Once a skier has reached a certain ability level their appetite for the sport begins to change. The pistes become narrow and confining. Fellow skiers transform into irritating and cumbersome obstacles. The black and red poles become the bars of a prison of predictability. Thus, the off-piste skier is born, and lists of the top 10 off-piste ski resorts soon follow…..
Straying off the piste-bashed track to embrace nature in its purest form has become a world-popular activity. Provided you’ve got all the safety gear, there’s a world of off-piste skiing out there to explore, whether it’s ski touring to find the best views or heliskiing in the most remote locations. Here are our top 10 off-piste ski resorts to get you started:
With access to a huge variety of areas on both sides of the valley, Chamonix has opportunities for all ability levels. However, the resort’s true potential can only be reached by the adventurous off-pister. Chamonix’s central feature is the Mont-Blanc Massif, with a peak of 4,810m, its glaciers and permanent snow fields draw skiers from around the globe.
There are 30,000 acres of skiable terrain here, including the famous off-piste run, the Vallée Blanche, which is 20km long with an 2,800m (9,100 Feet) vertical descent.
La Grave, France
A little further south, the La Grave resort lies along the Lautaret Pass and is targeted exclusively at the extreme skier. Decorated with the many peaks of La Meije, which reach heights of up to 4,000m, it is a very picturesque location, but also a dangerous one. No avalanche patrols operate in the area, so skiers must carry emergency equipment with them at all times.
The descent into the village is a total of 2,150m, and La Grave’s crevasses, couloirs and various other hazards keep adrenaline levels off the scale.
Gressoney Saint Jean, Italy
Gressoney Saint Jean is part of the Monterosa ski area in northern Italy. It is an advanced skier’s paradise and one of the top 10 off-piste ski resorts. Here you will find the Olen and Bors valleys and they are filled with exhilarating opportunities off the piste.
Heliskiing is also popular here, as the nearby peaks are high and remote. The Lys Mountain pass is a particularly spectacular route to take, many heliskiers being flown to the peak and then descending along the Grenz glacier. The height of the resort (1,385m) also ensures that snow is plentiful for the full season.
Verbier is a resort located within the Four Valleys, the largest lift-linked district in Switzerland, and comprises 400km of runs. The off-piste area is unsurprisingly also extremely expansive, covering roughly another 400km, and has even been described as the birthplace of the ‘freeski’ movement.
Verbier’s lift systems also mean that the terrain is easily accessible and there are no hour-long hikes to reach the best sections. The neighbouring Mont Fort boasts some of the most challenging and beautiful runs in Europe – the 3,300m mountain offering views of the whole of the Alps.
Silverton Mountain, Colorado USA
Silverton Mountain in Colorado is a truly exclusive resort and only opened in 2002. It admits only 80 people each day and there are no damaged runs, only an expanse of untouched terrain that receives an average of over 400 inches of snow a year. There is only one chairlift, which reaches 3700m, and above that it is easy to hike for a further 400m.
This is the ideal location for those seeking a peaceful off-piste adventure; just you against nature speeding through perfect powder and exhilarating steeps.
Valdez, Alaska USA
Valdez in Alaska has been said to be the heliskiing destination of the United States, or even of the whole world. With season-through deep powder and runs averaging 4,000 vertical feet, this really is an unmissable off-piste location. The longest run here extends to an amazing 6,200 feet. Couloirs, powder bowls, scenic glaciers: it’s all here.
On top of this, Valdez boasts an average annual snowfall of 1,000 inches. So spectacular and remarkable is the location, that many extreme-skiing film sequences are shot here meaning it has to be in any self respecting top 10 off-piste ski resorts.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming USA
This resort in mid-west America was opened in 1965 and is another unmissable off-piste location. The snow is fantastic, with wonderful powder and boasts a truly unique advanced skiing experience. Even the most expert skiers will find a challenge here – a sign at the top of Rendezvous Mountain warning visitors to “give this special mountain the respect it demands”.
Jackson Hole was one of the first resorts in the US to encourage the European off-piste tendency by providing a guiding service. There are now 5,000 acres of challenging and varied terrain to explore.
Whistler-Blackcomb is globally recognised as a fantastic ski resort, appearing on many ‘top’ lists and it now also appears on mine. The season is long, from November to June, and the snow is plentiful, topping an average of 402 inches a year.
It also earns its place as one of the top 10 off-piste ski resorts thanks to its remarkably diverse terrain, which features wide bowls that meet narrow chutes, in quick succession. Both mountains are worth exploring as they have their differences; Whistler possessing more bowls and Blackcomb more couloirs.
Kicking Horse, Canada
This four-season resort can be found in the Purcell Mountains of Canada, just outside Golden, British Columbia. It is renowned for its steep and formidable slopes, deep powder and high annual snowfall, which all supply ample off-piste opportunities. The Golden Eagle Express Gondola serves as a steady feed onto the 2750 acres of ski real estate, the ride up taking just 12 minutes.
Kicking Horse is most recognised for its unique layout, lying as it does over three ridges, which are rather formidably named Terminator Peak, Redemption Ridge and CPR Ridge.
Craigieburn, New Zealand
Craigieburn in New Zealand is another extremely exclusive resort dedicated to advanced and expert skiers. The terrain is all off-piste and is expansive and challenging. The mountain is considered busy when there are just 100 people skiing; peace and independence are easily found here.
The runs are as long as typical heliskiing ones, but without the strain on your pocket. The one disadvantage of the resort is its fairly rudimentary ropetow lifts, but these are still relatively quick and help deter the crowds.
I hope you have enjoyed out guide to the top 10 off-piste ski resorts. Remember this is not a definitive guide and is the view of our author. Please let us know if you agree, what your top 10 would be and any tips for the above resorts.
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