirs can bring true exhilaration - and its less welcome companion, danger.
La Grave is capable of providing even the most experienced skiers and snow boarders with a fresh sense of wonder but it demands the utmost respect. "You need a good dose of humility and responsibility" to ski here, according to the resort. Crevasses and avalanches are always a threat, and it makes excellent sense to hire a guide. Some itineraries, particularly in reaching some of the more technical couloirs, may require the use of climbing equipment. As Francis Ginet and Fabrice Villaret, authors of a booklet describing the off-piste possibilities in the region, stress: "The quality of the snow may make certain usually very safe slopes dangerous for several days. A slope that was good and safe yesterday won't necessarily be so tomorrow." And readers are reminded: "skiing in the wilds should never be confused with wild skiing."
There are no groomed runs, but the two main routes down, Chancel and the steeper Vallons de la Meije, are marked both on the map and on the ground, and are skied so often that they are piste-like, at least in places, so if there is anywhere on the mountain that interemediates can cope with, it's these runs. Although there is no formal ski patrol as such, there is a patrouilleur stationed in a wooden hut near the gondola station who will give you advice about the mountain and current conditions.
There used to be a third marked run - Pylônes - but it has now been removed from the map. It's steeper than the other two and, unsurprisingly, follows the route of the pylons. 
But once you stray from these routes, you need to know exactly what you're doing, where you're going and what equipment you need. In practical terms, that means hiring a guide. (Strictly speaking you should hire a guide just to do the marked itineraries, and that is definitely the safest thing to do, but most skiers don't.) Your guide can then show you routes down to La Grave and the valley road approaching it (which are mostly North-facing) or  runs off the back towards St Christophe, which are mostly South-facing.
There also also plenty more skiing, on-piste and off-piste, in Les Deux Alpes which you can ski over to from La Grave's top lift, Return is by the snowcat tow or via a 20 minute hike. There are some buses between the two villages, but not many.
Serre-Chevalier is just a half-hour's drive away from La Grave and has excellent tree skiing which provides a welcome change in poor visibility. Again there are some public buses between La Grave and Le Monetier, the nearest lift-station in Serre Chevalier, but not many. Most La Grave lift passes entitle you to a discount on the Serre Chevalier lift pass. 
Near to La Grave, and well connected by buses, is the small village of Le Chazelet which has some good, sunny beginners slopes, and some La Grave lift passes entitle you to use them, or at least give you a discount. But whilst these slopes are geographically close to La Grave's thay are a world away in terms of steepness, so very few skiers spend time in both areas. 

La Grave Ski Lifts & Lift Passes

La Grave's lift system is limited to a two-stage gondola and a couple of T-bars. The La Grave - la Meije lift pass entitles the holder to either free or discounted skiing at Les Deux Alpes, Alpe d'Huez and Serre Chevalier, subject to conditions.

La Grave's lifts

The main slopes in La Grave are served by a 'stopping-and-starting pulse' six-seat gondola in clusters of five which take about half an hour to reach their final destination. They stop at P1 at 1800m, and Peyrou d'Amont at 2400m. Technically it's described as a two stage gondola because the P1 stop does not involve a change of gondola. There is also a modern chair lift at the very top of the slopes on the Girose glacier, which enables skiers to return to neighbouring Les Deux Alpes. T

Traditionally, La Grave's lifts used not to open until January or even February, but in recent years it has opened as early as December 18, closing on May 8, depending on snow depth and other weather conditions.

La Grave's lift pass

Currently the lift pass covers skiing not only in La Grave and Les Deux Alpes but also those who buy a lift pass for 4 days or more are entltled to a 25% discount if buying a one day pass for Serre Chevalier and Alpe d'Huez. Holders of season passes are entltled to free skiing at Le Chazelet if bad weather closes the La Grave bubble. Full details and online purchase facilities are at La Grave's website.

La Grave Beginners

La Grave is not a good place to learn to ski, but there are nursery slopes and ski schools in nearby La Chazelet and Col du Lautaret.

It is extremely rare for a ski area to have no nursery slopes, but this is one.

If beginners have been suckered into joining a group of advanced skiers that are coming to La Grave, there is a ski school just over three miles away at La Chazelet, and more nursery slopes at Villa d'Arène and the Col du Lautaret. 

Once they start to progress, there are also some gentle blue runs the top of the Les Deux Alpes glacier, which can be accessed from La Grave. But other ski resorts have much better facilities.

La Grave Intermediate Skiing

Intermediates, with an instructor or guide, are limited to the two main runs in La Grave, plus the skiing in Les Deux Alpes.

Intermediates, with an instructor or guide, should be able to cope with the two main runs in La Grave, although even they are quite gruelling. They should certainly not stray further afield without close scrutiny from a guide. Instead they should ski over to Les Deux Alpes where there is much more intermediate skiing, and whenever they can, have a day or two at Serre Chevalier which is 30 minutes' away by car. On the whole, however they would be much better off if they were based at one of these resorts rather than at la Grave

La Grave Advanced & Off-Piste Skiing

La Grave is famous for its couloirs, including the three Trifide couloirs. There are many long ski routes down to the valley road that leads up to La Grave, and also 'off the back' to St Christophe-en-Oisans. The Derby de la Meije in April is an off-piste race, which sounds suicicidal but it's actually quite safe and great fun.

On a good powder day this is as good as it gets. There is a wide variety of couloirs - some unthreatening in good snow, others much more severe, particularly in icy conditions when they are best avoided, no matter how skilful the skier. Negotiating a terrifying "no fall zone" traverse is necessary to get to the legendary Pan de Rideau (Curtain's Edge) which is almost 50 degrees in places, with a bergschrund (crevasse between the glacier and the rock) at the bottom.

