Best Ski Resorts for Off Piste Skiing
9th October 2014
Alpe d’Huez, For skiers and particularly snowboarders nothing gets the heart pounding more that waking up in a ski resort with a fresh 20cm to 30cm of fresh snowfall overnight. You know the skiing on pistes will be in tip top condition and the off piste skiing is going be awesome.
However everyone who skis off piste should be aware of the dangers, high-profile accidents such as Michael Schumacher in Meribel remind us of the dangers and because of this before you ever ski off piste and away from the patrolled ski areas always check with a local mountain experts that it’s safe to do so.
We’d always recommend that you pay for an experienced guide. Most resort ski school offer an off-piste experience and their mountain guides know the best places to head for and can loan you safety transmitters just in case!
Assuming everything is safe here is our guide to ten of the best ski resorts for off-piste skiing.
Best Off-Piste Ski Resorts:
- Alpe d’Huez, France
- Chamonix, France
- Val d’Isere, France
- St Anton, Austria
- Tignes, France
- Verbier, Switzerland
Alpe d’Huez offers a variety of off piste skiing to suit every level from the very tame to seriously adventurous. There are plenty of opportunities on either side of the Sarenne run, this is the perfect place for beginners to take their first ventures away from the patrolled ski area. The Combe du Loup is a south facing bowl with spectacular views towards the Merije. It starts out with a black gradient but softens to a gentle run back to the Sarenne gorge.
La Chapelle Saint Giraud which starts at the Signal de l’Homme has some wonderful confidence boosting bowls that normally hold excellent snow and is an ideal run for skiers and riders who are new to off piste adventures.
For the more experienced off-piste skiers the Grand Sablat offers a decent of over 2000m through spectacular wild backcountry scenery on the eastern edge of the Massif des Grandes Rousses and includes some steep terrain and couloirs which lead to the village of Clavans where you can either take a pre-booked helicopter backup or a taxi back or traverse above Clavans back to the Sarenne gorge.
The Vaujany sector is perhaps where the best skiing is for experienced off-piste skiers, it faces north so holds its snow longer, unlike other classic off-piste resorts such as Chamonix, the snow remains untracked for weeks after fresh snowfall, which in Chamonix will have disappeared with a few hours. If you don’t mind a 40min hike from the top of Pic Blanc takes you to the Col de la Pyramide at 3250m and is the starting point for the classic La Pyramide a 2000m vertical descent which links back to the slopes of Vaujany. Take care in this area as it has huge cliffs and rock bands and isn’t a place to get lost!
Chamonix has to the most famous extreme skiing resort anywhere in the world. There are never ending off piste opportunities across the whole area. Les Houches and Balme are opposite ends of the Chamonix valley and are a great introduction to beginners to off piste skiing. Les Houches offers great skiing between the trees and is a perfect area when the weather conditions and visibility are poor. Blame often has deep powder snow between the piste and can be fun when conditions are right.
Flagere is where the snowboarders head for after any fresh snowfall, when the area turns into a massive terrain park. From the top of the Index lift which connects to the bowl Combe Lachanal which can be excellent in spring conditions.
The mainly north face slopes of Les Grands Montets at 3275m offers mainly off-piste skiing on glacial snow and where the snow is often the best in the whole valley from the back there are some excellent routes down to the Argentiere glacier.
The most famous off-piste skiing in the world is the Vallee Blanche and must be on the bucket list of any serious off-piste skier. This is a long run rather than steep run (might be too flat for snowboarders) cutting through truly spectacular scenery with mind blowing views of glaciers and rocky spires. When the snow is good it’s very achievable for a fit intermediate skier to complete the 24km run. This route must only be undertaken under the guidance of an experienced professional mountain guide.
Access to the Vallee Blanche is via the cable car that brings you to 3840m from where a tunnel delivers to that start of the infamous ridge walk where skiers are roped together. When the snow is fresh and the sky is blue this place is as near to heaven as an off-piste skier or rider will want to get. (for now at least).
Val d’Isere has been our number one selling ski resort for many years, although most of our clients stick to the piste of this we are sure. Regardless of this Val d’Isere offers some awesome off-piste skiing.
Tour du Charvet is an ideal route for the first time off piste skier and shouldn’t give any problems to good intermediate skiers, it goes through some spectacular scenery from the top of the Grand Pre chair on the back of the Bellevarde Mountain. Most of it isn’t steep except for a few patches. The run ends up at the bottom of the Manchet chair in the Solaise area.
