Our La Grave off piste ski holiday offers a great week of backcountry skiing in the legendary freeride mecca of La Grave. Some people wonder why anyone would want to go on a ski holiday to a place with just one long lift, no pistes at all and a huge mountain side covered in open powder fields, chutes and trees. Sounds good to us!
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This is a high mountain backcountry ski week. Using uplift and ski touring kit, we ski the best runs in La Grave, as well as making frequent visits to nearby resorts in order to catch the best possible snow. Skinning and boot tracking to access untracked terrain are a regular feature of these weeks – we do far more than just off-piste skiing using the lifts!
Trip reports >> Report 1, Report 2, Report 3
This is an intermediate to advanced level trip. To take part you should be at Fitness Level 2 and Tech Level 3-4 depending on the group (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines below). Touring experience useful but not essential. Type of ascent: 80% uplift and 20% skinning.
One IFMGA guide skiing with 6 clients.
Included in price
- 6 days of guiding
- All guides expenses
- 7 nights accommodation in La Grave, including breakfast and evening meals.
- Transport during the course.
Excluded from price (see factsheet for extra cost estimates)
- Lunches and drinks
- Travel to resort
- Equipment hire
Our course base and meeting point is the friendly and comfortable Hotel Edelweiss in La Grave, run by British/Dutch couple Robin and Marlon. The Edelweiss is an excellent base with very good food (and a huge wine list!), drying room, wifi access, a sauna/spa, and a cosy bar – a great place to relax after a day in the mountains. Situated in the centre of the village, it’s close to bakeries, supermarkets and a couple of equipment shops, and within walking distance of the lift. Rooms are provided on a twin (or occasionally triple) sharing basis, but if you wish to book a single room please let us know at the time of booking and we will confirm availability. Hotel details can be found on our Accommodation page.
This trip is protected by ABTOT – Alpine Guides Ltd, Membership Number 5394. For further information, please visit our Financial Protection page.
You should arrange outward travel on Saturday, arriving by 6-7pm latest in time for the briefing at your accommodation. Your guide will run through kit checks and safety routines, as well as hand out any rental equipment, before going on to discuss the current weather and mountain conditions and how these affect our plans. If you’ve any questions or last minute requests, then this is the ideal time to bring them up.
Shakedown day – off piste skiing at La Grave. On our first day we enjoy some good quality off piste skiing, mixed with skills refreshment and training – eg transceiver practice, use of skins and touring kit etc as appropriate. For part of the day, this is likely to involve skinning away from the regular off piste runs, or heading out onto the glacier.
Vallons de la Meije
The Vallons de la Meije is a huge off piste playground, offering numerous lines of descent in the shadow of the north face of La Meije – because the valley is so deep, the bowls stay in shade for a lot of the winter, meaning e snow stays light and powdery for a very long time.
The upper slopes leading down from the top of the lift are often wide open powder bowls, with great varied pitches.
It’s possible to lap this higher section of the mountain by returning to the mid stations along a series of different traverse lines, both above and below the tree line – but each run in it’s own right is a major descent.
Further down the mountain, if conditions are good, there is the option to ski right down to the village – this gives a massive run of nearly 2000m down to a bridge across the river, from where a short, always exhausting hike leads back to the lift station.
Monday to Friday
Backcountry skiing, big descents and day tours in and around La Grave. Typical runs and other resorts visited include:
Glacier de la Girose
Taking the cat shuttle and button lift to the top of the mountain gives access to the huge open slopes of the Glacier de la Girose.
This section of the mountain opens a little later than the rest of la Grave – ie when there is enough snow to fill in most of the crevasses on the glacier…
Up on the glacier it’s all about space and the freedom to choose your line and really let rip. If high speed GS turns are your thing – then this is the place to do it!
Equally well, If you want to enjoy lovely long pitches of short linked powder turns, then this is a great spot to do it too – each to their own style, there’s plenty of room to play.
