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Gabe Rogel

A skier soars down a steep slope at the Nevados de Chillán Ski Resort, formerly known as Termas de Chillán. Visitors to the resort can explore adventurous backcountry routes created by past eruptions of the three nearby volcanoes.

La Grave, France With no avalanche control, snow grooming, boundary ropes, or man-made slopes, La Grave is the only ski area of its kind in the world. A rainbow-colored lift rises from the 12th-century village of La Grave and delivers skiers to the door of more than 7,500 feet of off-piste terrain: steep Alpine faces, rolling glacier runs, and arguably the best couloir skiing in Europe—all in the shadow of La Meije, a majestic 13,068-foot peak that lords over La Grave, a village of just 500 year-round residents. “If you are coming here thinking everything is secured and safe, then you’re going to get into danger, because the mountain is not listening to you as a skier. You’ve got to listen to the mountain. It tells you where it’s possible to ski that day,” says Lars-ake Krantz, a Swedish professional skier who has spent 12 winters in La Grave. While there is plenty of terrain for advanced intermediate and expert skiers, having basic ski-mountaineering skills takes skiing in La Grave to a whole new level, as some of La Grave’s best terrain requires rappels, exposed traverses, or traveling over crevasse-riddled glaciers. Due to La Grave’s risks and complicated terrain, most visitors hire a guide from one of three guiding services in town. Check out the Skier’s Lodge for killer guided skiing and accommodation packages. But with or without a guide, skiing in La Grave is a true adventure. Entry into a run might require a 90-foot rappel, or you might schuss to a 23-person village in the next valley over for lunch. Some runs necessitate innovative exit strategies, such as the Tyrolean traverse at the bottom of Chirouze, one of La Grave’s infamous road runs. But get there fast. Change may be coming to La Grave. In June, the current lease for the Téléphérique ski lift expires, which means that a large resort conglomerate could take over the lease and change La Grave’s character forever. Hoping to preserve La Grave’s wild vibe, a local crowd-funding movement called the Signal of La Grave has gathered steam. Headed up by longtime La Grave resident Joost van Zundert, the initiative hopes to raise enough money from investors and donations to keep the mountain in the community’s hands. Skiing aside, what elevates La Grave to a must-ski location is the experience of being in an authentic French village bypassed by time, where après ski is more about dinner parties and sipping home-brewed genepi, an herbal liqueur made from Alpine flowers, than a rowdy bar scene. “It’s special because it’s a small village. It’s not a proper ski town. You have a few bars and restaurants but it’s not a luxury ski town like those you have all over Europe,” says Krantz. “It’s more basic. Everything here its back to basics, even the skiing.” What to Do Iconic Run: La Voute. “It’s a beautiful couloir with big, big mountain walls on each side,” Krantz says. Skiers keen on ski touring should hit up the Tabuchet, a massive glacier run. “It’s a 6,500-foot gain. The descent is very big and open, and gives you a good overlook of everything because you are so high up,” he says. Best Après: Le Castillan. “It’s a very chill place and very close to the basics,” Krantz says. Best Hotel: The Skiers Lodge. “It has a complete package with good food, good guiding, and great location. Otherwise, Chalet de la Meije and Castillan deliver great accommodations,” he says. Best Restaurant: Au Vieux Guide. “It always delivers good value, great service, and a consistently high level of food. Good wines as well,” Krantz says. Insider Tip: “Go ski touring one day on the south faces so you actually experience how big the terrain is that you are normally skiing,” says Krantz. “Seeing it from the other side makes a difference. It’s enormous.”

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