10 Top Resorts for Off-piste

15th November 2016, by Dave Watts

Verbier in Switzerland has countless off-piste options

Verbier in Switzerland has countless off-piste options

Here we pick ten of our favourite resorts for off-piste adventure. They are in no particular order as all are great.

In Europe, you should have professional guidance when exploring serious off-piste terrain unless you know exactly what you are doing. One of the attractions of skiing in North America is that within the ski area boundary you can be confident that there is no avalanche risk. Of course, there are other hazards, notably cliffs. And a guide can lead you to the best slopes and best snow.

Whistler, Canada

North America’s biggest ski area, with fabulous high bowls and chutes on the upper parts of both its linked mountains – Whistler and Blackcomb. Don’t miss the excellent, huge, usually deserted area reached by a short hike up Spanky’s Ladder on Blackcomb. Extremely Canadian (www.extremelycanadian.com) run excellent 1- and 2-day Steep Skiing Clinics which have the added benefit of showing you areas of the mountains you might not otherwise find. I have been with them on several occasions and loved it.

Alpe d’Huez, France

The resort has vast amounts of varied off-piste terrain, including several classic descents of 2000m vertical or more starting from the high point of Pic Blanc (3330m) – the La Pyramide run down towards Vaujany is one of the best. But there are lots of other options starting lower down too – such as down to the villages of Huez or Villard-Reculas from Signal. The local Bureau des Guides (www.guidesalpedhuez.com) has a good reputation.

Chamonix, France

Chamonix is renowned for its great off-piste terrain. Don’t miss the famous Vallée Blanche run down from Aiguille du Midi on Mont Blanc (24km long with a vertical of around 2800m). There are easy and more difficult variants and the scenery is mind-blowing. The Grand Montets mountain has lots of classic descents too. Guidance is essential; the Compagnie des Guides (www.chamonix-guides.com) has been doing the job for almost 200 years but there are lots of other options too.

Val d’Isère, France

Val d’Isère and Tignes share some of the best lift-served off-piste terrain in the world. Our favourites include Col Pers from near the top of Val’s Le Fornet sector and the Vallons de la Sache in the heart of the National Park down to Tignes Le Brévières – these are at opposite ends of the ski area and there are endless options in between. Alpine Experience (www.alpineexperience.com) runs excellent small off-piste guided groups with morning-only options and we’ve had several great mornings with them. Pat Zimmer founded Top Ski over 20 years ago but sold it a few years back and now runs his own groups (email: patzim73@gmail.com) and has a loyal following – he is now also organizing great value heliskiing from Sestriere in Italy.

St Anton, Austria

The runs in the huge bowls below the Valluga, which towers above St Anton, are justifiably world famous. But there are countless other, quieter options too, including long descents from the Rendl area and the Albona above Stuben. And don’t miss nearby Lech and Zürs (which from this season are linked to St Anton by new lifts) and beyond them Warth and Schröcken (which were linked from Lech a few seasons back). These areas get even more snow than St Anton and are in fact the snowiest resorts in Europe. The Arlberg ski school (www.skischool-arlberg.com) and Piste to Powder (www.pistetopowder.com) both have good reputations for their off-piste guided groups.

Andermatt, Switzerland

This old village is in the midst of a massive renaissance, with new luxury hotels and apartments and an imminent expansion of its ski area. It enjoys a famously snowy position, and its main mountain, the almost-3000m Gemsstock, has the steep terrain to go with the deep snow. The north-facing front bowl offers a choice of a black piste, itineraries or genuine off-piste routes. Outside the bowl, splendid long routes descend to two adjacent valleys. There are several guiding options – including Andermatt Guides (www.andermatt-guides.ch).

Verbier, Switzerland

The range of off-piste options above this fashionable chalet-style resort is difficult to beat. There are countless itineraries, easy off-piste routes such as Stairway to Heaven, and more adventurous routes off the back of the 3330m Mont Fort and from the slightly lower Mont Gelé – satisfying on the back of the hill, terrifying on the front. Multiple guiding options – look first at Adrenaline (www.adrenaline-verbier.ch) and Powder Extreme (www.powder-extreme.com). The Warren Smith Ski Academy (www.warrensmith-skiacademy.com) offers 5-day powder courses.

Snowbird, Utah USA

Utah advertises “The Greatest Snow on Earth, and Snowbird gets twice as much snow as some Colorado resorts. Together with next-door Alta it offers one of America’s largest ski areas, with huge amounts of steep stuff, much of it lightly wooded. You can have a lot of fun here without guidance, but the ski school does small guiding groups and private guiding (www.snowbird.com). Note: snowboarding is not permitted at Alta.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming USA

With a snow record to rival the best of Utah, a vertical drop of 1260m (one of the biggest in America) and terrain that is mainly challenging, Jackson Hole is an expert’s Mecca. The main mountain, Rendezvous, offers countless satisfying descents, ranging from the open bowls at the top to the serious Alta Chutes lower down. Get guidance within the ski area and in the surrounding back-country from the ski school (www.jacksonhole.com).

La Grave, France

The ultimate off-piste resort: its steep, tall mountain (1750m vertical) is effectively all off-piste. Its ancient gondola lift takes you to 3200m on the shoulder of La Meije and serves countless serious routes back to the base and to other points, including some notoriously dangerous couloirs; there are two marked itineraries for those with more modest ambitions. Over 30 mountain guides work through the Bureau des Guides (www.guidelagrave.com). The licence for operating the 40 year old gondola expires in June 2017; the resort tells us it expects to find a company to take it over from then.

Back to features

Recent features

Popular features

Share |