When it snows, the tree skiing at La Grave is the stuff of legend.
The lift frequently stays open during storms, giving access to the extensive forests of the middle and lower mountain.
When the snow comes from the south however, the powder is usually better on the other side of the Col du Lauteret at the head of the valley.
Luckily, there are plenty of other great tree skiing venues over there as well – these include Serre Chevalier, Montgenevre and numerous day touring venues around Briancon – all of which are accesible from La Grave in a day.
The key is to understand the local micro climates and know where the best snow is likely to be each day, especially after any periods of active weather, when the conditions change rapidly.
La Grave is a great spot for skiing couloirs and steeper terrain – these start with shorter, less serious outings like the Delite and Banane couloirs above the Lac de Puy Vachier – right through to extreme descents involving ropes and abseils.
One of our favourite outings is to ski the 800m Couloir de la Lauze down into the Vallon de la Selle, then ski out down the valley to the tiny village of St Christophe, at the edge of the Ecrins National Park.
After lunch at the local café, the patron then organises transport back down to Venosc, where a gondola lift leads back up to Les Deux Alpes.
This is full day outing – it’s possible from La Grave if you push the pace and don’t spent too long over lunch, but it’s best done by driving to Les Deux Alpes just down the road in the morning and the starting and finishing from there instead.
Les Chazalets is a tiny ski station tucked away on the hillside over looking La Grave.
Offering great views across to La Meije, plenty of good off piste terrain and a nice sunny terrace for lunch – it’s an attractive spot to spend a morning, or a whole day if including a ski tour into part of the day
The ski area lies in a valley, with lifts up on to the ridges on either side.
The slopes here are open and easily accessible, with the option to don skins and do a lift assisted day tour up one of the ridges in order to find the best snow.
The conditions here are often very different from La Grave, despite them being so close, as the topography and wind patterns on the opposite sides of the valley are frequently very different.
Puy St Vincent
Puy St Vincent is a brilliant freeriding spot, just south of Briancon.
It’s a small family resort with very few off piste skiers – but loads of excellent off piste terrain, both off the lifts and accessed via boot tracking and skinning.
The classic big descent is off the Col du Bal – skiing this involves a 10 minute boot track from the top of the lifts, to reach the summit of the Crete de la Pendine. From here, it’s possible to ski 800m along the ridge (via some exciting narrow sections…) to reach the col itself.
Now all that remains is the huge north facing powder slope that leads back down to the resort!
Alternatively, a 500m skin up the far side of the valley, gives another great decent in a wild setting – looking out across the valley to Mont Brison and the Ailefroide towering on the horizon to the west at the head of the valley.
Queyras Day Tours
The Queyras Regional Park lies southeast of Briancon, within an hours drive of La Grave.
The area is well known for it’s excellent early season powder touring, offering great tree skiing in lovely open larch forests.
Numerous excellent day tours are available throughout the region – usually skinning direct from the road up to a lovely lunchtime viewpoint, before enjoying a sublime descent back down through the woods, often via a different route to enjoy a circular tour.
Depending on conditions, several different valleys are accessible in this region within an hour or so of La Grave, making day visits to the area a regular feature of our backcountry weeks.
Typical ascents for day tours in the area are 800-1200m of skinning, depending on the itinerary chosen – though shorter and longer options are always possible.
Col du Lauteret
The Col du Lauteret is a great spot for touring, with both full and half day outings on all sides. On a number of them, it’s possible to split cars or do drop offs and pick ups – which allows for bigger descents.
Because the col is so accessible, it’s possible to do a morning’s touring, then have lunch at La Grave or Les Chazalets and finish off with an afternoon’s off piste skiing.
In the evening, the col is also a place our guides often train for ski mountaineering races after work.
