The future of the off-piste resort of La Grave is once again in doubt, as it has been for much of its forty year existence. The operating contract for its lifts – there are two of them: a slow two-stage gondola from the village at 1480m to 3200m, and a short drag-lift on the glacier to 3530m – runs out next spring. The commune must decide during the winter who if anyone will take over from the existing operator, Denis Creissels, the Grenoblois engineer who built the lift in the ’70s.
During the summer the Mayor published the terms of the tender, and these give some clarity. Of all the obligations incumbent on interested parties, two are key:
1 The new operator must preserve the natural wilderness character of the ski area: no pistes.
2 The new operator must replace the glacier drag lift – there used to be two, in an L shape, but glacier retreat put one of them out of reach – with a new gondola from 3200 to the Dome de la Lauze, completing the link with Les Deux Alpes. This new lift must be in place by 2021.
Are these two things compatible?
The new lift project, plus other minor improvements set out in the tender document, will require an investment of more than 20 million euros. Who would put that kind of money into a ski area with an uplift capacity of 400 skiers/per hour? And would it be possible to preserve the wilderness character of La Grave’s ski area if it was seamlessly linked to Les Deux Alpes?
The Mayor’s idea is that the new lift would generate increased summer business. The document also mentions ‘subsidies’ (unspecified).
Joost Vanzundert, a Belgian plastics consultant and La Grave resident who is leading a crowdfunding bid to take over management of the ski area, is sceptical.
“I’m not sure anyone will be interested in taking on the contract on those terms,” he says, “so we have submitted our application with our plans, which do not include building the new lift.
“We don’t want to change the ski area, just modernise and renovate. The lift works well and in a good year it makes money. I’m convinced the crowd is the best option for La Grave – it’s a place for enthusiasts, and should be run by enthusiasts.”
With a target of 3 million euros for working capital and the desired improvements, Vanzundert is looking for 20 major investors to commit 100,000 euros each and says he is already more than halfway there. “Then we want members of the ski community to participate for 1,000€ or 10,000€,” he says.
His scheme offers investors a sliding scale of dividends: a lift pass for life, an annual pass, vouchers for local spending, discounts. If the chance to save La Grave and be a stakeholder in one of skiing’s last best places seems tempting, Joost Vanzundert would love to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org