This story originally published in the February 2017 issue of POWDER (Vol. 45 Issue 6). PHOTO: Guillaume Le Guillou
Name: Pelle Lang
Location: La Grave, France
Roots: Born and raised in Sweden, Pelle Lang's first encounter with the tiny village of La Grave was as a competitive bump skier traveling through in 1989. He was living in Chamonix as a ski bum when, later that summer, a friend told him about a hotel for sale in La Grave, under the shadow of Le Meige, which has just one téléphérique accessing 7,000 vertical feet of unforgiving terrain. The next morning, Lang drove the four hours on a whim, purchased the hotel, and opened the original Skier's Lodge. He was 29. Ever since, Lang, who is soft-spoken, calm, and warm, has been the heartbeat bringing skiers from all over the world to Le Meige. Each winter, the IFMGA-certified guide is out on the hill six days a week, overseeing his guide operation while running the hotel. Now, he hopes to find a solution to keep the téléphérique running after its lease expires in June 2017. Because with no lift, there's no La Grave. The same could be said about Lang.
I remember my first time very well. I came in from Les Deux Alpes for a ski competition. I was driving up looking at the north side of the road. In those days, you had more hanging glaciers right over the road. Looking up is 2,000 vertical meters straight above you, and it's like, 'Where do you ski? Where do you come down?'
La Grave can be the best place on earth, but it can be the worst place. I think you need huge patience and you need to be very, very stubborn. You have to have huge passion for skiing. And then you have to be prepared to fight for your right [against the French government].
There was no one in La Grave the first year. The lift didn't open until the middle of February. You had to go to Les Deux Alpes and we'd ski down by ourselves. There was no mobile phone. We had harnesses but didn't have transceivers. Looking back, if we'd had any incident—an avalanche or broken knee, or you fall and hit yourself on a rock—there was no one there to help.
The best thing about living in La Grave is you walk down to the lift. It's a three-minute walk to have access to one of the biggest off-piste freeride terrain areas in the world.
You get a lot of things done in a day. There are no lift lines. It's not like Chamonix where you have to be in the queue at seven in the morning.
Every year there's a new variation or a new line. Even after all these years, I haven't skied everything.
Like any ski town, I think people get a bit sick and tired of each other at the end of the season.
A good ski guide should be able to communicate with clients and share the passion.
A lot of clients don't sleep well when they come here. I have to tell them they're on vacation. It's always better for the client to come here the second time. The terrain is not attacking them—they become part of the environment. They become part of the rhythm and steepness.
I'm not necessarily a powder skier. It doesn't have to be powder. I like smooth, fast, cold snow, where you get a good grip out of the ski. On certain days, we can giant slalom down the mountain. You might get a north wind and you can get down the couloir in 15 turns. You trust the skis and get a good kick out of the turns.
The magic of the mountain is that it keeps on changing the whole time. As it changes, we keep on changing the way we ski as well.