|UNTRACKED celebrates the places you may, or may not, be aware of. The places where snow falls in abundance and crowds are rare. Want to ride pow? Here’s where to go. |
Nestled in a high valley right on the main Alpine chain, Arolla is about as deep in the Alps as it’s possible to get. One of Switzerland’s highest villages, Arolla is home to a small and almost forgotten ski area. It’s also the starting point for many high altitude ski tours and a stopping point on the most famous tour of them all; the Haute Route.
Slow drag lifts, an incredible backdrop and lots of powder. Welcome to Arolla ~
The ski area consists of just a handful of surface lifts. There are no chairlifts, gondolas or any other infrastructure that you’d usually expect in an Alpine ski resort. But those few lifts access a huge amount of terrain on multiple aspects. High alpine terrain dominates – open bowls, couloirs, beautiful mini faces between the pistes. There are trees too though, useful for those whiteout days.
Dropping into some cold, mellow pow ~
Although this doesn’t official qualify as ‘untracked’, it’s pretty close! ~
Touring possibilities from Arolla are legendary and almost endless. The Pigne d’Arolla is an obvious and popular peak with a descent close to 2000m vertical back to the valley. There are tonnes of options off the lifts too – from a quick 30 minute skin to a full day’s touring.
Val d’Heréns is the long valley that eventually culminates at Arolla. It’s a typical Valasian valley with a North / South axis, high peaks on either side and some of the biggest mountains in Switzerland at its head. In many ways it’s pretty similar to the neighboring Val d’Anniviers.
Les Haudères from the road to Arolla ~
A handful of villages nestle in the valley bottom, the two main ones being Evolène and Les Haudères. Both villages have a small number of lifts and Evolene especially has some classic examples of Valsian buildings. Les Haudères has the prime spot though being at the end of the valley and overshadowed by enormous peaks. The mighty Dent Blanche (the most beautiful mountain in the Alps?) is also visible from town.
The area is definitely logged in my mind as one of the better places to hit up if you’re looking to ride powder, either off the lift or via the skin track. A timeless Swiss alpine experience is guaranteed too.
We rolled across the Swiss border at the end of March, with the intention of finding a sweet spot to camp and some sweet pow to ride. Camping Molignon in Les Haudères at the end of the Val d’Hérens is an awesome place to spend some time. The owner Hervé was incredibly welcoming and we found a great spot under the ancient larch trees with unbeatable views of the surrounding mountains. By the end of the first night it was pretty clear that we were going to stay the entire week. Besides, the nearby campsite in Champex was closed due to too much snow. Winter 2017 / 2018 was a deep one in the Alps.
Unfortunately, we were in for a turbulent week weather wise. Several systems moved through and temps were on a rollercoaster. We saw snow to low levels but also a saturated and potentially dangerous snow pack below 2500m. We therefore didn’t get out on our splitboards maybe as much as we’d have liked, but managed to ride great snow nearly every day at the Arolla lifts.
Splitboarding in the Val d'Hérens ~
Scoping lines as the weather moves in ~
On day 1 a short skin off the lift had us making mellow pow turns to get the trip started. North facing aspects were still good. A couple of days later we explored some of the lower terrain on a local peak called Palanche de le Cretta. Although the snow wasn’t anything to write home about we still made some fun turns and the potential of the area became really obvious. Splitboarding through the deserted farms and cabins high above the valley was also a pretty special experience.
Pow off the lifts at Arolla ~
Riding powder at the resort was ace. The surface lifts can be a bit tedious but they guarantee fresh tracks and keep the visitor numbers low. We lapped pow by the side of the lifts and between the pistes. By the end of the first day we recognised most of our fellow skiers and riders – Arolla is that kind of place.
Map // Swisstopo Arolla Ski Map
Guide Book // Freeride Verbier (includes Arolla heliskiing and surrounding areas)
Mountain Huts & Refuges // Cabane des Dix // Cabane Bertol // Cabane des Vignettes // Cabane des Aiguille Rouges
Accomodation // Arolla – Hotel Kurhaus Les Haudères – Camping Molignon Evolène – Hotel Hermitage
Mountain Guides // Frost Guiding RPM Guiding