La Grave, France is inarguably the most extreme ski resort in the world and it may only have 3 years to live. There is no other ski lift in the world like La Grave. Once it’s gone, there will never be another like it. Is La Grave worth saving? Definitely.
La Grave is simple. It’s mostly a huge 30-gondola pulse lift that takes you 7,000 feet up a mountain and drops you off above: glaciers, crevasses, 1,000-foot cliffs, no fall zones, and extremely rowdy terrain. There are no groomers, avalanche control, runs, signs, ropes, ski patrol, nor Starbucks. Once you make the decision not to ride the gondola back down, you’re on your own.
I have a friend who went there once and ended up above a thousand-foot-death-cliff without knowing it. A rescue helicopter happened to be flying by and noticed his horrible position. The heli dropped down, hovered above them, and shook its tail in the skiers left direction. They follow its direction until the next thousand-foot-death-cliff where again, the heli directed them to safety once more.
You can only image how rowdy La Grave’s terrain is if you haven’t been. If you’ve been, you’re either scarred forever or dying to get back there.
La Grave is an extreme skiers paradise and it might only have 3 more years to operate.
The lease on La Grave’s Telepherique is up for renewal in three short years. Is this the end of La Grave as we know it?
by Kelly McMillan/Powder Magazine
…La Grave’s days may be numbered. Come 2017, the lease on the Telepherique is up for renewal and, at the moment, no one has stepped forward to take it over, which means the lift might stop running in three short years.
The town owns the Telepherique and currently leases it to the Telepherique des Glaciers de la Meije (TGM), which operates it and reaps its scant profits. The TGM is headed up by Denis Cressiels, the 79-year-old engineer who originally designed the Telepherique (and the iconic Aiguille du Midi lift in Chamonix) and took over the lease from the town in 1987. Encumbered by liability issues and commercial impediments, La Grave isn’t a particularly enticing business venture for potential investors or leaseholders, and locals are wary of most outsiders who might be interested in taking it over. For now, La Grave is stuck in a quagmire and its residents are watching and waiting to see who will come to the town’s rescue or usher in its demise.
All of this uncertainty has left locals fearing what the next chapter in La Grave’s complicated history might bring. “People are worried,” says Pelle Lang, owner of the Skier’s Lodge and the legendary guide who is largely responsible for making La Grave the freeskiing mecca that it is today. Recognizing La Grave’s potential as an unrivaled freeskiing destination, the Swedish-born Lang moved to La Grave in the late eighties and opened the Skier’s Lodge, a cozy CMH-meets-Alta’s-Peruvian-style hotel. Once settled, Lang began marketing La Grave to magazines, travel agencies, and other ski bums as a skier’s Shangri-La. By the nineties, POWDER Magazine, Doug Coombs, who went on to live and set up his Steep Camps there, and hardcore skiers heeded Lang’s call.
“It’s a very scary thought if the lift closes,” Lang says, reflecting on the unique place he’s helped create. “The two worst scenarios,” says Per Ås, a La Grave-based guide, “is the lift shuts and it’s over forever. Or a big company buys it and wants to create a resort.”
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