The three Trifide couloirs are probably the most famous ones, partly because they have been the scene of many tragic accidents over the years.

On the other side of the mountain there's an excellent and not over-difficult off-piste run down to the remote climbing village of St-Christophe-en-Oisans - again, best done with a guide. it's mostly south-facing so snow conditions have to be right. To return, you'll need transport back to the picturesque little village of Venosc, from where you can reach Les Deux Alpes by gondola. Les Deux Alpes has good black run and off-piste skiing too, so you might wish to make a few detours on the way back.

Holding a race in a ski area renowned for its extreme off-piste might seem crazy, but the Derby de la Meije is over 30 years old and is actually one of the safest times to ski in La Grave because the more terrifying couloirs are roped off for a day. In theory the race is run from the top of the ski area to the bottom, but as it's held in April, it usually ends at the river as there is not quite enough snow to reach the village and in a really bad season it might stop at mid-mountain (2400 m). Some racers, making as few as half a dozen turns, have completed the course in little more than six minutes! But you only have to a be a fairly good skier, not an expert one, to take part. Teams are encouraged to have men and women, boarders and skiers, and if you can’t win a prize for being the fastest, you might still get one for having the best fancy-dress. For more details see: https://derbydelameije.com . 

La Grave Snowboarding

La Grave welcomes snowboarders but doesn't have special facilities for boarders or freestylers - it's just not that not kind of resort. Instead they are welcome to tackle the same off-piste slopes that skiers descend on.

Skiers and boarders alike have no special facilities - as this is not a 'resort', there is nothing specially prepared, be it piste grooming or park. It's just a big mountain full of steep descents. Confident snowboarders, like their skiing brethren, will enjoy the ski area, but if looking for terrain parks head elsewhere.

La Grave Mountain Restaurants

Although La Grave doesn't really have pistes, it does have three piste-side restaurants.

Perhaps surprisingly in such a gung-ho, minimalist area, there are as many as three mountain restaurants. The most popular is the refuge on the Chancel route down. There is another on the Vallons de la Meije side, at the mid station (Peyrou d'Amont) with superb views of La Meije, and one more at the top of the gondolas: the Haut-Dessus at the Col des Rouillans (3211m)

La Grave Village

La Grave is too rugged to be pretty. It's really just a small mountain climbing town, with a sprinkling of hotels and about 600 local inhabitants. The road passing through it is annoyingly busy at times.

For any uninitiated visitors who happen to be driving through this beautiful but remote part of the Dauphiné region, their first glimpse of the jagged La Meije summit and beneath it, La Grave's high steep slopes is the sort of startling sight that makes people pull over and crane their necks as they attempt to follow the contours of the mountain to the top.

The village itself is unpretentious and rugged rather than chocolate box pretty. It has narrow streets and a weather-beaten church, but it's not particularly old: it dates back only two or three centuries. It's really just a small climbing town, built on a bend in the road above the banks of the Romanche river.

There's a sprinkling of hotels and apartments and about 600 local inhabitants - but no conventional wooden chalets. Major fires in previous centuries have discouraged the local population from building with wood. Traditional architecture in the La Meije area is almost exclusively stone: blocks of tuff (a volcanic stone) and shale, sealed with mortar, and slate or flagstone roofs.

La Grave is surrounded by a number of smaller villages and hamlets, including Les Fréaux and Le Chazelet. Villar d'Arène, at 1650 metres, is the last village before you go over the col and reach the Briançon side of the Hautes Alpes. Almost the first village you reach on the other side is le Monetier, part of the Serre Chevalier ski area, and only about 30 minutes drive away from La Grave.

Ski hire and equipment rental in La Grave

There is a choice of ski rental shop in the resort, but their prices are quite high if you simply walk into them when you arrive. . Generally, if you want to save money, you're much better off booking in advance with a reliable service provider.

Pre-book with Skiset in La Grave and save up to 50%

Skiset has an excellent reputation for hiring out good modern equipment for skiers and boarders of all standards including advanced. It's shop in La Grave is centrally located and has a good range of skis and boards for off-piste skiers. If you book online in advance, you can save up to 50% on what you would pay if you walk into the shop. You will also save time when you arrive in the village, because your ski rental equipment is reserved, fully prepared and ready and waiting for you. 

Check Skiset shop location and advance booking discounts currently available in La Grave >>>

La Grave Apres-Ski, Restaurants & Bars

This place is for skiing, not eating out: there aren't many restaurant options in La Grave.

In keeping with its ski focus, the dining options in La Grave are limited. Most people prefer to eat in their hotel, but there's a scattering of other restaurants. The hotel restaurants offer traditional cooking and 'mountain specialities'.

La Grave Rating
  • Ski Area star rating
  • Snowsure star rating
  • Advanced star rating
  • Intermediates star rating
  • Beginners star rating
  • Ski Lift System star rating
  • Lift Queues star rating
  • Scenery star rating
  • Resort Charm star rating
  • Apres Ski star rating
  • Non-Skiers star rating
  • Getting There star rating
  • La Grave Statistics
  • CountryFrance
  • Beginner90 %
  • Intermediate75 %
  • Advanced50 %
  • Number of ski lifts256
  • Cable cars65
  • Gondolas45
  • Chairlifts145
  • Surface lifts1200
  • Riders per hour300
  • 6 day lift pass per hourEuros 3600
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