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How La Grave is aiming to head off the big resort firms

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Powered<span id= by Guardian.co.uk” width=”140″ height=”45″ />This article titled “How La Grave is aiming to head off the big resort firms” was written by Sam Haddad, for The Guardian on Sunday 11th December 2016 10.00 UTC

La Grave is no ordinary ski resort. At the foot of imposing La Meije peak (3,984 metres) in the French Alps, it has no pistes (just two marked “itineraries”) and one geriatric lift that carries 25 people at a time. From the top, the mountain is a blank canvas, littered with crevasses, cliffs, couloirs and other potentially life-ending hazards.

It’s a wild set-up, and first-time visitors should take a guide. But it’s also a place with mythical status among skiers and snowboarders from all over the world. Paul Woodd-Walker, a British skier and filmmaker who has been going to La Grave for 20 years, said: “Skiing La Grave is a unique experience. It offers a back-to-nature simplicity and freedom more associated with the Himalayas.”

Winter-time photo of the ski-lift in La Grave
La Grave’s ski lift, with La Meije in the background. Photograph: Alamy

But La Grave’s offering is under threat this winter as the contract to run the gondola is up for renewal, and some big-name resorts are rumoured to be interested in taking it over. They would probably make pistes over much of the mountain, add more lifts and perhaps even seek to make the whole of La Grave into one mega-resort.

It’s a concern that prompted locals to set up a crowdfunding campaign with the strapline “Let’s keep it wild”, which closed recently having beaten its €45,000- target by more than €15,000. The man behind the campaign, Joost van Zundert, a Belgian skier and long-time resident, said: “Most of those who contributed had their own stories to tell about La Grave, how much the resort means to them or how their dream is to come here.”

A skier on the glacier of La Meije.
A skier on the glacier of La Meije. Photograph: Alamy

Asked ask why La Grave is special, van Zundert said: “Of course the skiing, the atmosphere, the sense of wilderness – but it’s also an old village, not a typical resort. I’m not against big ski resorts, but people are now searching for authenticity. We have the chance to preserve and cherish it. Other resorts promote how many miles of skiing they offer, but I don’t see the point. Every day we ski the same mountain but it’s always a bit different, as it’s not groomed. It’s nature and it’s a challenge.”

Van Zundert’s plans include upping the resort’s green credentials by using solar, wind and hydroelectric power. So far, so romantic, but he believes there’s a strong business case for keeping the resort different. There is a surplus of well-developed ski resorts, many of which struggle to make a profit. Do we really need any more? It was a question posed in last year’s thought-provoking film, Jumbo Wild, funded by clothing company Patagonia, about a proposed resort in the Canadian wilderness.

Evening in La Grave
Evening in La Grave

This isn’t the first time a ski resort has used crowdfunding – Red Mountain in Canada has a campaign, (Fight the man. Own the mountain) to keep the resort independent – and it may well not be the last.

Van Zundert and his team should hear before Christmas whether they’ve made it to the second phase of the tendering process. A final decision is expected in March.

For updates visit Signal de la Grave

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