Not to be Missed: Derby de la Meije

© Joshua Simpson

La Grave’s annual festival offers more than no-frills and no-fall zones.

On the first of April, La Grave celebrates the 27th annual Derby de la Meije, a three-day festival with live music, outrageous costumes, and one of the most unique skiing races in all of Europe. More than a thousand participants from over 20 countries descend on this tiny farming village to race from the top of a nearly 12,000-foot-high glacier. In true La Grave fashion, the Derby is short on rules and regulations. The race is open to practically anything that slides down snow, and there is no set racecourse. Rather, pros and amateurs alike can take whichever route they wish from the top, riding skis, snowboards, monoskis, even sleds to get to the bottom the fastest. Past winners have blazed down the 7,000 vertical feet in just over five minutes, hitting speeds upwards of 75 miles per hour. Sylvain Admirat founded the event in 1989, drawing a mere 63 competitors. Last year, about 1,200 signed up, including Sochi Olympic gold medalist Pierre Vaultier. With racers and revelers decked out in April Fools’ attire, the Derby de la Meije puts a lighthearted face on this serious ski area and celebrates the true spirit of La Grave: a deep love for living in the mountains.

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