Skiing La Meije, France
With no pistes, no ropes and no one telling you where you can and can't go, the small ski resort in the French Alps, La Grave is a place of freedom. It is one of the only ski resorts in the world where you are given the information on the terrain and then you are left to your own responsibility. There is this sense of exploration, of adventure and hope that you do not get from other ski resorts in Europe.
When I was working in Alpe d'huez at the end of January 2018, we had a day off and it was decided it would be silly not to do some exploring. We jumped in the van, skis in the back, and headed for La Grave with blues skies and good music playing. I'm a pretty confident skier, however off-piste is something I have not yet mastered, I'm moving towards this type of skiing every time I venture out to the mountains though. I didn't know anything about La Grave, if I'm being honest I didn't know it existed, however after spending a day there it quickly became one of my favourite skiing terrains.
This adventure was shared with 2 of my best friends from University and two friends who work for NUCO Travel, a ski/ board travel company I also work for. Both of them had quite a lot of experience with touring and off-piste skiing, so they would act as our 'guides' for the day.
To get to La Grave from Alpe d'huez it only takes an hour and immediately when you arrive you feel this real step back in time. La Grave is so special because the town has built a culture around people who love skiing. People come from all over the world to ski here and they all connect and share this one passion, a love of mountains. We sat down and grabbed a quick coffee and bite to eat before getting ready to head up the glacier. The view from the town is beautiful, and knowing it is all unpisted was somewhat refreshing.
Since myself and my two best friends, Carli and Hazel had not had much experience in off-piste skiing, we hired a transceiver from one of the hire shops in town. I can't remember exactly how much this cost however, it was pretty cheap to hire one for the day. Feeling excited and nervous, we started getting kitted up...I was feeling pretty apprehensive, being here and seeing how extreme skiing can be I couldn't help but feel a little out of my comfort zone, and as much as I like to challenge and push myself I could feel the adrenaline running through my body. This changed when I turned around to see Carli (who is a very good skier but was about to venture up into the unknown on a pair of rental skis) throwing back a beer to try to calm her nerves. I took note and decided a quick beer can do no-one any harm. We were kitted up, we had learnt how to use our transceivers in the car park and had a beer, the only thing left to do was to get skiing.
Lift passes were reasonably priced since I was a student at the time it was 37€ for the day. The lady at the desk was very friendly and could tell we were not used to off-piste skiing (top tip, I would recommend skiing with a backpack with the correct avalanche kit), she gave us advice on where she recommends skiing and reminded us not to follow any trails as there was no way to know exactly where these trails lead to. There are two bubbles that take you all the way to the top of the Girose Glacier, at 3550m, and to some of the world's wildest skiing. At the top there is a traditional alpine restaurant and two main skiing routes, either off the right or left of the gondola, however, there are plenty more if you have the correct equipment and want to venture further.
Blue skies and almost perfect snow conditions meant we were all giddy with excitement on our first run down. On our third time back up we decided to stop for a quick bite to eat and of course a beer. Each time we skied down from the top it was just as exciting. I really do understand why la Grave is so special.
After a full day of skiing, we reluctantly had to get back to work and arrived back to Alpe d'huez just in time for apres. It is safe to say skiing in La Grave is not a day I will forget soon, and if you are looking for a spot of adventure while on this side of the Alps, jump in the car and explore what La Grave has to offer, I promise it won't disappoint.