Its name should give you an idea as to how extreme this place can be. Although La Grave is also said to be “The most beautiful village France” it is a lesser known but popular place for those in the know. It is also notorious for being the most extreme skiing resort in the world. Many skiers and boarders flock to the French town of La Grave and the La Meije range to test themselves against one of nature’s true gifts to the extreme sports enthusiast. Although La Grave is also known as ‘death mountain’ due to the amount of skiers that have lost their lives here, many adrenalin junkies return, looking for the high that comes with trying to tame this cult resort.
La Grave has one lift and two T-bars, which are now open daily. Ski fanatics visit in their hundreds, despite only 10 hotels and a very few restaurants; they are looking for thrills, not comfort and recreation. Although this place is treacherous, there’s still no avalanche control in place, another aspect to seriously consider should you dare to ski here. As I researched La Grave, I came across many forums, a disturbing amount touching on the subject of friend’s funerals, all taking place thanks to La Grave. It is highly recommended you ski with someone who has good knowledge of the place, or better yet, arrange to go out with a guide.
Although there is not much of a “resort” at La Grave, the ski area can also be accessed from the nearby ski town of Les Deux Alpes which is a popular place for group ski holidays with all the usual amenities you would expect. For a little extra on the price of your pass you can head up the Jandri Express lift from the town centre then up a couple more drag lifts over the glacier followed by a 10 minute hike. From here you will find yourself at the top of La Grave. Be sure you get back to the top in time to get back across the glacier as it could end up being a quite expensive taxi ride home otherwise!
La Grave’s vertical drop is a dizzying 2150 metres, and if you include the area below the resort, it is increased to 2300 metres. The reason La Grave is so dangerous and unique is that 90% of it is unprepared and unpatrolled – in fact, there’s only 12 KM of designated pistes. The official ‘piste map’ states ‘pick your own route, with care, meaning there are miles of untouched pistes, but beware the dangers should you ski on them.
There are some good tips to be aware of at La Grave:
- Always respect the mountain and check on conditions.
- Don’t even think of riding here without the essential shovel, probe and avalanche transceiver.
- Don’t brag about what you’ve done that day.
- Take any training for the local Derby de la Meije very seriously.
- Don’t ignore any advice given by the ski patrollers at the base of the gondola.
La Grave will improve your skills dramatically and push you to your very limits. You’ll ski on unspoiled snow and experience nature at its most lethal. The only real downside is the fact the gondolas are busy at weekends and the mountain can be shut down due to bad storms.
Have you got the skill and guts to strap on a pair of skis here?
Photo by Benoit Mouren