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La Grave, France

Cliché or not, the phrase “mean, moody and magnificent” applies so aptly to the quite extraordinary ski area of La Grave that I hope I am forgiven for using it. With the exception of Chamonix, there is nowhere that I can think of in the whole of the Alps with such startling, almost overwhelming glacial scenery. Dominated by the jutting multiple-peaks of La Meije at very nearly 4000 metres (more than 13,000 feet) it is a fearsomely beautiful place, and you need to treat it with the utmost respect. Before you attempt to ski La Grave, you should hire a guide. With a huge vertical descent of 2150 metres (7054 feet), La Grave is a vast, steep mountainside with no groomed pistes at all. Apart from a tame section at the very top on the Glacier de la Girose, with two T-bars, where it “links” in a manner of speaking, with the big local destination resort of Les Deux Alpes, the slopes provide an all-consuming, relentless descent from top to bottom. The two main descents, along with their variants, are simply the easiest and safest way down. If you stick to these two runs there is nothing really beyond a strong intermediate skier, but the moment you wander off in any other direction you may have to deal with much steeper terrain, a variety of couloirs and a selection of cliffs, small and large. In addition to this, on the upper sections, there is potential danger from crevasses and avalanches. Traditionally, La Grave does not open until January or February. There are two ways to reach the slopes: directly, by taking the two-stage, five-cabin téléphérique on a skyward journey to the Glacier du Vallon from the picturesque old climbing village of La Grave itself, on the spectacular Col du Lautaret. Or by making a 20 minute hike on skis across from Les Deux Alpes.

Written by  Arnie Wilson.

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