Every European off piste skier dreams of visiting Le Grave at some point in their life. This winter has been a strange one so far. Lots of avalanche incidents, so we’d been sticking to safer low angled slopes when ski touring (including a really fun day with Bet and others in Megeve). So in some ways we weren’t even that excited to visit this steep skiing Mecca – would it be safe enough to ski anything anyway?!
As it turned out, the snow stability was fine. So we had an awesome time cruising around skiing some of the classic lines and not doing anything too hardcore. We just enjoyed the sensation of skiing.
Le Grave is a small village in the Miege mountains. It has one lift and no pistes. There are not enough beds in town to allow the mountain to get busy, so its a really mellow vibe with no queuing for lifts, and on the descents its frequently possible to believe that you’re the only group on the mountain. We stayed in the hotel Edelweiss which was perfect. Really friendly staff, big rooms for the ridiculous amount of gear that we’d brought and amazing food. Importantly, the breakfast buffet included eggs, ham and nuts as well as all the usual sugary stuff like juice, bread and jam. Perfect for a diabetic who doesn’t take insulin before a big day skiing.
The Freaux couloir
To finish our first day we skied the Freaux, which finishes on the valley floor. It wasn’t much steeper than forty degrees, but it was narrow and the snow was pretty firm – in places it was actual ice! So with no falling allowed we enjoyed an engaging ski in an atmospheric setting. We popped out at les Freaux and hitch hiked back to Le Grave.
There are loads of other couloirs to ski, bit a lot of them require 100m of rope and we never felt energetic enough to put all that in our bags!
The new apres ski is running
After returning from les Freaux at 17:30, I ummed and ahhed, almost wimped out, but then went for a run. Afterwards I realised that I have NEVER regretted going running in the mountains – I must remember that next time I’m tired. I didn’t go far – just up to a small peak on the ridge above the village. But having started the day in two layers of down, I ended it in a T-shirt and trainers, running up a mostly snow-free, south facing hillside with just wild foxes for company. I could see the sun illuminating the peak above me and resolved to catch the last rays before it set. Sprinting up the last bit of scree, through a snow field and some trees, I managed it, and watched the sun set over the far side of the valley.
“Do I prefer running to skiing?” I thought as I ran back down to the hotel in the dusk, feeling a wonderful sense of freedom as I was glissading down the patches of snow in the fields.
Skiing with a Axel
Day two was about as bad a forecast as one could hope for: snow fall due to start mid-morning, but clouds and low visibility all day. Flat light without the redeeming feature of bottomless powder!
We thought the best option would be to go for a walk, so put skins on our skis and walked up the mountain. After a couple of minutes we were joined by a sheep dog (as well as looking like one, we knew he actually was one because he smelled like a sheep) who we later discovered was called Axel. He kept us company all the way up, whilst we were nattering about sugar, diabetes, education, capitalism, health and the NHS. David Cameron, take note: we solved all the UK’s problems whilst climbing so just ask us how to sort everything out.
I tried to keep up with Axel a couple of times, but his easy lope uphill was a sprint for me, and I was definitely left the more dog-like – tongue hanging out, panting, chest heaving – whilst Axel patiently sat and waited for this pathetic human being to continue walking.
More surprising was Axel’s speed after we decided to ski down. We were skiing fast, and Axel was just bombing down the hill in front of us. He quite literally ran circles around us as we sped down hill. What an amazing dog! We felt pretty guilty as we climbed into the lift and left him to his own devices, but he was definitely a more capable mountaineer than us, so I’m sure he was been fine.
Blue bird powder day
After snowing all night, the clouds parted and we were treated to a blue bird powder day. Unlike in Chamonix, the vibe here is super chilled and the lifts so small, and terrain so big, that there were fresh lines for everyone. We skied some lovely powder – in the open, in the trees and in some couloirs. I’ll let the pictures below do the talking.
Diabetes played ball over the weekend. As usual, I didn’t take any fast acting insulin until the evening, and my blood sugar stayed between 4 and 8 mmol/l for most of the weekend. Exercise definitely helps. Being outside all day is good for diabetes. Why do I chose to sit at a desk for over half my life?!?!
Regular testing also helps too. I tested my blood before every major descent. On the first day, I had to eat snickers, cereal bars and fig rolls constantly to keep my blood sugar up. On the second day I hardly ate anything despite walking up hill, which should drop my blood sugar quicker than skiing down hill. I don’t know why my body reacted differently each day, but it’s actually pretty easy to stay on top of the blood sugar control with regular testing.
You don’t have to push boundaries to have fun
I am still really ambitious with my skiing and running goals. I want to climb more mountains, move faster, and ski more steep slopes. But conditions this winter have definitely restricted things from a steep skiing perspective. This weekend was another reminder that just the sensation of skiing on snow – hard snow, soft snow, bumpy snow – is awesome. I can’t wait to get back out there again!