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Twenty Days In France
1994 Edition: Twelve Days In France, Day 01
1994 Edition: Twelve Days In France, Day 02
1994 Edition: Twelve Days In France, Day 03
1994 Edition: Twelve Days In France, Day 04
1994 Edition: Twelve Days In France, Day 05
1994 Edition: Twelve Days In France, Day 06
1994 Edition: Twelve Days In France, Day 07
1994 Edition: Twelve Days In France, Day 08
1994 Edition: Twelve Days In France, Day 09
1994 Edition: Twelve Days In France, Day 10
1994 Edition: Twelve Days In France, Day 11
1994 Edition: Twelve Days In France, Day 12
SkiVt-L France 1996 Edition: Alpe d'Huez
SkiVt-L France 1996 Edition: Arrival
SkiVt-L France 1996 Edition: Val Terces Day 1
SkiVt-L France 1996 Edition: Val Terces Day 2
SkiVt-L France 1996 Edition: Val Terces Day 3
SkiVt-L France 1996 Edition: Val d'Isere Day 1
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SkiVt-L France 1996 Edition: Val d'Isere Day 3

A Hillside in France

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Twelve Days In France: A ski odyssey

Day Twelve. February 21, 1994

copyright 1994,1995 Wesley Alan Wright

La Grave
Base1450m (4756')Summit3564m (11689')
Maximum Vertical 2114m (6933')Skied Vertical1764m (5785')

This report is also available as an Adobe PDF file.

I first became aware of this small, unknown area last year, on my first trip to France. When I was Les Deux Alpes, I noted that it is linked to Les Deux Alpes by a drag lift along the glacier. I had also seen many road billboards for it on the way up to Les Deux Alpes and Alpe D'Huez. When I got home from last years trip, POWDER Magazine did a small piece on it, which introduced it too the American public - and might have ruined it forever.

La Grave the town is small but kinda funky. There are several small hotels, and one larger one in particular owned by some Brit has also apparently been contributing to the recent buzz around the station.

There is but one main lift: a two stage cabin lift with four stops at 1450m (Base), 1800m, 2400m, and 3200m. At the 3200m summit, you can proceed to a couple of rarely open T-Bars on the glacier de la Girose to the Dome de la Lauze summit at 3564m. From here, you can circle down to Les Deux Alpes or back to a short traverse back to the 3200m station. The 2 blue runs down the glacier are the only official on-piste and patrolled runs here.

The rest of the mountain from 3200m back down to the base is mostly unmarked and completely unpatrolled. There are but two ways down: the itinerary de Chancel or the itinerary des Vallons de la Meije. But the variations are limitless.

Do the math, kids. The base is 1450m. The Dome de la Lauze summit is at 3564m. That's 2114m of vertical, or 6933 feet. You'd think that with all that vertical, the trail map would be something awesome. Well, here it is, reproduced at slightly larger than life size...

Sure, just follow the red trail down to the bottom. Easy, if they had something more to marked the trail other than little wooden arrows hanging off a tree or a post every couple of kilometers.

La Meije , incidentally, is a huge spike in the sky (3982m or 13060') which dominates the area. This was the last major peak in the Alpes to be climbed, and one look at it will tell you why.

I got off to a slow start this day, lingering over coffee and conversation, a worsening cough, and a case of the jitters. All the press I have read concerning La Grave ran along the lines of "big, scary and dangerous. Do not attempt to ski here without a guide." My host, Gilles, told me it would be all right and not to worry. But he had already tried to kill me once, so I didn't really trust his council.

Well, I finally arrived at the lift at 12:15. By the time I was dressed, booted, ticketed, and at the 3200m station, it was already 1:00 PM.

But to my surprise , the drag lifts on the glacier had just opened. I saw fresh lines of untracked powder above me, and so away I went. Some 8-16" of soft, loving fluff, depending on where you skied. I did two heavenly warm up runs with untracked snow plowing up to my knees. Yahoo!

Then it was down to business. I dropped down the right side of the Téléphériques des Glaciers for the glacier du Vallon and the itinerary des Vallons de la Meije. Wicked wind and some wicked windblown slab at the top, but it improved greatly as I descended. It was the usual glacial mix of soft powder, crud, and hardpack. Followed various groups of people here and there and to and fro, took my time, and ended up in some bumps and tree near the 1800m access point. Total time from the top of the glacier de la Girose was about 70 minutes.

By the time I hit the summit again, it was near 4 PM. I tried the Chancel descent. Much less wind, much better snow. Lots of powder. For a while, I kinda followed - at a discrete distance - what appeared to be a guide and 5 or 6 clients. They headed down an approach far to the right of that which was tacitly marked as "the piste" by those little red arrow trail markers. This route took us around a huge amphitheater like bowl ringed with rocks, cliffs, and some hidden couloirs.

This path terminated with one way down: about 200m of steep (I estimated the pitch at about 50 degrees), narrow couloir, filled with cubits of tracked but super soft snow. Thank god, else I'd be dead. The good snow made for easy skiing, except for the fact that at this point I was so fatigued that I could have easily laid down for a long nap and skipped the whole affair.

At the bottom of the corridor, I stopped to take some pictures and watch some folks behind me negotiate the drop. A mixed bag of Coloradans, Scandinavians, and other internationals. Odd, but after two weeks in the Alpes, I ran into more Americans here at La Grave then I did everywhere else combined. Thanks for nothing, POWDER Magazine!!!

From here, things mellowed considerably until a fork in the road. My aquaintences opted left for a drop down another steep, narrow, and long valley which thankfully lead away from my destination of La Grave village, so I took off on my own again. I followed a long traverse through endless woods back to civilization, getting to the the 1800m access just in time for the last cabins back down to my car (yes, I could have skied it, but it was after 5 and I was one tired puppy).

Despite my attempts here, words really can't describe this place. Unworldly beautiful, with free and open skiing anywhere one liked. Total freedom to live or die (thankfully, I chose the former). Guide? Bah, humbug. Just follow the tracks, and take that leap of faith that whoever made them is neither dead nor Scott Schmidt.

So that's that. Ten out of twelve days on skis, seven lift services areas. Uncountable miles of terrain.

The Alpes are big. Really, really big. Some places in the Rockies might be as high or higher, but the valleys in the Alpes are lower, which make for the amazing verticals and miles of terrain. Check out the March (or is it February) 1994Snow Country magazine for their article on the Trois Vallees region (my next visit?) which attempt to put things into scale.

But reading about it or looking at pictures just don't do the region justice. Just do it!

Back to Day 11 Les Sept Laux.

Copyright 1995. Ski France Special
Brought to you through the courtesy of Computing and Information Technology, University of Vermont. Copyright © 1994, 1995 . All rights reserved.
Send comments to Wesley Alan Wright (email Last update November 13, 1996

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