Once you’ve reached a certain level as a skier or boarder, certain niggles start to show. The pistes are too narrow. There are too many people in your way. New snow is all churned up. Get rid of all of these with one move – go off-piste.
As long as you are careful, skiing off-piste provides a whole new world of skiing, especially with fresh snow. Ski untracked powder, remote locations, back country drifts and great terrain.
Because off-piste slopes aren’t monitored by resort staff, there are a few things you can do to make sure you ski safely. Firstly, never ski off-piste alone - hire an experienced guide or ski in a group. Always ski with caution and wear the correct equipment - including a avalanche transciever. Before you head off, make sure your insurance policy includes off-piste skiing.
Famous for its scenic off-piste terrain, the Chamonix Valley is a delight. On offer: a huge variety of back country, including open fields, couloirs, powder, cliff jumps and crevasses. Try the Vallee Blanche route, a 22km descent that starts above Aiguille du Midi and circuits along some incredible scenery. Le Tour and La Flegere have great terrain for those new to off-piste – a good introduction without being too intimidating.
You’ll see transceivers, shovels and probes sticking out of backpacks everywhere in the mornings at St Anton. The Austrian resort is fast becoming an off-piste favourite. The resort’s 180kmo of off-piste includes intricate valley systems which can stay untracked for days after fresh snow. Try the huge bowls below the Valluga, powder in the Langen forest, the steep Schindler shoots or the quieter Albona and Rendl areas.
Accessibility is Verbier’s secret to epic off-piste days. There’s no need to hike for hours to get to the best spots here. Located high in the Swiss Alps, just 2 hours from Geneva airport Verbier has over 400km of off piste terrain. This seems almost endless when you’re there. Itinerary runs like Tortan and Gentianes are serviced by efficient lift systems. New to off-piste? Try the less challenging Stairway to Heaven. If you’re confident – hit the routes off the back of the Mont Fort and Mont Gele.
With 1000 hectares of the most varied marked ski runs and a massive 10,000 hectares of off piste, Val d’Isere offers an amazing variety of skiing and boarding. In the afternoon, head to Vallee Perdue. This off-piste run starts at the bottom of the Tommeuses lift and involves negotiating rocks, nooks and crannies. Other favourites include Col Pers from near the top of Le Fornet and the Vallons de la Sache down to Tignes Les Brévières.
Ski several classic descents of 2,000m or more at Alpe d'Huez in France. Glacial off-piste is excellent – traverse left from Chateau Noir, and find many couloirs. The Sarenne is popular – take the Pic Blanc cable car and then just pick your route. Right of the Dome des Petites Rousses there are some big cliffs and tight couloirs. Some routes finish within the ski lift area, others require a taxi or helicopter to return to Alpe d'Huez.
If you want to learn to ski off-piste, head to Tignes. As well as an abundance of off-piste terrain of varying difficulty, there’s also an area (The SPOT area) designed to teach people how to use their transceivers and probes. There’s always an expert on hand so you can ask questions and try out the different levels of off-piste nearby. Generally the off-piste is quite different to neighbouring Val d’Isere, much of it higher and above the tree line, making for stunning scenery. Try Mickey’s Ears, the Fingers or the Lavachet Wall for vertical.
Zermatt's off piste is usually at its peak slightly later in the season (from mid February) and usually offers great snow into May. A haven for off-piste skiers, the resort has huge powder fields and superb routes toward and over the Italian boarder into Cervinia. There are also the off-piste itineraries marked in orange on the ski map, these routes are not groomed and should be undertaken only by well equipped, expert skiers. Zermatt is the Alp's biggest heli-skiing centre with classic runs like the Monte Rosa or the Haute Alp route to Verbier / Chamonix.
Within Les Deux Alpes, one of the best off-piste spots is at the Clot de Chalance - open powder fields, small couloirs and cliffs. Get there early morning after a fresh snow fall to get first tracks. Les Deux Alpes has as much off-piste as groomed piste, as well as a large skiable glacier. The terrain heading down into the village from under the Super Diable Chairlift is steep, ungroomed and littered with drops and tight chutes. The legendary run to the lift-linked village of La Grave is a must for any true off-piste skier. The descent is almost 2,000m through challenging terrain (Guides are highly recommended). La Grave is an entirely off-piste ski area, with vast snowfields, huge glaciers and fearsome couloirs.
Great tree skiing and lift accessable off-piste is available at Saalbach. There’s over 100km of off-piste terrain, including the Zwolferkogel, a north-facing slope with a 3km black mogul run. When the snows good, there are nice powder runs above the tree line right along the valley - and some very pretty descents into the valley.
Part of the huge Paradiski area, Les Arcs offers an admirable variety of off-piste. Many come just for the famous 7km black run from the top of Aiguille Rouge, covering an incredible vertical of 2000km. The north face of Aiguille Rouge provides a massive off-piste area skiing in the direction of Villaroger. Keep in mind, it can be dangerous here – it’s far from the pistes and from the ski lifts. This is one of the last untouched areas of the Tarentaise with a large part being a restricted nature reserve. For something a little less scary, there is easy tree skiing all round Vallandry and 1600, and cliff hopping in the rock garden around the Deux Tetes in 1600.