We’ve been guiding in La Grave for years, so the above is just a small sample of the areas that we regularly visit – depending on snow conditions, we may also visit nearby resorts such as Alpe D’Huez, Les Deux Alpes, Serre Chevalier and Montgenevre, or excellent powder touring venues such as Val Claree, Arvieux and Cervieres – all of which are within an hours drive of La Grave.
Return travel should be arranged on Saturday morning, after your final nights accommodation.
Location and Travel
Your course base is La Grave on the northern edge of the Ecrins National Park. This tiny village sits amongst spectacular scenery below the north face of La Meije and is built around the mountain road between Grenoble and Briancon to the east.
The most common way to reach La Grave is to fly to Grenoble Isere Airport then take a transfer bus from the airport to La Grave, or hire a car.
Flights and transfers
- Fly to Grenoble:
- There are 3 transfer buses to La Grave each Saturday, to connect with flights scheduled to land at up to ~15.00 – book tickets on the Bensbus website – https://www.bensbus.co.uk/ For flights arriving later than this, you can take a Bensbus transfer to Lac du Chambon, then a taxi to La Grave (see details below)
- Four Saturday return Bensbuses run from La Grave back to Grenoble airport.
- Fly to Lyon: https://www.skyscanner.net/
- There is a direct bus service from Lyon Airport to La Grave for a limited part of the season – each Saturday between 6th Feb and 5th March there are 3 Linkbus buses to La Grave, leaving the airport mid morning, mid afternoon and tea time. Visit the Linkbus website: https://www.linkbus-alps.com/en/ to download timetables and buy tickets. Likewise, Linkbus run return direct buses from La Grave to Lyon Airport on the same dates.
- For all other dates of the season, take a Bensbus transfer to Lac du Chambon – https://www.bensbus.co.uk/ (4 buses on a Saturday, 1 on Sundays and midweek days), then arrange a taxi pick up with Taxi de la Meije – http://www.taxidelameije.com/home/ (tel: +33 679 53 45 67)
- Fly to Geneva.
- Bus from Geneva Airport to Grenoble GR (6 buses a day, travel time ~2hrs): www.aerocar.fr
- Bus from Grenoble GR to La Grave.
Alternatively, hire a car from any airport – driving times to La Grave are 1.45hrs from Grenoble airport, 2.30hrs from Lyon airport and 3 hours from Geneva airport. NB you must hire a car with winter tyres or snow chains – as you will be crossing high mountain passes in winter, where special equipment is compulsory.
Other travel options
- Driving from the UK, take the ferry or Eurotunnel to Calais/Dunkerque, then 10-12 hours driving on the French Autoroutes (budget approx 90 Euros each way in tolls).
- Euroline coach: www.eurolines.co.uk/en
- Eurostar train from the UK to Lyon, then onward train/bus as above: www.eurostar.com/uk-en
Further information and travel links can be found on our Travel Planning page.
Fitness and Experience
To enjoy this trip you should be comfortable operating at Fitness Level 2/3, and Ski Tech Level 3:
Fitness Level 2
You do 2-3 hours cv training/sport per week. At this level you should be happy doing either a 3-4 hr hillwalk, cycling 30-40 miles or mountain biking 2-3 hours without being exhausted. On foot: you should be able to walk from Ogwen Cottage in North Wales up Glyder Fach – Glyder Fawr – Y Garn – Ogwen in ~5hrs. Or in the Lake District Langdale – Bowfell – Esk Pike – Angle Tarn – Langdale in ~ 6hrs. On skis: you are capable of off piste skiing all day or doing a couple of hours skinning with out finishing up exhausted – ie you can do this for a number of days without taking a rest day.
