Last season was a pretty special one in the Alps, with enough snow spewed out to see most of Europe basking in mounds of the good stuff. With those days of freshies still on our minds, we're waiting with bated breath to see if we'll get a repeat for the 2013/14 season. But just in case things don’t quite turn out like they did last year, here are 10 resorts from around the world that should stand you in pretty good stead for powder bowls and pillow lines regardless.
With the main village set at 2100m there are fewer places more snow-sure than Tignes, and pow days are frequent. Located in a giant bowl with lifts springing up both sides, it is pretty easy to navigate and find good areas. Most of the area is above tree line and pretty barren, so in stormy conditions visibility can be a problem – your best option during a whiteout is to head down towards Tignes Les Brevieres at 1500m, or spend the day in the Fornet trees over in Val d’Isère.
75% of the snowboarding in Chamonix is found off the beaten track. You need to be equipped with at least a transceiver, backpack, shovel and probe to start your backcountry adventures here. This is a resort that comes into its own when blessed with fresh pow, and for people wanting to get extreme and out of the way of whooping skiers and snowboarders, the runs off the Aguille du Midi offer some of the most technical and demanding terrain in the world.
Serre Chevalier, France
When it snows, Serre Chevalier is freeride heaven – just be sure to check the avalanche risk and ask at the lift stations before heading out of bounds. From Monetier you can take the Cibout chair and traverse to the tree line, then drop the Yret face that runs back to the Tabac run. The Montagnole – a glacial valley run from the Yret chair down to post five on the Tabac run – is best done with a local guide as it is totally out of the view of lift attendants, has some large cliffs and is prone to sliding.
The Verbier Xtreme competition, held here every year on the North face of the Bec des Rosses, is part of the Freeride World Tour and probably the most prestigious freeride contest in the world. Google ‘Bec des Rosses’ and you’ll see why – the terrain on this face is pretty much the definition of gnar! It goes without saying that you must have the kit and know-how to freeride in Verbier. Avalanches are common, so check local conditions before attempting anything. A good starter is to head to the Mont Gele cable car. This serves no pistes, just a stack of off-piste runs and couloirs of varying difficulty. The Col des Mines, and Vallon d’Arbi are classic routes which steer you towards wide open powder fields, and are a must do.
There are lots of bowls, couloirs and steep off-piste runs spread over this vast area, and you need to take suitable initiatives to make sure you beat the rush to the fresh snow. Each area seems almost to have its own weather pattern, so if the conditions look dodgy then check the webcams as it could well be perfect somewhere else. There are 38km of official freeride routes, and off-piste is where Zermatt really excels as a destination. If the conditions are good, then the dedicated freeride routes serviced by the Stockhorn and Triftji lifts on the Gornergrat areas are excellent, as is the Schwarzsee area. If you’re happy to ignore the environmental side of things, then heliboarding might not be as expensive an option as you might think. A day’s heli on Monte Rosa will cost about £260.
Courmayeur has an excellent snowfall record. The breathtaking view is not just a pretty face, and Monte Bianco stops southerly weather systems in their tracks, dumping their fruits on Courmayeur. Like Italian cuisine, the resort’s strength is in its simplicity, and the top quality ingredients here are varied terrain, powder and trees. Due to its relatively low altitude, however, Courmayeur is a dish best served cold. Caution should always be exercised but there is loads of playful terrain accessible from the chairlifts, for example under the Dzeleuna and Plan de la Gabba chairs or, more adventurously, off the back of the Pra Neyron. Unlocking the well-guarded secrets of Courmayeur may take time but that means there are plenty of nooks and crannies for everyone.
Jackson Hole, USA
Mount Baker, USA
The record for snowfall here is 29 metres in a season. Just to put that into some perspective, that is the height of a 10 storey building, and most European resorts would be chuffed to get 7m. You’ll rarely find much snow in the nearest town, but up at resort level it pretty much dumps every day. Unlike most places, you can forget about those bad light days; trees cover almost the entire area, so you’ll always have the contrast to shred.
Niseko maintains one of Japan’s most progressive off-piste and backcountry access policies, almost guaranteeing that powder seekers will go home happy. The highest lifts are all within a few hundred metres from the top of the mountain (Mt Annupuri, 1308m). On a bluebird powder day the crowds always head straight for the peak. A 20-minute hike from the top lifts will provide close to 360 degree views from volcano to sea. These top lifts however are old-school single chairs, and the lines can get frustratingly long on a powder day. It’s worth the wait though, even if you only do it once. Terrain is not as steep as places like Cham, but packed with pillows and well-spaced trees – in a word, fun! The length of your ride is governed by how far you want to hike to get back inbounds.