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An Island In the Storm

Face Shots
posted: 12/24/2002

Pelle Lang is a guide. Pelle Lang is also, among other things, a hotel owner, a marketing director, a sort of union organizer, a website manager, and a former, current, and probably forever ski bum. And as the co-owner of the Skier's Lodge (formerly La Chaumine), a combination all-inclusive chalet and certified guide service at the hardcore skier's paradise of La Grave, France, Pelle Lang is all of these things at once.

Starting a lodge and guide service at an unknown mountain that Lang estimates is suitable for about three percent of the world's skiers was a steep uphill slog. "When I'd go home to Sweden each summer, I would never have any money," he says of the early years. "People were always asking me, 'Why are you doing this? You aren't so young, why don't you stay here and settle down?"' Despite the words of discouragement, Lang kept at it, multitasking like a man possessed until word finally got out among skiing's elite: La Grave is the shit, and Lang's the guy to show you around.

Lang's road to La Grave is a classic ski-bum tale: Starts skiing on modest slopes in his native Sweden, his passion fueled by watching national hero Ingemar Stenmark on television. Takes a trip to Verbier at age 16, where he is introduced to big terrain. From that point on, his dreams are of a winter in the Alps. He realizes them a few years later in 1981 when, at 21, after a stint of required military service (serving as an army sniper) and a self-guided expedition to Russia's Caucasus Mountains, he moves to Chamonix. He intends to ski there for one season but stays for seven. He visits La Grave in 1986, then a relatively unknown place.

And he just knew.

"I found an old village and an old hotel and a lift with 2,200 vertical meters with no people on it," the soft-spoken Lang explains. Two years later, in 1988, Lang found a pair of investors to help him buy La Chaumine. He opened the Skier's Lodge in 1989.

Now he spends six days a week escorting clients up, down, and around a 13,065-foot mountain that has no ski patrol or avalanche control, is laced with fall-and-die pitches, dimpled with snow-covered crevasses, and offers what is probably the most challenging lift-served terrain in the world.

For Lang, the Skier's Lodge exists merely as an extension of La Grave's terrain. "Skiing needs places like La Grave," he says. "Because it's a dream. And what can you do without a dream?"

LANG TIME
Born: May 10, 1960; Borlange, Sweden.
Extreme Endorsement: When Doug Coombs holds his steeps camp at La Grave, Lang is his guide.
Take that, Seth Morrison: Lang skis on a one-of-a-kind, handmade pair of K2 fat skis that were hand-delivered to him by the company's general manager, Tim Petrick.
Swedening the Deal: Lang founded the Swedish Guide Organization and saw it through the arduous and expensive Union Internationale Des Association De Guides De Montagne (UAIGM) guide-certification process.
Sixth Sense: In January 2001, while skiing with clients at nearby Serre Chevalier, Lang found and rescued a snowboarder who had been completely buried in an avalanche-and who wasn't wearing a beacon-in less than 10 minutes.

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