||This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the French Wikipedia. (July 2014)|
A view from the nearby hillside
|• Mayor (2008–2014)||Jean-Pierre Sevrez|
|Area1||126.91 km2 (49.00 sq mi)|
|• Density||3.9/km2 (10/sq mi)|
|INSEE/Postal code||05063 / 05320|
|Elevation||1,135–3,976 m (3,724–13,045 ft)
(avg. 1,520 m or 4,990 ft)
1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km² (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.2 Population without double counting: residents of multiple communes (e.g., students and military personnel) only counted once.
Unsurprisingly, La Grave is a mecca for off-piste and extreme skiers, offering some of the most exciting and challenging lift-served terrain in the world. The vertical drop totals 2,150 metres, although it is possible to ski below the resort to the road and increase the vertical descent to 2,300 metres.
Mechanical access to the mountain is limited to a closed, two-stage, pulse gondola system. The first lift starts at 1,450 metres, runs through one intermediate station (known as P1 at 1,800 metres) then terminates at Peyrou d'Amont (2,400 metres). The second stage of the gondola runs directly from Peyrou d'Amont to the Col des Ruillans (3,200 metres). The top of the gondola then allows access to button lift (which is the world's only fully suspended surface lift) to reach the top of the Girose Glacier (3550m). The Girose Glacier can also be reached from the resort of Les Deux Alpes on the other side, although this entails a one to two kilometre walk (between certain hours transport across is provided).
There are two main routes of descent available, with many offshoots and couloirs available. To the skiers right of the gondola station at the Col des Ruillans are 'Les Vallons de La Meije', a variation of which leads to the infamous Trifides couloirs, and ultimately to the valley bottom and the Romanche River. Skiers can also make leftwards traverses to return to Peyrou d'Amont or P1 to avoid skiing the lower section which can be rocky or even grassy meadows in poor snow conditions.
To the skier's left from the Col des Ruillans is known as the Chancel route (also accessible from the Girose Glacier) which leads to several couloirs (the Banane, Patou, Couloir du Lac) around the Lac de Puyvachier and the Refuge Evariste Chancel. Below this point skiers can either traverse right to return to P1 or descend directly to the valley floor and village of Les Fréaux via the steep Fréaux Couloir, the entrance to which is easily confused with the top of an icefall so should be treated with care.
Alternative descents include various routes to the south of the highest point of the lifts (the Dome de Lauze, at the top of the T-bar) in the Vallon du Diable. These lead to the picturesque village of St Christophe en Oisans from which alternative transport must be arranged in order to return to La Grave or to join the Deux Alpes lift system and return via the top of the Girose Glacier. There are several direct routes from the top of the Girose Glacier to the valley such as Chirouse and Orcières; these involve complex routefinding and sometimes abseils. Other classic routes are the Pan du Rideau and Y-Couloir, reached via a short walk from the top of the first T-bar; they involve a steep ski down onto the Glacier du Rateau then rejoin the Vallons de La Meije.
As a testimony to the extremely perilous nature of the topography, even some of the most accomplished exponents of the off-piste sport have perished at La Grave. Perhaps most noteworthy, in April 2006 Doug Coombs died while trying to save a friend in the Couloir de Polichinelle.
There are restaurants at Peyrou d'Amont and the Col des Ruillans, and food is served at the atmospheric Refuge Evariste Chancel. Beds at both the Refuge and in a sleeping space in the Col des Ruillans restaurant are available for overnight hire by prior arrangement.
In recent years, La Grave has also become a popular location for ice climbing (thanks in part to British mountaineering guide, Terry Taylor - now retired). The steep sided valley receives little sun in winter and many icefalls form on the valley sides. Climbing routes range from under 100 to over 300 metres long and are climbed in a number of pitches. Routes range from easy La Gorge II/3 to very hard Diabolobite II/5+.
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