Heading off-piste is one of the unparalleled joys of skiing; it’s what we live for. Here are our favourite spots for off-piste adventures.
Vail is well-loved by all abilities, known for its wide, confidence-boosting runs covered in soft, grippy snow. However, Vail’s Back Bowls make advanced skiers’ eyes to light up. These incredible powder bowls fall south of the ridge. They’re almost unbroken by rocks and trees and not too steep so they’re great for building confidence. They’re lift-served and immensely popular, so we recommend hitting the bowls early when there’s fresh powder.
Verbier in the glorious Four Valleys ski area is heaven for powder hounds. Chassoure-Tortin and Col des Gentianes-Tortin are labelled ‘ski tour’ on the piste map and confident skiers may like to tackle these without a guide. The ‘high mountain tour’ routes, such as Vallon d’Arbi and Col des Mines, and the unmarked routes, Stairway to Heaven and Hidden Valley, should only be skied with qualified guide.
The Arlberg mountain range, accessible from St Anton, has some justifiably famous off-piste terrain. The Valluga descent into the Paziel-Tal to Zurs is one of the ‘must ski’ off-piste descents on the Alpine circuit. You must take a guide and it’s not for the faint-hearted. The Galzig ski area can be reached by an impressive high-speed gondola from St Anton and is another stretch of superb powder. For the less experienced, Rossfall in the Rendl ski area is a gentler place to start, with stunning views and utter silence to remind you what off-piste skiing is about.
Revelstoke is a small town with access to some massive Rockies skiing and an abundance of champagne powder. Backcountry skiing in Canada ought not be underestimated and to ski zones above the highway and railway, skiers need to check in at the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre and follow strict rules. The Selkirk has plenty of terrain to keep even the hungriest skiers busy, with bowls, chutes, glades and heli-skiing.
Chamonix is one of the classic greats of European skiing. The four main areas for some bold, off-piste routes are Les Grands Montets, Brévent-Flégère, Domaine de Balme and the world famous Vallée Blanche. In Les Grands Montets you can try steep and deep glacial powder, pillow lines and relaxed gladed tree runs in the aptly-named Dream Forest. Brévent and Flégère are somewhat quieter on a powder day, with almost limitless options for pillows and lumps, natural table tops, half pipes and drops.
Whenever you plan to go off-piste, you must follow the rules and respect the mountain. Never venture out without the right equipment. Take a qualified guide with you, especially if you’re not familiar with the area. They’ll ensure you don’t run into trouble and show you how to tackle some of the maze-like routes. Always check the weather, avalanche risk (some off-piste areas are so large they’re covered by multiple reports) and be aware of crevasses, rocks and other hazards.