The Azores have lots of nicknames. The “Hawai’i of Europe” is one of them. But the Archipelago is also referred to as the “Europe’s Weather Kitchen”. Sitting in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, they get almost any storm that travels from west to east.

Where weather is made.

The interplay between the high pressure Area more or less around the Azores (The Azores High) and the Icelandic low pressure area plays a large role in defining the direction of the path storms take over the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricanes for example tend to hit the Gulf of Mexico if the Azores High stays further to the south while they travel up the US west coast when it’s further north. The interaction between the two areas also defines where low pressure systems and therefore storms make landfall in Europe. The whole system is pretty complicated in fact, and Wikipedia is a good place to start if you have a deeper interest.

How it affects the islands and the surf.

Long story short, there is almost always something going on in the atmosphere during springtime. It’s what makes the difference: the mix between clouds and sun rays makes for intense colors. This applies especially for green and blue, so from water to vegetation, it’s pure eye candy. The often strong winds make it hard to find good surf sometimes as it’s often blown out. But if you’re not terrified by surfing in 50km/h offshore winds, you will almost always find a spot that’s working.

La Grave gondolas View More

I always wanted to see La Grave but it never happened. Whatever reason crossed my plans and it almost looked like i fucked it up.

The last two years it was not clear if La Grave will continue to be the most sought-after freeride destination in the Alps. The lease for the lift ends in June and it was long unclear if and who will take it over.

The end of La Grave as we know it?

Some voices already claimed the end of La Grave, and the local community was just as afraid of a scenario with a big company taking over. By installing a ski resort (or connecting it to Les Deux Alpes) they would ultimately carry to the grave what La Grave is famous for: open terrain, raw mountains and the atmosphere that comes along.

“Signal de La Grave”, a crowdfunding campaign wanted to claim the future of La Grave, but didn’t make it into the final bidding round. As “Compagnie des Alpes” who runs nearby Les Deux Alpes and some of the major resorts in the French Alps pulled out in mid March, it was up to SATA to take the lease. The company in charge that also runs nearby Alpe d’Huez seems to be the second best option for La Grave.

As alpedhueznet.com stated, the La Grave village council approved the proposal last Friday (28.4.) and the contract will be signed somewhere around the end of next week. It involves the renovation of the existing facilities and the construction of a new gondola to the top of the Dome de la Lauze at 3’586m. SATA will take over operations by June, 15th.

Even though winter just had it’s last uprearing, we can finally start dreaming about the next visit in La Grave. And it will be in powder conditions, that goes without saying.

gravityking explore

Sometimes less is better than nothing.

I wanted to see la Grave for almost 20 years but somehow never made it. This April we were around the corner when we visited Sestriere with Maverick Snowboards. I knew this was the best opportunity I’ll ever get and with a difference of 15 minutes between driving home the way we arrived and driving through La Grave, it was a quick decision to make it happen. A parking full of ski bum vans at the bottom of the cable car indicated that we arrived in the Mecca of freeriding. 

La Grave probably really is the ultimate freeride destination.

We just couldn’t find out because the snow conditions were on the terrible side of the spectrum this spring. Like almost anywhere in the Alps. But why not taking the opportunity and go for exploring while getting into the vibe?

The weather didn’t allow for too much sight seeing, but the views we got were spectacular. And we definitely felt the vibe, be it the French skiers straightlining mogul sections with ease or the significant amount of monoskis, a long forgotten concept that unites the disadvantages of snowboarding and skiing altogether in one equipment.  

Spectacular terrain all the way down.

The world famous “Téléphérique des Glaciers de la Meije” covers 2’150m of vertical drop from the top all the way to the bottom, 50m below La Grave itself. The lower part wasn’t skiable so we had to cut in to the first station P1 at 1’800 meters. 

Needless to say, a vertical drop of this extent covers a wide variety of terrain. From the glaciers and the really challenging alpine stuff at the top it drops into the “Valons de la Meije” all the way down to the river over wide meadows. You will find countless options for your lines and that’s only one of the two possibilities. You could either take the turn-off into the “Valons de Chancel” instead, with terrain at least as spectacular. 

