(Written by Alastair Instone – November 20, 2016)
Many of you know La Grave – you’ve been there and experienced everything
that is wild, crazy and weird about it. If you haven’t visited, here’s
what you need to know about it: big mountain, big (old, slow) ski lift,
7,000’ vertical drop, no pistes, no signs, no ski patrol. You take
responsibility for yourself – for having fun, but also for getting down
safely (or at all – far better skiers than me have gone out, never to
return). THIS FILM and THIS FILM give an impression of what the place is about. It can be a place of the
best of times, also the worst of times. It is unique, and one of the
most special places to ride mountains.
Alongside this, the local native population have suffered from long-term
poverty and depopulation as their children chase jobs elsewhere. The
French locals have always had an uncomfortable relationship with
La Grave – as we know it – is under threat. The lease to manage the lift
is due for a change of management; different parties are in the running
but the most likely candidate is Compagnie des Alpes (effectively the
European Intrawest). Their MO runs against what makes LG special in
almost every way: they do high-speed, high-capacity lifts; pistes; real
estate development and so on. If, as looks likely, they win the contract
to operate the lift, La Grave will probably become just another typical
ski hill, albeit with some insane terrain beyond the rope.
A big investment by a big company would bring some benefits to some of
the local people, but they would not be evenly shared. Many local people
are thrilled at the possibilities a big inward investment would bring;
many are uncomfortable with the prospect of the character of the place
being dramatically altered. It is a complicated issue.
A group of skiers (not people I know personally) are trying to offer an
alternative to a big company running the lift: a crowdfunded campaign to
raise funds to put together a bid to operate the lift, but also to show
the depth of support for keeping La Grave special and unique. Their aim
is to run the lift, but also to improve its operation and bring about
sustainable development and growth for all the local people.
I think the whole local political situation is complex, but I believe
that this campaign offers the best chance to keep La Grave special for
skiers. Many of us are increasingly faced with ugly political situations
at home, but – as skiers – this is a positive movement to get behind.
Please watch the video below, have a look at the Crowdfunding Page, and consider pledging.