Destination: La Grave, France
Dates: January 23, 2023 to February 7, 2023
Since the early 2000s, we have been traveling to the small ski town of La Grave, France. La Grave is home to some of the biggest lift-accessed and backcountry ski terrain in the world. This is also a great opportunity for athletes to experience a foreign culture and explore a new region of the world.
We were lucky enough to have Joe Vallone, American ski guide and La Grave resident, join us on this trip. His local knowledge and experience is incredibly valuable for our athletes. Joe is an AMGA Certified Rock, Alpine, and Ski Mountaineering UIAGM/IFMGA Licensed Guide.
We also had a surprise guest join us for three days. Glen Plake, the pioneer of extreme skiing, spends his time between Mammoth, CA and Chamonix, France. He is well known for being featured in films like “The Blizzard of Aahhhs” and for his mohawk. Our team was incredibly excited to meet and have the opportunity to ski with him. His presence and knowledge was amazing!
Although everyday of this trip brought smiles to the athletes faces, here are some of our favorites days:
The first day on snow definitely didn’t disappoint. As we rode up the gondola on our first run, everyone’s faces lit up; a combination of excitement and maybe even a little bit of fear. Yes, the mountains are that big. To start off, Joe brought us down the 2 main runs on La Grave to understand the main flow of the mountain and how to get back to the lift. The runs here are long and tiring, but full of fun and excitement. A recent wind event over the last few days created a chocky, wind buffed surface. Although it wasn’t exactly the powder that we all dream of, it was sure an upgrade from classic, east coast ice. We looked at some off the crazy ski lines here in La Grave, and learned about the glaciers on these mountains and how fast they are receding. It was a great first day on snow and we’re ready to do it all again tomorrow.
The crew tackled two couloirs with Joe, the Banane, and Raphael today. Both of these couloirs fall in the 45+ degree pitch and had firm edgeable snow with some surface facets which allowed for some awesome turns. After disembarking the gondola we traversed the Cote Fine to gain access to Couloir Raphael. The crew loaded the gondola at P1 and had a long lunch break at the summit lodge soaking up the sun and enjoying a cup of mountain coffee. Run number two found us standing at the top of the Banane Couloir. Our final turns of the day found top of boot deep facets in the trees all the way down to the village. -Garrett Morrow, Program Director
What a day! We decided to try and find some better snow today, so we took a quick drive down the road and skinned 5 miles into a new area. We were very successful as we found nice soft powder. The excitement was very apparent. To add on top of this incredible skiing, we were joined by two more ski legends: Glen Plake and Ptor Spricenieks. They shared tons of knowledge and stories with us, and also brought great energy to hype up the team on a long day. We’ll be skiing with them, and Joe, tomorrow as well. This was probably our best day yet, and as Coach Stu said, “That may have been the best snow of my life.”
Today we skied with Glen Plake, Joe Vallone, and Ptor Spricenieks once again. We spent the day riding at La Grave, where Glen taught us how to be better and more confident skiers. His advice and knowledge was extremely helpful. Our first run brought us back to the Banane Couloir. We skied the chalky snow down to the lake and through the woods to P1. Once we reached the top, we took a nice lunch break in the sun. Glen and Ptor shared stories as we ate. For our second run, we went over to the other side of the mountain, known as the Vollone. Ptor snapped a bunch of photos of us as we made our way to the base.
Today we did one of the largest possible ski runs at La Grave. But before this, we took a run from the top of the gondola down to the midstation at 2400 m. This run brought us down one of the main areas that we have already skied a few times on this trip. Then our mega run began. From the top of the gondola we skinned up under the closed teleski to the top of La Grave. From here, we dropped of the backside, down a steep, classic run. This side of the mountain is south facing so we were treated with some nice corn snow on the day down. When we finally reached the valley floor, we skied a slight downhill traverse about 12 km out to the town of St. Christophe. We visited a small shop and restaurant in the small village before making the 45 minute drive back to La Grave.
The last ski day was amazing. We booted up the St. Antoine couloir about half way. Above this point had exposed rocks so we decided to stop short of the top. This couloir has huge rock walls and is narrow compared to some of the other couloirs we have skied as a team. This was also the steepest terrain we have skied at La Grave, and the steepest line most of our team members have ever skied. Everyone did great! We went up the gondola for a second run. At the top, we stopped for lunch, took in the incredible views above the clouds, then headed to the Patou Couloir and skied back to the village. It was a great way to end a great trip!
-Written by Kai Glidden, Class of 2023