Ten resorts for secret powder

27th October 2014, by Dave Watts

Niseko in Japan - one of the snowiest ski resorts in the world

Niseko in Japan - one of the snowiest ski resorts in the world

If they want powder, most people head for one of the big-name reliably snowy resorts such as Chamonix, St Anton, Verbier, Val d’Isère-Tignes or Whistler. But there are plenty of smaller, less-well-known places which get equally good powder that gets skied out much less quickly because they attract many fewer people or many fewer experts. Here are 10 of our favourites.

1. Warth-Schröcken, Austria
The snowiest place in Europe

If you’ve never heard of them, you will soon because a new gondola opened last season linking these two neighbouring resorts to much more well-known and fashionable Lech and Zurs just over the hill. And Warth gets an astonishing (for Europe) 36 feet of snow a year – almost as much as North America’s snowiest resorts, three times as much as nearby St Anton and four times as much as Kitzbühel. And the slopes are mainly north-facing so the snow stays in good condition – which means lovely powdery pistes for intermediates and acres and acres of fabulous off-piste powder. Schröcken has no lifts out and only a ski route back. So Warth is the most convenient base – with little more than a few mainly 4-star hotels (with much lower prices than its more fashionable neighbours) at its lift base at the edge of the small village.

Warth gets an astonishing 36 feet of snow each year

2. Revelstoke, Canada
New resort rapidly acquiring cult status

A few years ago Revelstoke was a small hill for locals served by one short lift. But a gondola and two fast chairs have transformed it into a resort with the biggest vertical in North America and around 3,000 acres of slopes which get huge amounts of powder – around 40 feet a year on average. Its terrain is mostly ungroomed and steep; the ski school has Inside Tracks sessions where they show you around the steep and deep. There’s also a cat-skiing area right by the lift-served slopes and heli-skiing can be booked at the base area. If you enjoy adventure skiing, put it on your shortlist. The first part of a new resort village is now complete including the luxurious Sutton Place Hotel, with an outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, fitness facilities – you can also stay in unpretentious Revelstoke town, a five minute drive away.

3. Monterosa, Italy
Great off-piste, unspoiled resorts

Monterosa Ski’s three unspoiled resorts (Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna, each in different valleys) retain a friendly, small-scale, unspoiled Italian ambience and share a three-valley network of lifts and pistes that can be deserted in mid-week. For adventurous intermediates and experts the main attraction is the off-piste powder, with varied runs from the high points of the lift system in all three valleys, some excellent heli-drops and great tree-skiing lower down. A huge area of fabulous off-piste is served by a cable car from Passo Salati at 2960m to Punta Indren at 3275m, with runs down towards Gressoney and Alagna. The off-piste here should only be explored with the help of a qualified mountain guide and the local Monterosa guides have a deservedly high reputation.

Champoluc has a small-scale, unspoiled Italian ambience and great powder

4. Val D’Anniviers, Switzerland
Rustic villages, uncrowded slopes

If you like ancient, quiet, totally unspoiled mountain villages with small varied ski areas attached, get to Val d’Anniviers now before any of the big tour operators start featuring it. The slopes are limited in extent for keen piste-bashers, but they are delightfully uncrowded, have a good snow record and there is fabulous off-piste powder to explore with a guide. The two resorts with the best off-piste and north-facing slopes which keep their powder in good condition are Grimentz and Zinal – and they were linked for the first time in 2013/14 by a new cable car from Grimentz village to the heart of Zinal’s slopes. There’s a delightful, long Piste du Chamois black run that goes back to Grimentz from the top of the cable car – with lots of off-piste options on the way. Mountain Tracks is an off-piste guiding company founded by Nick Parks that runs 5-day courses in the area.

5. Fernie, Canada
Lots of snow and lots of steeps

Fernie has long had cult status among Alberta and British Columbia skiers because of its abundant snowfalls (30 feet a year, on average) and the adventurous nature of its steep, ungroomed terrain, largely among the shelter of trees. This makes it a superb mountain for good skiers, so long as you know where you are going (a lot of the runs are difficult to find and involve long traverses). To get the most out of the terrain it’s best to get guidance early in your holiday – you can take a two-day Steep and Deep Camp. There’s also great snowcat skiing nearby. The resort village is convenient but small and nothing special. Fernie town, a couple of miles away, is primarily a place for locals with few of the usual tourist trappings.

