Top resorts for an off piste skiing holiday

June 10, 2013

Are you looking for the best off-piste skiing in the world? Want to sample the real back country or enjoy the ultimate vertical drop? We have picked some of our favourite off piste ski resorts from Europe and North America. If you are planning your next ski holiday and want to try some extreme free riding we recommend you try the resorts below.

A word of warning before you go. Always carry the right safety gear if you are skiing off piste. I know you have heard it all before but I had a very scary moment in Verbier a couple of years back. While traversing across a pretty innocuous looking powder bowl the snow pack detached and 2 of the group got trapped in the ensuing avalanche. They were without transponders and the situation was looking bleak. By a stroke of luck two very experienced guides had been skiing nearby, noticed what happened and were able to locate our friends with their avalanche probes. Without their help and experience I fear the outcome would be been tragic. So my advice is don’t skimp on avalanche safety gear. Get the best gear and make sure you have proper training and know how to use the equipment. If you are unsure about anything just take a qualified guide with you. For the sake of a couple of quid you can hire a top quality mountain guide and the whole experience because a lot safer and a whole lot more enjoyable.

Anyway enough about safety, here are some of my favourite off piste resorts. Get out there, take the right precautions and enjoy and explore them on your next ski holiday.

9. Whistler, Canada

This is the biggest skiing region in North America. It is known for its marvelous high bowls and chutes that will intrigue you on the higher areas of its two linked mountains: Blackcomb and Whistler. Even for the best off-piste skiers, the abundant steep powder chutes and taxing mogul fields pose a stiff challenge. Other attractions here are the easy access to heli-skiing and of course Spanky's Ladder which is accessible via hiking on Blackcomb. From Spanky’s Ladder there are several routes that you can consider depending on how brave you are feeling.

8. Verbier, Switzerland

If you love the combination of luxury ski chalets and difficult off-piste runs then Verbier's 400 km makes for an ideal resort. Offering a big range of off-piste options, this Swiss ski resort offers some of the most difficult routes in the Alps: From the easy Stairway to more adventurous runs at the rear of the Mont Fort. The Verbier off piste areas are easily accessible, without spending hours hiking.

7. Les Arcs, France

This is a favorable option for skiers with all kinds of abilities. As a part of the vast ‘Paradiski’ area, Les Arcs offers several options for off-piste skiers; more notable is the popular 7 km black run from the top of Aiguille Rouge and stretching up to an unbelievable vertical drop of 2000m. If you are more daring, ‘Flying K’ the Olympic high speed run will test you!

6. Grand Targhee, Wyoming

This small but remote ski area is known for its untracked powder, ideal pitch of the slopes, and welcoming locals. I have only been there once but on a powdery day, the resort is no less than a heaven on Earth for an off-piste beginner. With very few large towns nearby and with the experienced skiers distracted to the nearby much larger and more famous Jackson Hole ski resort, the place gives you the feeling of skiing in your own private resort.

5. Tignes, France

Tignes at 2,100m is one of the most snow sure resorts in the Alps and one of the best places for off piste skiing in Europe. It offers several off-piste runs, along with the odd vertical drop; mind-blowing scenery; hard core descents, mid-sized bowls, and “Naturides” which refers to the ungroomed pistes that follow the natural terrain. Tignes is also a good option if you want to get some tuition as they have very competent off piste ski instructors.

4. Lake Louise, Canada

One of North Americas most popular off piste destinations, this is where you will come across infinite off-piste adventures, a famous terrain park, and mountain playgrounds like the popular Powder Bowl. With a great mixture of powder terrain including a lot of tree runs Lake Louise is like an outdoor amusement park for off piste boarders and skiers.

3. St. Anton, Austria

Host of the Alpine World Championships in 2001, St. Anton is one of the most popular skiing resorts in Europe. It has 180km of pisted runs but also plenty of off piste free riding opportunities. One of the most fascinating is the scary descent from the Valluga Peak. Among all the runs, those in the huge bowls beneath Valluga are famous for powder runs. The après ski here is also pretty lively so there is always something to after a tough day off piste.

2. Val d'Isère, France

Linked with Tignes, Val d'Isère in France has some of the best lift-served off-piste runs in Europe. Some of the best spots are Col Pers from atop Le Fornet and Vallons that goes down to Tignes Les Brévières. With lift access to a lot of the areas there is no need for hours of hiking to reach the perfect powder. Heli-skiing can also be arranged locally.

1. Chamonix, France

Chamonix has got to be the ultimate extreme skiing destination on the planet. Certainly in Europe it is the home of extreme free riding. The Chamonix Valleys offers plenty of corries, chutes and powder fields with lots of the off piste areas accessible from ski lifts. One of the biggest attractions has got to be the Vallee Blanche descent going from above the Aiguille du Midi and skiing down the glacier fields to the Mer de Glace. There are a whole selection of possible routes down the valley and it goes without saying that a guide is a must as there are a lot of tricky crevasse areas. Aside from the Valle Blanche the Grand Montets’ area also offers some classic off piste descents.

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