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.
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.
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.
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
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 .
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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'.