Fitness Level 3
You do 3-4 hours cv training/sport per week. At this level you are happy doing a 5-6 hr hillwalk, 40-50ml cycle or 3-4hr mountain bike ride without being totally exhausted. If you are into challenges – then the thought of doing a road sportive, or training to do a 1/2 (or maybe even a full) marathon, wouldn’t seem too ridiculous. On foot: you should be able to do the full Langdale Horseshoe: Langdale – Pike of Stickle – Angle Tarn – Bow Fell – Crinkle Crags – Pike of Blisco – Langdale in a day without finishing up exhausted. On skis: you can skin uphill at 300-400m/hr for 3-4 hrs a day (ie 8-1200m of ascent each day)
Tech Level 3
Confirmed Off Piste Skier. You can put down a reasonable set of tracks in powder, but difficult snow types – eg heavy wet snow, crusts, poor visibility or 40dg slopes – can all cause problems (though you can cope with them safely, if not elegantly!) *Equivalent to Ski Club of GB Off Piste Level: Purple – Advanced*
Likely to say: ‘I’d like to handle difficult snow/steep slopes more confidently in better style’
Our Advice: Off piste coaching still useful. Intermediate off piste weeks are at your level too. If you want to get into ski touring, try a touring course or intro level ski tour. If you’re an established ski mountaineer, then intermediate level tours are generally suitable.
To view all of our Ski Fitness Levels and Off Piste Technical Levels, please visit our Ski Ability page.
If you need to top up your fitness for this trip, please see our Ski Touring Training Advice page.
Day Touring/BC Ski Course Equipment List
Just remember, every extra kilo on your back knocks 10% off your enjoyment on the descents – so try and keep the weight down!
- Waterproof Jacket – preferably lightweight and breathable
- Overtrousers/ski pants – preferably with side zips
- Fleece mid layer or equivalent
- Spare fleece or lightweight insulated duvet jacket
- Socks – specialist ski socks or a warm loop lined pair of mountain socks
- Wicking thermal top – not cotton please…
- Thermal leggings or ski pants
- Thin inner gloves
- Warm ski gloves or mittens, if you suffer from cold hands
- Warm hat
- Water container – at least 1 litre
- Personal medications and blister kit – regular meds, zinc oxide tape, compeed and painkillers etc
- Ski goggles
- Sun glasses – CE rated 3 or 4 with side protection
- Sun and lip cream – factor 30+
- Wallet, passport and insurance docs
- Rucsac 25/35l – try and avoid ones covered in too many features, just ski and ice axe attachments required
- Freeride boots or ski mountaineering boots – check detailed factsheet kit list for preferred boots
- Skis with touring bindings – check detailed factsheet kit list for preferred skis and bindings
- Ski strap – to keep skis together on your rucksack if we need to carry them
- Ski poles – with good size 5cm+ baskets (telescopic poles are not needed)
- Climbing skins – they come with the skis if you hire your kit
- Harscheisen (ski crampons) – they come with the skis if you hire your kit
- Metal snow shovel – must be a full metal shovel (plastic blades don’t work in real avalanche debris!)
- Avalanche probe
- Avalanche transceiver – must be a modern digital model (older analogue models are now obsolete)
- Harness, with 120cm sling and locking karabiner
- Crampons – bring them if you have them
- Ice Axe – bring if you have one
- Ski helmet – a lightweight helmet is recommended for off piste skiing
Your guide will have all other safety kit, first aid and survival equipment.
Recommendations and Advice
Visit the Knowledge Base section of our website, where we publish an annual review of the years best new skis, boots and touring equipment, plus a range of other interesting tips and recommendations. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please get in touch!
Backcountry UK in Otley offer an excellent ski touring boot fitting service, one of the best ranges of ski mountaineering equipment in the UK and top notch advice.
Please visit our Equipment Hire page for recommended hire shops in your resort, and Alpine Guides hire equipment price list.
For this trip you must have specialist travel insurance providing medical, emergency search/rescue and repatriation cover for off piste skiing and ski touring, as outlined in the trip itinerary. We also strongly recommend that you purchase cancellation cover, in case you’re unable to attend your trip due to personal circumstances or injury. Please arrange your insurance as soon as your trip is confirmed to run.
Further details can be found on our insurance info page.