Best Resorts for Off-Piste Skiing

sanoJackson Hole – North America’s number one for steep and deep
One of the highest and most rugged resorts in the US, expect around 38-feet of fresh snow each winter and 4,139-feet of vertical drop. A mountain paradise that’s something of a cult ski area for off-piste enthusiasts, Jackson’s technical terrain gives rise to some of the most terrifying and rewarding black diamond and backcountry runs on the continent. If you’re new to Jackson, hire a guide before venturing beyond the boundaries, and prepare for heart-stopping hikes, steep cliffs, buttery smooth bowl skiing and the vertigo-inducing chutes this ski area is best known for, including the infamous Corbet’s Couloir – a knee-shaking drop onto a 50-degree slope which the Ski Patrol only open to a handful of skiers on days when conditions are safest.

Laax – a Swiss favourite for freeride
Home to some of Switzerland’s most accessible off-piste terrain, Laax has a lift system that can take you within sliding distance of natural gullies, powdery steeps and beautiful bowls – although purists still hike to access untracked terrain. An easy resort to reach from the UK, Laax is perfect for long weekends away, when you’re desperate for an off-piste fix. Fast descents from the Vorab Glacier are a favourite with many, as are the superb steeps in the Vorab Pign area and, following a dump, the piles of powder below Cassons Cable Car. A top choice for Switzerland ski holidays, Laax also has plenty of easy blues and intermediate reds, while off-piste newbies can find their feet on the un-groomed pistes.

Niseko, Japan – perfect powder and easy trees
Waist-deep powder and widely-spaced trees are what off-piste fanatics come to Niseko for. Like much of the US, backcountry access is via gates and rope-ducking can land you in trouble.  This means that the off-piste terrain is close to the resort boundaries – good news if you’re put off by long hikes. Deep but not steep, the terrain isn’t as challenging as the Alps but Japan’s more consistent powder makes Niseko the perfect place to try out your first powder turns, or improve your off-piste confidence. While you’re here, add an extra dimension to your off-piste adventure and stop off at a hot spring, hang your thermals on a birch tree and hop in.

Riksgränsen, Sweden – heavenly heli-skiing under the midnight sun
The world’s northern-most ski resort occupies a magical wintry world, 200km north of the Arctic Circle.  Riksgränsen waits for March’s warmer weather and longer days until it opens and, in late June, you’ll be riding powder beneath the midnight sun. Heaven for heli-skiers, Riksgränsen’s off-piste area is the size of the Netherlands and offers more than 100 peaks to plant your poles on. With limited tourism infrastructure and only 15 groomed runs in resort, it’s all about the off-piste here. To access the best areas, hire a guide and be prepared for huge powder faces and, if you’re up for it, big drop-offs.

St Anton, Austria – the perfect freeriders playground
One of Europe’s best-known resorts for serious skiers, St Anton sits at the epicentre of a vast and varied off-piste playground. From gentle faces and powder fields to steep gullies and huge bowls, there’s far too much terrain here to mention. High-altitude tours to hidden valleys are as popular as easy to reach routes, and St Anton is home to a glut of ‘must do’ descents, such as the north face of the Valluga, which draw a high standard of skiers. However, always go with a guide and heed the advice of off-piste warnings, as many of St Anton’s most alluring routes are prone to avalanches.

Snowbird, USA – the pinnacle of powder skiing
Quite possibly the world’s number one powder spot, Snowbird receives around 40-feet of light, dry powder each year, which falls on steep, challenging terrain. For an outstanding USA ski holiday every big mountain rider should make a powder pilgrimage to Utah at least once in their lives. Fresh stuff is virtually guaranteed here and, if you get lucky, you’re in for daily dumps of waist-deep snow. With a huge variety of terrain, prepare for fast gullies, powdery bowls, steep chutes and great glade skiing.

More of North America powder meccas:
Snowbird may be one of the best but we think these destinations definitely deserve a mention too:

Big Sky, USA –  the largest ski area in the US receives 37.5-feet of powder a year and benefits from big mountain off-piste, a lack of crowds and plenty of untracked terrain.

Steamboat, USA – champagne powder and stacks of tree skiing; expect icing-sugar snow and a huge diversity of off-piste terrain.

Revelstoke, Canada – big dumps, big mountains and big steeps, Revelstoke is made for heli-skiing and is home to North America’s longest lift served descent (5,620-feet).

Fernie, Canada – revered for having the lightest and deepest powder in the Rockies, the challenging off-piste in this chilled out resort makes Fernie a favourite Canada ski holiday for adventurous backcountry skiers.

About the author: Tara Rogers is a professional travel writer for Ski Safari – tailor-made ski holiday specialists.


Cormac Reynolds is a lover of travel and foods
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