OT Chamonix / Monica Dalmasso
Are you a confident skier on the piste, and want to take your skiing up a level? Are you looking for a bit of adventure on your holiday? Or are you just wondering what all the ‘powder day’ fuss is about? Skiing or snowboarding off-piste is a completely different feeling to the grippy groomers that you’re used to. It’s possibly easier than you think, it hurts a lot less if you fall, it’s pretty addictive and you don’t need to be an amazing skier to give it a go.
If you can link consistent turns on a red-graded slope, you should try skiing off-piste. However, on un-groomed snow in un-patrolled areas of the mountain, safety is hugely important, so hire a qualified instructor, ideally one who can lend you the appropriate off-piste kit, and teach you how to use it. You’ll be able to find off-piste ski and snowboard instructors in most resorts, so we’ve narrowed down our list of the top four locations to take your first turns off-piste.
The off-piste terrain in Val Thorens is very snow-sure due to its high altitude. It’s the perfect choice for newbie powder-hounds as it’s not as steep as other resorts, meaning more of the mountain will be accessible. The area beside the St Martin 2 chairlift is a perfect introduction to off-piste skiing in the Three Valleys, and from above St Martin, across to Les Menuires, there are plenty of straightforward routes that drop down to the villages below. To experience the sense of ‘wilderness’ that backcountry skiers crave, your instructor may take you to the Belleville valley, starting from La Masse. Far from the crowds and lifts, this route is gentle enough that you can enjoy taking in the scenery, rather than clinging on to cliff edges!
A significant number of north-facing slopes means the snow off-piste stays at its optimum for longer in Tignes. When the snow is at its best, skiing un-groomed slopes is at its easiest and most enjoyable! Tignes offers great facilities for those looking for an introduction to off-piste skiing – you can practice finding buried transceivers in the training park in Tignes Le Lac, then head to Le SPOT (Skiing the Powder Of Tignes) in Val Claret, which is a dedicated off-piste area, split into zones for beginners, experts and freeriders. Val Claret has some lovely, simple off-piste routes like Lognan, from the top of the Grattalu or Merle Blanc chairlifts, just off the side of the piste so you won’t feel too far from your comfort zone. If you fancy some tree skiing, head over the mountain to neighbouring Val d’Isere, where La Fornet and La Daille both offer fun lines in and out of the trees.
In the shadow of Mont Blanc, you can’t help but be motivated to give the backcountry a try! Chamonix is a playground for some of the world’s most accomplished Alpinists, but there is plenty of entry-level off-piste skiing here too. An instructor will probably have you practicing in the big gaps between the pistes first, which are really fun for popping in and out of. Then you’ll graduate onto areas like Le Tour and Vallorcine, which benefit from forgiving snow conditions, perfect for your first forays. Following this, there’s plenty of accessible routes from the Grand Montets cable car, the Herse and the Bochard lifts, including the Dream Forest, for fun tree skiing and the best visibility on a snowy day.
So much quieter than neighbouring St Anton, in terms of nightlife and slope activity, Lech Zurs is an excellent place to venture off-piste for the first few times. Zurs frequently tops the record tables as being the snowiest place in the Alps, and consistent snow is a real key to practicing and mastering off-piste skiing. On the Oberlech side of the resort you’ll find suggested ‘itinerary routes’ which are marked on piste maps, but are un-groomed and neither patrolled or avalanche controlled. These routes are selected because of the enjoyable terrain, but you’re at your own risk, so hire an instructor who will make informed decisions on the best and safest places to ski. Recently connected to Lech Zurs, you’ll also be able to enjoy the powder in Warth and Schröcken, so you’ll get a real sense of exploration if you venture off-piste here. That said, you’re not allowed to ski in the trees for environmental reasons, so falling snow or poor visibility can mean game over.
Hopefully you’re feeling inspired to visit Val Thorens, Tignes, Chamonix or Lech Zurs – or at least to venture off the piste! We’ve recently partnered with Ongosa, who personally match skiers and snowboarders to instructors that suit their character and specific requirements. If you would like help to find the best off-piste ski instructor or guide for you, speak to the team at Ongosa.
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Posted on Thursday 18 Aug 2016