East of Grenoble, the La Grave ski domaine is known for the most radical freeride snowboarding in Europe with couliors, steeps, glades, glaciers and a maximum vertical descent of 2,300m. The ski area is considered to be ungroomed, lift-serviced, off-piste snowboarding with crevasses, cliffs and up to 60 degree pitches. There is no formal ski patrol here, so consider yourself on your own and come prepared with avalanche gear.
To reach the top station, there is a two-stage, clustered five cabin gondola system. From the top, there is a 2,300m vertical descent to the base area on unmarked, unpatrolled freeriding routes. While there are no marked routes, there are two popular ungroomed descent routes known as Vallons de Chancel and Vallons de la Meije, which are both shown on the ski area map.
A typical La Grave snowboarding descent offers limitless variety from tame to steep terrain commencing on this glacier, proceeding down spectacular open bowls, winding its way through small chutes, crossing glacial moraines into seemingly endless steeps and deeps in the serenity of the forest. Legendary descents from the Girose glacier, with direct lines of 2,300m explains why so many riders come back year after year to enjoy free-riding with one of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the Alps.
Keep in mind that guides are generally recommended. The gondolas takes you up to an altitude of 3,200m in about 30 minutes, in a unique setting surrounded by vast glaciers and steep couloirs where you can carve turns according to your inspiration and level, far from any groomed trails or lift pylons. This requires a certain technical level, but above all a good dose of humility and responsibility when faced with the natural elements such as gaping glacial crevasses and large seracs.
One side note; above the gondolas, there are two t-bar lifts that continue further up and provide access to the neighboring Les Deux Alpes ski area.
If you are looking for some challenge and are prepared, the three Trifide couloirs will offer up some excitement. Many snowboarders will start from the top at the Dome de la Lauze (3,550m). Another interesting route that is not as difficult is the backside of the mountain leading down to St-Christophe-en-Oisans, but keep in mind that you will need some transport back to Venosc to use the Les Deux Alpes gondola back to the top.
Surprisingly, for this minimalist ski area, there are three on mountain restaurants to see refuge. The first two are located at the gondola mid-station (Peyrou dAmont) and top-station (Haut-Dessus). The third option is located about half way down the Vallons de Chancel route and is known as the Refuge Chancel (reservation recommended).
The La Grave Ski Area is located near the Les Deux Alpes ski area. It is possible to snowboard between the two ski areas by walking or snowcat tow, but you'll want to make sure you have the right joint lift pass.
If you are looking for some apres ski action, try the Glacier Bar, Pub Le Bois Des Fees and Au Vieux Guide. While it is a small quiet town, you can try the K2 Bar for some nightlife.
To reach the snowboarding at La Grave, you will need to make your way the Grenoble bus station (there is a shuttle bus every half hour from the Lyon airport via faurevercors.fr). From the Grenoble bus station, there is an infrequent public bus (#35 Grenoble-Briancon) that takes about 1.5 hours to reach La Grave but the last daily bus is 4:45pm except weekends where its at 7:00pm (bus-et-clic.com/ler35).
Note: Historically, the lifts at La Grave ski domaine used to only be open in January and February. However, more recently, the lifts have been opening in mid-December and staying open until late April. You will want to check with the ski area each season so determine the status. Also, keep in mind the foul weather closes the lifts on average for about two days each week. When snowboarding and freeriding internationally, it is important to get a travel insurance policy that covers emergency rescue, medical expense and evacuation. There are many destinations that will not initiate rescue or medical treatment without prior payment or proof of insurance. In many cases, the rescue fees, medical fees or evacuation to a reputable hospital can total tens of thousands of dollars. Plans such as GEOS SAR100 or IMG Patriot Travel Medical Insurance are well worth the per-trip cost of $130 to $200 USD.
Overall, La Grave is the 5th most popular snowboard & freeride destination of all 42 snowboarding resorts in France.