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-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 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.