Spring skiing in La Grave

The mountains are calling, and I must go – John  Muir

During the winter months my mind functions in a slightly different way from how it normally does during the rest of the year: it doesn’t matter where I am, who I am with, what I am doing, a portion of my brain is constantly focused on the next opportunity I’ll have to be on snow. I often have the impression I live a life in a parallel dimension where it’s not always easy finding a balance between live fully in the present moment and let the mind wander among the memories of the past and the thoughts about the future.

It took me a few years to come to terms with what might appear a fairly serious brain seasonal  dysfunction, but I got there in the end and I am now much more relaxed about my condition. I actually really enjoy it, to the point where my mountain dimension becomes my way of stay connected with all the places and the people in it, even if I am physically miles away from them.

A mountain that always triggers a lot of thought and internal dialogue in me is La Meije, the peak above the small French village of La Grave. La Meije is composed of three principal summits. The highest point is the Grand Pic de la Meije at 3,984 metres.

Among mountaineers, the Grand Pic is famous for not having an easier path to the top. That’s probably why La Meije was the last major peak in the Alps to be summited. I wrote more about La Grave in one of last year’s posts.

My Swedish friend Per – one of my favorite people to be in the mountains with – has been living in La Grave for over twenty years. Over this time he developed an intimate knowledge of the mountains around La Meije. So when he told me he had a couple of days free, I didn’t hesitate for one minute and drove down to ski with him. When I go there
I normally stay at the Skier’s lodge, run by one of Per’s best friends,
Pelle, another Swedish mountain guide.

We set off around 8.30 and head to the near Col du lautaret, 2,058 mt, about 5 minutes’ drive from La Grave.

This is Per, motoring over the small Col just in front of us. We are going to climb it and ski the east facing couloir on the other side.

It’s only a short hike and in less than an hour we are almost there. The last part is too steep to climb using skins as we are on a north facing slope and the snow is rock hard at this time in the morning. So we boot pack for the last 50 meters or so of the climb.

This is why we climbed up here: a long and steep couloir filled with some excellent spring snow.

I have recently started using a new pack, the Snowpulse Guide 30L and I am very happy with it so far. This is the first time I strapped the skis diagonally and I am really impressed by how well it carries them.

We make the most of the old cold snow in the shade.

This section is probably about 45°. Steep and reasonably wide couloirs like this one are the best feature to ski in spring.

Per and I are becoming an attraction for the local wildlife. These chamois are probably trying to figure out what exactly is it that we are doing up here.

The snow on the rest of the slope is perfect corn, with no crust and deep enough to find the right balance with the edges of my board between sinking in and floating nicely on it.

Once at the bottom I can get a good view of the entire slope. It’s a long one.

It is probably about 700 mt long. Not bad if you think we only had to climb for an hour.

Now we only need to hitch hike to get a ride back to the col de lautaret where we left Per’s van.

We are heading to the lift in La Grave. Yesterday it was very windy so the glacier on top of the mountain was closed. Let’s see in what shape the goods are today.

Although I come here at least a couple of times every winter, this mountain and its only lift blow my mind each time: in about 15 minutes you go from the village at 1,450 mt to the glacier de la Girose at 3,200 mt. The top of the glacier is at 3,600 mt. Calling it “lift” is a serious understatement. This gondola is a tool to access another world.

Skinning up, we have the chance to test snow conditions on this portion of the glacier and they seem pretty good.

Have you ever skied through a crevasse? Per is about to, and I am next.

What a unique feature. Without the shadow of a doubt this is one of the coolest I have ever seen, and skied. It feels weird as people usually try to avoid falling in crevasses, they don’t plan their way skiing through them. This is the exit.

Only a little reminder this is not your average ski resort. In fact, I challenge anyone who  calls La Grave a ski resort.

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One Response to Spring skiing in La Grave

  1. Rebecca says:

    What a photo story…the lift is a gateway to another world…and we are in your backpack.

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