La Grave, France

Powder Day: Ski the tree-lined chutes and ledges between midway stations P2 and P1 before dropping into the broad Vallons de la Meije.
Publish date:
Alpe d'Huez, near La Grave, France

When Swedish ski bum Pelle Lång chased a rumor to La Grave in 1986, he found one hotel, one mountain guide, and a weekends-only gondola climbing the treacherous northern wall of 13,064-foot La Meije. For groceries, he drove to Grenoble; for gas, he drove to Serre Chevalier. For 7,000 feet of untracked powder, he skied in most any direction. Today, La Grave (the town) and La Meije (the mountain) are little changed. The lift—and two T-bars—are now open daily, ski bums number in the hundreds, and there are 10 hotels and a few restaurants. But there’s still no avalanche control, grooming, or anything resembling “inbounds.” So bring a rope. Or better yet, hire a guide.

Powder Day: Ski the tree-lined chutes and ledges between midway stations P2 and P1 before dropping into the broad Vallons de la Meije. Stable conditions? Head west from the top station to Chancel’s 45-degree Banana Couloir.

Three Days Later: Follow a guide down the 7,000-foot Girose Glacier, with its towering seracs, bowls, and couloirs that lead to the gurgling Romanche River.

Must Hit: The four Trifide couloirs are responsible for most of La Grave’s 24 skier deaths since 1982. Trifide 1, at 800 feet long and 40-plus
degrees, is the easiest—and most often moguled. Leave Trifide 3 to the locals, or face a 40-foot rock-drop or rappel.

The Stash: The Pan de Rideau’s 1,500 vertical feet of sustained, 45-degree slopes funnel onto a crevasse-riddled glacier. Hike there from the T-bar to Pointe Trifide.

Backcountry Access: The Enfetchores Tour starts above the T-bar, and snakes up the Selle Glacier to the Rateau Notch. From here, skin three hours northwest to La Meije Col. Rappel 150 feet and traverse west for 5,000 feet of fall-line powder turns that only a handful of people ski each year.

Weather: Both Atlantic and Mediterranean storms pummel La Grave, nearby Alp d’Huez, and Montgenevre; ski them all.

Après: That’s French, right? Nobody told the farmers in La Grave. Trythe terrace at the Chalet Alp Bar or Restaurant Lou Ratel—owner Michou is
local color, squared.

Fuel: Breakfast is at your hotel; lunch is best carried in your backpack. Dinner is your time to explore. Try smoked trout and andouillettes sausage at Le Faranchin, uphill from La Grave in Villar d’Arene.

Up All Night: Le Pub, in the basement of the Skiers Lodge, hosts an international crowd that occasionally stays up past 10:00 p.m. Les Bois des
Fees, another “late-night” hot spot, has Latin music and dancing.

Digs: Pelle Lång’s Skiers Lodge guide service (skiers recently moved into the renovated Hotel des Alpes, making this the new epicenter for foreigners. Weeklong packages, including guides, transportation, and two meals a day, are US$1,400.


Although heli-skiing in North America dates back to the 1960's, it wasn't until Alaska burst onto the scene in the 1990's when skiers and riders became fixated on the dream to heli-ski. Heli-skiing and more specifically the idea of of heli-skiing are now engrained in ski culture. We’re hooked on the idea of accessing what we believe could be the run of our lives. Heli or no heli, that's the ticket; the feeling of the best run of your life. But the reality of the matter is that heli-skiing is not cheap. Sure, it can be done on a dirt bag’s dime at some operations, but for most of us, putting in the time and effort isn’t realistic. So if you're not able to go heli-skiing this year, why not take a trip to a ski town that offers the chance to get the equivalent of a heli-run-steep lines, limited crowds, and most importantly, untouched snow- every day there's fresh snow. Here's a breakdown of three places you can do just that. Each area has a unique lift, a varying amount of skiable terrain and vertical, and a thirsty group of hard core locals who wait patiently hours before the lift opens to make sure they get an untracked run each powder day—what they deem as the "free" heli-runs they get with each season pass purchase.

Three Inbounds "Heli" Runs

All skiers should have the chance to feel what it’s like to heli-ski. But if you don’t have the dough or can’t make the trip to a heli-pad this year show up to one of these resorts on a powder day, wait patiently in the dark with the locals, and seize your chance to be one of the first to slice through some of the most sought after lift-accessed terrain in the world.