6. Montgenèvre, France
Snowy and linked to Italy

Montgenèvre has a very good snow record. It is set on a pass at 1850m just 2km from the Italian border and receives big dumps of snow from westerly storms which are funneled up the valley. The most extensive area of local slopes is north-facing and so the snow that falls normally keeps in excellent condition. It is not renowned as a resort for powder hounds and is all the better for that because the off-piste here remains untracked long after a storm. As well as great terrain to be explored with a guide, there’s a ‘freeride zone’ of ungroomed slopes that are avalanche controlled. And it is at one end of the huge Milky Way area that extends to Sauze d’Oulx and Sestriere in Italy.

7. Big White, Canada
Powder to suit families

‘It’s the snow’.  That is Big White’s slogan and snow is what you can expect here. Even when the surrounding plains are sunny, Big White is often covered by snow clouds. It gets so much that the trees on the top part of the mountain are usually completely covered from top to bottom by snow all season – and known as ‘snow ghosts’. Combine these snowfalls with most of Big White’s slopes being gentle and you’ll see why it is an ideal place for learning to ski powder.
The village has been purpose-built with most accommodation being ski-in/ski-out and a traffic-free centre which includes an excellent Kids’ Centre. There is a lovely area below the main village known as Happy Valley, where you can try all sorts of winter activities such as skating, snowmobiling, snow biking, dog sledding, tubing, sleigh rides and snowshoeing. All this makes it ideal for families.

8. Snowbird/Alta, Utah, USA
Amazing snowfalls

Snowbird and Alta share a ski area that receives an average of over 40 feet of snow a year – twice as much as some Colorado resorts, around 50 per cent more than the nearby Park City area. A lot of the best and most adventurous runs are reached by traverses that are far from obvious if you don’t know the terrain – so having a guide for a couple of days is useful and both resort ski schools run special sessions in the steep and deep terrain.

There is every type of great expert terrain, from open bowls to trees and chutes. Although the two ski areas have been linked for well over 10 years now a lot of locals remain fiercely loyal to one resort or the other and just buy a season pass for a single area – very odd to European eyes.

Snowbird is a compact place and most buildings are 1960s concrete-style – it is reminiscent of Flaine in France. The Cliff Lodge here is the best hotel with a rooftop pool and spa that costs extra on top of the room rate. Neighbouring Alta has more appealing low-rise lodges (including the atmospheric Alta Lodge that opened in 1940 and was the first accommodation in the resort – it is run in a very sociable way and you can choose to have meals at your own table or a communal one. Salt Lake City (only 25 miles away) is worth considering staying in for its city amenities and thriving arts and concert scene.

Snowbird and Alta receive an average of more than 40 feet of snow each year

9. La Grave, FRANCE
Hard core off-piste terrain

La Grave enjoys cult status among experts. It is a small, unspoiled old village with around 500 visitor beds and just one serious lift (an ancient gondola that takes you up to 3200m) that serves a high, wild and almost entirely off-piste mountainside that is often coated in glorious powder. This is wild mountain territory with some glaciated terrain, narrow couloirs, cliffs, steep slopes and parts where if you fall you may die. There are no pistes back down and only experts should contemplate a stay here – and then only if prepared to deal with bad weather by sitting tight or driving over the Col du Lauteret to the woods of Serre-Chevalier. The Bureau des Guides runs daily off-piste groups. Adventurous and competent intermediates could consider a day out here from Serre-Chevalier or Les Deux Alpes (the latter linked by lift and snowcat) with a local guide.

10. Niseko, Japan
Fabulous powder, fabulous fish

Niseko is the biggest resort on Japan’s north island of Hokkaido. And it is one of the snowiest resorts in the world with an average of 50 feet of usually dry light powder falling every year. Storm after storm comes in from Siberia over the Sea of Japan and dumps day after day – it’s not unusual for snow to fall almost constantly from early December to the end of February. And Niseko is one of the few resorts in Japan that allows off-piste skiing in the ski area; it also has gates to allow you out into the backcountry.  The tree skiing especially is tremendous and the slopes are of moderate steepness only. The people are extremely polite and friendly and the food (assuming you like raw fish) is fabulous. The resort has several different bases, the liveliest of which is Hirafu.

Back to features

Recent features

Popular features

Share |