Ski and Be Seen


Aug 16, 2006
Outside Magazine
La Grave

Hit La Grave for the sanity-testing Derby de la Meijie festval, held every April on the 5,900-foot mountain. The catch? No gates, no fixed route, and minimal grooming.

La Grave, France
Imagine signing up for a ski race with no gates, minimal groomed piste, and no fixed route. Now imagine that said race also plunges 5,900 feet through bumps, crud, and icy patches on the flanks of 13,081-foot La Meije. You've just envisioned the tallest downhill ski race on the planet, and the centerpiece of the Derby de la Meije festival (April 4–7). The race begins atop the famously raw ski area of La Grave, which overlaps with Ecrins National Park, in southeastern France's Hautes-Alps. From there, taking in some great views of the mountain's treacherous glaciers, up to 1,000 racers depart in waves of ten. Chuckleheads abound: A few years ago, an American lit something resembling dynamite on the back of his mono-ski to propel himself over the flat section of the glacier, where the race turns off-piste. About $70; 011-33-4-76-79-90-05,

Livigno, Italy
Check your alpine bindings—and your inhibitions—at the valley's entrance when you head for the Live Free Heel Fest (formerly La Skieda), a weeklong grappa-drenched party that bills itself as the world's biggest tele-skiing festival. As many as 1,000 heel flappers from some 20 countries—a virtual bent-knee United Nations—descend on the small mountain village of Livigno, in northwestern Italy, April 1–8, to participate in silly races (a crowd fave in the past has been the slalom through heavy, swinging bags that knock racers out of their boots), a film festival, cookouts, gear demos, and guided daily ski tours for up to 100. $170, including lift tickets and all events; 011-39-0342-052230,

Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia
Whistler's Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival is the season-ending blowout. Last year, the pros showed their stuff on the rails, boxes, and hips of the terrain park in the slopestyle events. The centerpiece of this April 14–23 bash is the superpipe, where boarders and skiers air 20 feet out of the pipes. But what really attracts the 275,000 revved-up groms and jibbers are all the other off-hill events—free concerts at the foot of the ski hill; a nighttime urban rail session under the lights, attended by 7,000 fans pumped full of Red Bull–and–Jägermeister antifreeze; pro photo and filmmaker throwdowns in front of keyed-up audiences; and parties throughout Whistler Village. 604-938-3399,

Chilkat Mountains, Alaska
In the spring, the skies over Valdez buzz with choppers from nearly half a dozen heli-skiing companies, so if you're looking for the lonesome Valdez experience of 15 years ago, do like ski-porn auteurs Teton Gravity Research and Absinthe Films: Head southeast to discover the new heli-skiing frontier of the Chilkat Mountains. The ragged Chilkats have better weather than the Chugach range during the March and April flying season—and, some say, better snow. Sign on with Alaska Heliskiing (formerly Out of Bounds Adventures) and you'll likely get snowboarding star Tom Burt as your guide ($3,750, based on a five-person group for six days of skiing and eight nights' lodging; 907-767-5745, If you stay at Bruce and Carrie Bauer's bed-and-breakfast (907-767-5668), by Mosquito Lake, you can practice your jumps and tricks on Bruce's homemade terrain park.

Mammoth Mountain, California
Every resort says it has spring skiing, but if you want heavenly April turns, Tony Crocker advises heading to Mammoth. Why? "No Sierra Nevada mountain preserves its snow as well," Crocker says. This 3,500-acre resort has the high altitude (9,000 feet) to keep the place open until Memorial Day or later 90 percent of the time, and the cycle of warm days and freezing nights is the recipe for perfect corn snow. Spring lift ticket, $56; 800-626-6684,