copyright 1994,1995 Wesley Alan Wright
|Base||1450m (4756')||Summit||3564m (11689')|
|Maximum Vertical|| 2114m (6933')||Skied Vertical||1764m (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
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
, 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.
, 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
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!
Day 11 Les Sept Laux.
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Wesley Alan Wright
Last update November 13, 1996