The Pays Desert is another easy run with superb views over the Pissaillas glacier high above Le Fornet and ends up at the Pays Desert drag lift.
Col Pers is a favourite route for the more experienced off-piste skier and starts with a traverse from the Pissaillas glacier and drops to the Gorges de Malpasset when snow conditions allow across the frozen river to Le Fornet cable car.
Banane is a wide secluded bowl, access is via the Banane chair, and it’s steep in places with a pitch of between 37 and 40 degrees.
A 20min climb from the from the Tour de Chavet brings you to the Couloir des Pisteurs A 44° slope drops to the Le Grand Pre lift on the Bellevarde.
From the Cugnai lift in the Solaise sector connects to another secluded bowl which descends to a huge black rock wall before leading you to the gully which in places is 37 degrees before arriving at the valley floor and the Manchet chair.
In the Arlberg region is another good choice for the powder hound looking to ski off piste. On the Rendl side beyond the furthest lift is the Rossfall area with its rolling powder bowl. The North Face, accessed from the Gampberg offers challenging skiing for the more experienced off-piste skiers. From the Riffel chair, you can access a huge powder bowl called Hinter Rendl which often has great powder all the way back to St Anton.If you like your powder deep and steep head for the runs above Stuben which run through the trees of the Langen forest. Here the snow can be knee deep, sometimes even waste deep. Many of the slopes are pitched a 40°.
Perhaps the best skiing in the area is off the back of the Valluga cable car through steep cliff faces and wonderful scenery until it eventually drops to Zurs. Some of the most challenging sections require a rope to lower you to a point where you can ski down a seriously steep couloir with a vertical drop of over 1200m.
In 2013 season a new lift linked to Warth opened up another 66km of piste and a lot of off piste all we understand accessible from the lifts.
Tignes shares its ski area with Val d’Isere, see above, and is a mecca for any serious off-piste skiers and riders. Its offers some of the finest lift served off piste skiing. The variety of off piste here will suit all levels but none should ever be done without a good mountain guide.
If you’re new to off piste skiing head for the Lognan, it’s located between the pistes to Le Lac and Val Claret, the slopes are wide and not too difficult.
The Tour de Pramecou is a wonderful route down from the bottom of the Grande Motte glacier, to reach it it’s a few minutes’ walk past a big rock, from here there are many routes to suit all levels.
Not for the timid is Mickey’s Ears (Oreilles de Mickey) it’s a short hike from Toviere along the ridge to the peak of Lavachet, the decent includes three long, narrow and steep couloirs that eventually bring you back to Le Lavachet.
If you like your skiing away from the lifts and crowds then the Vallons de la Sache is a must, it’s probably Tignes most famous off-piste skiing route and takes in a 1200m vertical drop through the national park, passing the magnificent Sache glacier and brings you down to Tignes lowest point near Les Brevieres, below the famous dam.
For as real adventure taking in more than just the Tignes ski area, you can go large. From the Col de Palet you can ski down to Champagny in the La Plagne ski area and on to Peisey-Nancroix in the Les Arcs ski area, some it requires transport by road, but most of the ski school and guides in Tignes will be able to arrange this for you. It will take a full day of hard skiing to complete but well worth the effort.
Verbier has some of the best off-piste skiing to be found anywhere in the world. The famous “Stairway to Heaven” route is reached via a hike near the Col des Gentianes, from here you drop into deserted valley with an easy if not long ski back to Torin.
From the top of the Mont Gele cable, you have access to some of the most extensive lift served off piste skiing anywhere, the slopes here are steep in places and lead back to Torin.
For powder hounds looking for fresh snow head to the runs off the back of Mont Fort, here the snow lasts for days after fresh snowfall and the powder stays sometimes for weeks if the temperatures allow.
The runs towards Lac des Vaux are perfect for the advanced off piste skiers who like their runs steep deep and with many narrow couloirs. Don’t attempt to ski it if are any less than an expert and never without a guide.
There are some wonderful small villages to explore, now that the four valleys ski area have kissed and made up, after a spat over lift ticket sales. Try some of the skiing from Bruson a small village opposite Verbier reached by a new lift and a triple chair to a ridge with a wonderful bowl. Or from here the route to Orsieres is good and your return trip via train back to Verbier.