It was over 20 years ago when I first visited La Grave. La Grave is a small 12th century village, deep in the Alps at the foot of the majestic La Meije. And besides all the amazing opportunities on the mountain, La Grave symbolizes one thing in particular for me: freedom.
La Grave is the gateway to the many faces of the La Meije. A lift from 1976 takes you from the village at 1450 meters to an altitude of 3200 meters, which feels like the top of the world. You can see the Mont Blanc in the north and the Pic Blanc in the west. La Grave is a ski resort avant la lettre. You won't find many groomed runs here (close to zero), no lifts where they keep your butt warm with heating, no five star hotels, no huge condo projects. Skiing here is pure and it's as pure as it gets when you sit down to take a dump on the icy toilet with a septic tank underneath at 3200 meters.
La Grave has many inconveniences:
- The capacity of the lift is small, so it's never crowded in the area
- There's no signage, so you have to navigate on your own
- You find yourself high in the mountains where the weather can change rapidly
- You ride runs of 1500 vertical meters or more that makes you doubt about your physical condition
- There are no snow cannons so you're completely at the mercy of the whims of nature,
- All sorts of dangers appear in the form of large cliffs, crevasses and changing snow conditions. Without warning.
- There are runs that you can only ride with a rope and climbing harness, so without this gear you'll probably be stuck on the mountain
- And there is no bus that brings you home when you get to the road after the 2000 vertical with fantastic snow, moguls, crevasses and abseils. You just have to hope that someone gives you a ride.
These are the inconveniences that you accept when you pass this sign at 3200 meters altitude.
But in a society where everything is arranged, organized or prohibited by the government, a concept like responsibility is subject to erosion. We want both freedom and security. It has become the paradox of the 'adventure' holiday. If something goes wrong during our adventure than we're happy to blame someone else. Blame them for the lack of snow, the defective material, the spontaneous avalanche, the fact that you get lost or that you had to call rescue services because you followed some sucker tracks and ended up above a huge cliff.
If you're familiair with the comfort of other resorts, you'll probably think that I'm overexaggerating. Well, La Grave will bring you back to earth when you're used to Planet-Ski-With-Heated-Chairs-And-Wellness. La Grave will teach you that you have to make your own decisions. That you will have to do something with the signals from the mountain. That you're out in the open. In pure nature. The paradox is that responsibility is the foundation of riding in the backcountry. Freedom requires responsibility and you should have the guts to take it.
La Grave is therefore sobering but refreshing at the same time. Life is fragile and nothing is certain. You learn to trust yourself and your friends, but you also learn very quickly what you are not capable of. Honesty is your own responsibility and a big mouth is not going to help you once you're up there. La Grave made me feel humble, but also teached me what you can achieve with passion and commitment.
I came back many times after that first visit. I had epic, but also frustrating moments. There are times when I hate La Grave to fall back in love with it the next day.
But La Grave has (financial) difficulties. The lift is in need of an upgrade and the mayor of La Grave issued a tender. Big resorts are waiting to eat La Grave and add it to their imperium. That might mean the end of La Grave as we know it. And that would be a pity. To say at least.
A group of enthusiasts united to participate in the tender and save La Grave. The great thing abot this is not only it will keep La Grave open, but the community will also benefit. I ordered a T-shirt right away. Are you in as well? Go to this website and become a La Grave Saving Angel. Let's save this unique resort!