The Alps have a lifetime's worth of terrain to ride. Here are some of our favourite spots. Plenty of other could have made this list. Rant away in the comments if you think we've missed any.
1. Austria – The Arlberg
Famous for its mega snowfalls and super varied terrain, the Arlberg region is one of Europe’s big hitters. Made up of 3 areas, it provides a lifetime’s worth of freeriding for the powder hungry skier or snowboarder. The main area that links St Anton to the tiny village of Stuben is where most will spend their time. The area that links the high-end resorts of Lech and Zurs can be quieter and has just as impressive terrain whilst down the valley Sonnenkopf guarantees empty slopes and the deepest tree runs on a powder day. The Arlberg has some pretty full on après too, particularly in St Anton where every one needs to experience the Krazy Kangaru at least once....
2. Austria – Krippenstein
Image - Heli Putz
Never heard of Krippenstein? You’re not alone. This little beauty is basically a one lift wonder, but what terrain that one lift accesses. Wide open pow fields on the upper mountain give way to tree runs and cliff drops of the highest order. Although there are several marked freeride routes at Krippenstein, it’s defiantly not an area to take lightly and when visiting for the first time it might be worth forking out for a guide for a day or two. Krippenstein is located on the northern side of the Dachstein Massif close to Salzburg. The Dachstein Massif is a real snow magnet and if you’re lucky enough to be there when weather fronts are come down from the north, it can snow like crazy.
3. France – La Grave
La Grave takes big mountain snowboarding to the extreme and provides the most serious lift accessed riding in the Alps. An old, 2 stage gondola transports you up to over 3000m into a world of glaciers, untracked powder fields and huge couloirs that drop all the way to the valley floor. La Grave is not a place for the inexperienced though and a guide here is mandatory for even the most accomplished skier or snowboarder.
4. France – Chamonix
The most well-known freeride resort in the Alps, Chamonix is the kind of place that really rewards those who are willing to explore. Some skins and a mountain guide are invaluable in Chamonix and a little effort will be greatly rewarded. The Mont Blanc range contains some of the most celebrated backcountry routes in the world in and amongst some mind-blowing scenery.
On low light days head to the Dream Forest on Grands Montets or the runs off the mid station of the Aiguille du Midi. When the sun is out and the snow fresh there are a myriad of options all around the valley. Off the top of the Midi is the Couloir des Cosmiques – often quoted as being the best lift served run in the world, although it’s accessed by a mandatory abseil so you need to know what you’re doing.
The top lift at Grands Montets accesses some top-notch terrain too whilst La Tour and Flegere both have some fun natural terrain with gullies, mini half pipes and small drops everywhere.
5. France – Sainte Foy
Nestled just off the road that leads up to the mega resorts of the Val d’Isere and Tignes, Sainte Foy isn’t quite the secret that it used to be, but it’s still a place you can find plenty of fresh tracks and some great terrain after fresh snow. Try hiking off the top of the Aiguille chair to the summit of Le Fogliettaz. The run down north face holds good snow long after the resort is tracked.
6. Italy - Courmayeur
The old town of Courmayeur sits on the opposite (south) side of Mont Blanc to Chamonix. It consequently experiences different weather patterns and is often good when Chamonix is lacking. The main area offers a huge variety of terrain, from big open bowls to the world-class trees on the Val Veni side. The Helbronner lift out of the tiny village of La Palud, a few minutes out of Courmayeur, provides access to the some amazing big mountain terrain. There are no pistes here and off the back a long descent down to Chamonix via the Vallee Blanche awaits.
7. Italy – Monterosa
The Monterosa ski area is Italy’s answer to the 3 valleys. Don’t expect to find billionaire Russian Oligarchs and rugger bugger stag do’s here though. Only long, empty pistes together with miles of untouched backcountry. The Monterosa area is made up of three villages with Gressoney and Alagna in particular being known for their off piste terrain. Gressoney is located in the central valley and provides the best all round access to the goods whilst Alagna is a beautiful, ancient village with some of the biggest lift served vertical in the world.
8. Switzerland – Andermatt
If there is one thing that sets Andermatt apart from elsewhere in the Alps it’s the quality and quantity of snow. The place manages to catch storms that roll in from all directions and is often where you’ll find the deepest snowpack in Europe. Fortunately the surrounding mountains have the terrain to match, along with very few crowds which all goes into making Andermatt a real gem of a spot for the discerning freerider.
Most of the action takes place off the resort’s main lift on the Gemsstock. The front side of the mountain has a couple of pistes but really you can just ride anywhere. Chutes, cliffs and mini spines are all here. Off the back you can shred empty valleys like Felsental and Guspis; both routes plunge through big mountain terrain all the way back round to the valley.
Freeride Map Andermatt available here.
9. Switzerland – Engelberg
Engelberg is a traditional Swiss town with 2 separate mountains. The Brunni area has some nice tree runs and is great on a low light day. It’s the Titlis side that most freeriders head for though and with good reason. The Titlis mountain towers over the village and provides over 2000m of vertical drop with some of the best easily accessible off piste in the Alps.
Well known routes include the Laub; a wide open powder field at a perfect pitch that just begs to be ripped up and Galtiberg; a huge a varied descent all the way to the valley floor that passes through couloirs, past huge cliff bands and often contains amazing snow. The Jochstock chair is also super fun to lap on a pow day with it’s easy to access natural features.
10. Switzerland – Disentis
Switzerland provides perhaps the greatest collection of freeride resorts in the Alps. Verbier, St Moritz, Zermatt; all could have featured in this list. Disentis though provides something a little different. The relatively limited lift and piste network guarantees that you won’t be fighting too much for fresh tracks and the lower mountain provides great tree riding on low light days.
Try dropping into Val Acletta from the mid station where you can pop off pillows and shred the natural half-pipe all the way back to the bottom of the main lift. When the front side is tracked head over the back to Val Strem, a route that eventually ends up back in the valley after passing though some pretty remote and serious north facing terrain. Here you’ll find powder for days, or even weeks, after the last snowfall.
Go on then, 1 more:
11. Switzerland - Val d'Anniviers
The Val d'Anniviers is a great place to go skiing if you like your mountains big and full of powder, but not people. Situated a stone's throw from both Verbier and Zermatt, two of the best known (and busiest) resorts in Switzerland, the Val d'Anniviers snakes its way up from the valley floor into the very heart of some of the highest peaks in the Alps.
The village of St Luc provides a south-facing aspect for mid winter, Vercorin has great trees and Grimentz and Zinal both access some world-class freeride terrain amongst incredible mountain scenery. Get there soon....