Pros: Huge mountain, negligible crowds, amazing terrain
La Grave is a unique mountain....2150m of vertical, all unmarked, ungroomed terrain. I skied there just one day...had planned for two, but our guide fell through on the first day. La Grave is no place for the uninitiated to ski without a guide, so we opted for a day in a Italian resort about an hour away. The one day at La Grave was fantastic and a true high alpine adventure. On a clear day, the views to the northeast toward Mont Blanc (and in the far distance, the Matterhorn) are spectacular.
From the time you buy your ticket (a very reasonable 39 euro), you know this is no ordinary ski area. A huge sign at the bottom of the list lists the specifics of things you must have: an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe, and if you plan to ski on the glaciers, a climbing harness, and crevasse rescue gear. Someone in the party (most likely your guide) should carry a 30m rope.
From the top of the telepherique (gondola) at 3200m, you can access the "classic route" to skiers right of lift line. Huge, open bowls surrounded by stunning rock walls, with glaciers dominating the view, the classic route eventually returns you to the P2 station at 2400m. (Despite La Grave's reputation as wild mountain, there are very civilized resturants at both the summit and the midstation...after all, this is France.
After a warm up on the classic run, when the sun had softened the snow, we took the short drag lift from the 3200m station up to the highest point of 3550m, from which you can access the Glacier de la Girose, which appeared to extend forever....a half mile wide, it seemed. Descending the glacier to the Col du Lac, we traversed and dropped into the Banana Couloir, a narrow, steep and dramatic descent to the lake. Then a traverse through the woods to return to the P1 station.
If you are a more advanced skier, of course, a guide can lead you to all manner of very steep and exposed routes. We took it easy, and found La Grave to be within the capabilities of a typical expert skier with previous off-piste experience. Best not to push yourself too hard at first, or allow your ego to get you in over your head.
The town of La Grave is no night-life hot spot....there are several good places to eat, a couple of bars with outside patios where you can bask in the spring sun for your victory beer while admiring the sunset on the main peak of Le Mejie (3982m), and few other bars for a beer after dinner. But La Grave is a town of serious skiers who turn in early.
There is definitely a vibe to La Grave that makes it irresistable to a serious skier...highly recommended!