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Day trip skiing in La Grave

Iconic freeride area that serious skiers should tick off their bucket list

Ian Huyton | Les 2 Alpes Reporter | Published: 27th March 2017

Skiing La Grave is something that every serious skier should do at least once in their lives. 

It is possible to get to La Grave from Les Deux Alpes via the lift system, although going with a guide is highly recommended and avalanche safety equipment is a must. With the future of the La Grave lift in the balance at the moment (as reported in the news recently), this year might be the last chance to experience the magic of La Grave in its current form.

All the ski schools in Les Deux Alpes offer guided day trips to La Grave, so you have plenty of choice of who to go with. If travelling there by ski lift, an early start is a must since the last lift back is at 15:30.

That might sound late enough, but with runs covering up to 2000 vertical metres of off-piste and long lift rides on both sides, the time is easily eaten up. From the top T-bar on the Deux Alpes glacier, a piste basher awaits to tow skiers and snowboarders across the few hundred metres that separate the two ski areas.

Once on the La Grave side, a short piste takes you down the Glacier de Girose to the top station of the Telepheriques de la Meije gondolas.

Mountain guides will take their clients off-piste on the glacier, equipped with harnesses and ice screws, but ski schools will use the piste to reach the non-glaciated terrain below 3200 metres.

Here you'll find the top restaurant, often with celebrated freeskiers hanging out on the terrace and an amazing view of La Meije. The contrast between the jagged mountains towering above you here and the rolling domes of the Deux Alpes glacier is breathtaking.

Usually, the first descent is through the Vallons de la Meije. This route is steep and varied with myriad options, always below the watchful eye of La Meije herself. Until you have been there, it is difficult to convey the majesty of the scenery in this valley. If the snow is poor lower down, it is possible to reach the mid-station along a well-used traverse to 2400 metres.

Passing this escape route, the valley is split by several moraine ridges that form a network of smaller valleys. Here it is important to be aware of the avalanche and serac fall zones below the hanging glaciers on your right.

Descending again, trees begin to appear and before long you are deep in a larch forest. By now you need to have committed to going left or right – traversing to P1 or following the right bank all the way down to La Grave village.

At the end of the traverse, P1 or Pylon 1, is a lift station unlike any other I have ever come across. Little more than a pylon with steps and a gangway attached, this allows you to join the Telepherique to go up or down without skiing the last couple of hundred metres down to La Grave village.

If you're heading up, the mid-station restaurant at Gare Peyrou Amont is a handy place to stop for lunch and has one of my favourite views in the Alps.

Reaching the top station, a second descent through the Vallons de Chancel lies ahead for those who have made good time. Though further from the stunning scenery of the higher peaks, this side has a wild, rugged grandeur of its own with the valley ranged around a deep lake.

You tend to see few other skiers here and the navigation is trickier. Stray too far to the right and you will be forced into steep couloirs above the lake. On the main route, a maze of snowy corridors snake around bands of rock giving plenty of route choices, although in snowier periods many of these will merge together.

Perched above the lake on the ridge to the left is the Evariste Chancel Refuge. This is another good place to eat, and you can spend the night here if you want to guarantee yourself first tracks in the morning. The refuge’s terrace is a good place to watch people skiing the Banane and Terrasse couloirs.

Below the refuge more rolling terrain leads to another traverse back to P1. For most groups, this will be time to head back towards Les Deux Alpes, but a fast party might manage an extra half or full run. La Grave is a rare place where doing two or three runs is considered a pretty full day. From the top of the gondola, another piste basher tow will take you to the Girose drag lift and a short walk uphill before skiing back to Les Deux Alpes. Groups will normally take in a Les Deux Alpes off-piste route on the way back down to the resort.

With the La Grave ski area being uncontrolled, trips there will depend on weather and snow conditions. Local guides and instructors will be able to discuss the best options with you if you contact them in advance or as soon as you arrive. I have described a day on skis, but snowboard groups trips are also available.

Besides the typical day described, many other routes are possible, some of them extremely serious and difficult. Some ski schools will also offer transport to La Grave to start and finish the day at the bottom. A lift pass extension will be required for all trips to La Grave. This can be bought at all the Deux Alpes ticket offices as well as at the start of the Liaison tow, and costs 22 Euros for holders of a six-day or longer Les Deux Alpes pass.

Read more from Ian on his website.


Photographs by BASS Les Deux Alpes & KeeleysBlog.com

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