Be aware that most of the top stuff involves alpine techniques. Rapelling into couloirs is a common challenge and lots of the lines are on glaciers. So you need to know a bit about rope handling and crevasse rescue. For most of us, hiring a guide is the best option anyway. I am pretty experienced in freeriding but getting into new terrain is always a bit intimidating. Having someone who knows where to go helps.

If you’re more into tree skiing, check the birch-tree spawned lines between stations P1 and P2 at 2’400m. To some, these tree-runs are the best La Grave has to offer.

How to get there.

The shortest way to get in is from Grenoble. Unfortunatley, the main road has ben closed due to landslide risk since 2015. There is a makeshift relief road but it’s closed quite often during winter so the best bet is to get in from the Italian side trough Briançon and the “Col du Lautaret”.

If you make it at daylight it’s a very scenic drive by the way and you could check out the vast ski area of Serre Chevalier on the way. La Grave is definitely worth a visit and we will do so next winter. Subscribe and/or stay tunded for more.

 

The first week on São Miguel was about getting into surfing mode and further explore the island. We expected pretty bad surf due to strong northeasterly winds, but were positively surprised as we surfed throughout the week. After hitting the beach break called “Populo” in Ponta Delgada we took our time to show our guest places and treat ourselves with good food.

Highly anticipated, been working on it for month and now we’re finally here. Last Wednesday we arrived on São Miguel island. The first days were meant to check out the island, see if everything is still in place and score a surf every now and then. Yesterday we moved into the house that will be our home for a month and we already love it!

While winter staged a comeback for the Easter holiday, we already quit and stored our snowboard gear in the cellar. For us, the end of the winter season has come. Somehow it was hard to miss two seemingly good powder days. But then, on the other hand, I was pretty ok with it as the rewards are quite nice. Two days left until we fly into another surf adventure. The Azores, São Miguel in particular, await us. 

There are tons of nice memories from our last trip to the Azores. Be it the perfect south swell we scored at Ribeira Quente “by accident” or the world-class surfing right in front of our eyes at the Azores Pro including a nice Jet Ski wipeout. Be it surfing naked at Santa Iria, wandering around the craters of Sete Sidade or just relaxing in the hot pools at Poça da Dona Beija. Want to know more about the Azores? Check out our destination page here.

How we happened to ride Maverick Snowboards.

We connected to Mats from Maverick Snowboards a while ago on Instagram and finally met in Stuben at the Longboard Classics where he allowed me to race one of his boards, the “177 Cheater”. His planned to visit friends in Sestriere, Italy after the event and we had some time and were keen to see some more of the Alps. So we joined, because after all, we never snowboarded in Italy so far. The fact that Sestriere was expecting a big dump was even more tempting. Maybe, this would be our first and only powderlapse-day this season and I think we really deserved it.

The local crew from the shoppe.

Maverick snowboards
PLP in the Kronicle Magazine.

In the morning the sky had cleared from the strom and we met up with Gionata, Ettore and their friends and family from the local snowboard shop “Surfshoppe Sestriere”. Those guys are going back to the roots, building their own powdersurfboards since 2012 unter the brand Peace Love & Powder. Those things are huge and heavy but at least as fast. Even with the “Cheater” I couldn’t manage to catch up. Was really nice to meet up and have an awesome shred day with them. Another nice thing about being on the mountain with locals is the car that suddenly picks you up when you end up on a random road and drops you right at the station in front of the queue so you’re the first one when the gondola opens at 10am.

The “Cheater”.

Maverick snowboards
Me hiding behind my “Cheater”.

Mats has two boards on offer, one of them is the “Pipeliner” at 185cm and the other one – my favourite – the “Cheater” at 177cm or 5’8″, respectively. It really holds what Mats promised: it pretty much flies above the powder and if you attack the groomers, this thing from another world. I’ve been riding quite agressive boards throughout the years, including the custom made full-carbon-core boardercross-machine. But nothing matches with the power of 140cm of effective edge. It just goes and it feels like snowboarding on rails. If the slopes are crowded though, it’s the wrong board. I’m really happy to call one of the “Cheaters” my own now and wonder how fast it can go. We’ll find out next winter.