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WHAT NOW FOR LA GRAVE? - Jane Peel, Chief Reporter
Monday February 27, 2017 - Email this article to a friend

Fans of the off-piste paradise in the French Alps fear big business will soon take over and ruin the mountain after attempts by locals to run the lift themselves were rejected.

The future of La Grave is in the balance as officials of the commune prepare to make a decision on who will run the only lift from the 12th century village up onto the mountain.

La Grave, between Les2Alpes and Serre Chevalier in the southern French Alps, is a wild mountain for advanced snowsports enthusiasts only. 

And that's just how lovers of freeride skiing and snowboarding like it.

The only access to the almost exclusively off-piste terrain is by an old, slow two-stage gondola, and the lease on that lift runs out on 15th June this year.

Villagers, mountain guides and business owners had hoped to be given a chance to operate the lift themselves as a community.

La Grave, FranceLa Grave village















La Grave, FranceLa Grave
















At the start of November they launched a crowdfunding campaign, Signal de la Grave. 

The idea was to secure enough money to persuade the Mayor's office that there was strong support to go on and raise more funds to run the lift. 

Despite raising more than €50,000 in just a few weeks - and more since then - they failed to win over local officials. 

Now the campaigners fear what they'd been worried about all along will happen - that a mega corporation will take over and ruin the special character of La Grave.

Exactly who is bidding for the contract has not been publicly revealed although there are rumours that the major resort lift operators, the Compagnie des Alpes that runs neighbouring Les2Alpes among others,  and SATA, which is in Alpe d'Huez,  are the two remaining bidders.

"The negotiations are currently going on and should finish around the end of March/beginning of April," a spokeswoman for the tourist office told PlanetSKI.

La Grave, FranceLa Grave

















One of the leaders of the crowdfunding campaign was Joost Van Zundert, who arrived for a season in La Grave in 2005 and didn't leave.

"The mayor's office informed us by letter that our candidature was not accepted," he told PlanetSKI.

"Of course we were disappointed because we hoped that they would let us through this first phase."

Joost van ZundertJoost van Zundert in La Grave















Joost explained that in France the public bidding process involves announcing your candidacy in one envelope and putting your bid in a separate one.

"They open first 'candidature' and screen your company financially and juridically," he said.

"We knew this was a critical phase because we founded a new company with no track record and no experience in ski resort operations. They rejected this candidature so they did not open our 'proposal'."

Three other candidates were also rejected leaving just two remaining.

A Mayoral commission of four people will make the final decision.

La GraveLa Grave















Joost says that if no candidate is successful there are two possibilities. 

The first is to ask the current operator, TGM, to continue to run the lift, which he thinks unlikely. 

The second is for the local authority, or commune, to run it on a temporary basis.

He believes the most likely scenario is that one of the big companies will get the contract, under which they will be required to build a third stage of the gondola, from 3,200 metres where it currently stops, up to the glacier at 3,600 metres.

At the moment the glacier is reached by a T-bar.

"That would normally cost about €15million which is a lot for a small village," Joost says.

"You would have to increase the number of visitors to make it profitable.  It's not that we don't want people to come.  We always need visitors, but the old lift has a certain capacity and you have the impression of skiing alone in the resort.

"If you increase the capacity, it's going to change the nature of skiing in La Grave.

"We don't want the third gondola.  This massive investment will change the business model completely and will not keep La Grave unique and wild."

The campaigners aim is for La Grave to remain a niche resort and ensure any development is sustainable.

They want to increase the options for ski touring and hiking and have plans to install an electric bike park in the summer. 

They're also helping to build a new downhill mountain bike trail. 

In the meantime, all they can do is wait and hope.

La Grave campaignLa Grave campaign












See our earlier articles as the crowdfunding campaign got underway and as it reached its initial €45,000 goal.

You can also read our editor's account from spring 2016 of a powder day in La Grave.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.

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