La Grave Ski Resort
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 promise 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 antiquated, slow, small-capacity, multi-stage pulse-gondola up from the village at 1450m to over 3000m. At the top, some of them ascend even further on a solitary chairlift that reaches nearly 3600m.
There are very few clues on the piste map as to why they make the effort. It features one unremarkable blue piste and two ungroomed itineraries 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. Many of the runs are quite rightly classified as extreme, including the famous Trifide couloirs.
And that really is it, skiing-wise. You can, of course, ski over to 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 Serre-Chevalier, just 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 freeride enthusiasts. There are also lots of mountain guides, and you are strongly advised to use their services if you want to leave the resort in one piece.
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- Discounted Ski & Snowboard Rental in La Grave.
La Grave Pros & Cons
+ Superb off-piste skiing and freeriding with a guide
+ Welcoming traditional village
+ Link to Les Deux Alpes gives access to pistes and more freeriding
+ Relatively short drive to tree skiing in Serre Chevalier
– For off-piste fans only
– Through road can get busy
– The main gondola lift is old, small and slow
– Infrequent buses to other resorts.