The Best Backcountry Skiing in the Alps

Our inside tips on some of Europe's best backcountry skiing lines and where to find them.

Published on Tue 02 Apr, 2019

At Ongosa we work with backcountry skiing guides in some of the biggest, busiest and most famous ski resorts in the Alps. But have you ever wondered where to go when it’s just backcountry skiing you want? We've chosen five sneaky little ski resorts that offer peace, quiet and respite in town, but wild, extensive and epic backcountry on the hill!

Monte Rosa, Italy

Monte Rosa’s three resorts Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna, each sit in a different valley and offer superb off-piste skiing. The resorts are known to have an especially high density of respected backcountry ski guides, so make the most of their exceptional local knowledge and Italian charm, and hire one!

Where to venture

The Monte Rosa ski resort is reportedly near-deserted mid-week so ski Alagna’s famous Zube Pass on your weekdays. At the weekends, to seriously escape and make the most of the skiing in Italy take a Heli-skiing trip, or head to Champoluc and enjoy the Val di Verra where you’ll travel from glacier down to picturesque forests.

Where to debrief

If you’re sitting down to eat and plan tomorrow’s route in Alagna, try the Unione. It’s casual and comfy, with no officially written menu, but serves delicious food. If you’re in need of a bar to unwind after a big ski day in Champoluc, locals head to the lovely, very ‘Italian’, wine bar Golosone.

Backcountry skiing in Alagna
Reach the unreachable powder in Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna via helicopter
Backcountry skiing in Warth

Warth, Arlberg

The small villages of Warth, Schröcken, Lech and Zürs have a geographic proximity to apres legend St Anton, but couldn’t be further from the Euro-pop and Jäger-bomb scene! Whilst St Anton has undeniably excellent backcountry options, why not hire a mountain guide to show you around the beautiful Warth?

Where to venture

Warth claims to be the snowiest place in Europe, seeing an average snowfall of nearly 11m a year! For this reason, you may not actually want to take advantage of the new lift that takes you over to Lech and Zürs. The beautiful, north-facing slopes in Warth have everything you need!

Where to debrief

Stock up on charcuterie for your backpack in Warth’s Walder Metzge: a great café/butcher/dairy. Post-ski, grab the local drink ‘glühmost’, it’s a hot cider that’ll warm you straight back up!

Zinal, Switzerland

Within the Val D’Anniviers resort, Grimentz and Zinal have also been linked by a new lift that cost a huge 28 million Swiss Francs! This shows how confident the resort is in their backcountry skiing and that their conditions will bring in the powder hunters! The Val D’Anniviers is often described as freeriders’ and ski-tourers’ best kept secret, so it won’t stay that way for long.

Where to venture

Grimentz and Zinal’s good lift systems are a bonus for such small resorts, and both offer terrain as varied as it comes. The Bec de Bosson route takes you away from the Grimentz, towards the Moirey dam and embodies a diverse, exciting trip. Be careful though, this terrain is avalanche prone, we recommend contacting a local backcountry guide to at least discuss conditions, if not join you.

Where to debrief

Local guides head to Zinal’s eclectic Bar e Vox, which is decorated with old helicopter parts and iconic red and white wood partitions salvaged from the old Tracuit mountain refuge.

Backcountry skier in the AlpsOff-piste Skier

La Grave, France

There’s worries in the backcountry world, that as the lease on La Grave’s only lift is up for renewal, the freeride gem won’t be open for much longer. Either that, or it’ll be bought up and groomed within an inch of its life to accommodate the ski-schoolers. We urge you not to risk waiting because, as it stands, La Grave is 100% dedicated to the passionate off-piste skier. That said, it’s almost imperative you hire a guide in La Grave as it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Where to venture

For these reasons, plenty of backcountry ski guides flock to La Grave to work and to play. The resort has just the one telepherique, so your guide to show you exactly where to go when you reach the top (3,500m!). This could be the Couloirs du Lac, a classic and great introduction to La Grave’s steep skiing.

Where to debrief

Once you’re up there, the tiny Refuge Chancel is famous for delicious food and it’s ‘real deal’ atmosphere; supplies and rubbish are backpacked up and down the mountain, and food is served at communal tables, on paper plates.

Back at valley level, visit the K2 bar which is part of The Skier’s Lodge, run by legendary guide Pelle Lang.

Andermatt, Switzerland

Unlike La Grave, Andermatt is seeing some immediate investment and it means the infrastructure here is shooting up. Make the most of it soon, because it’s an off-piste playground! The resort is conveniently located just an hour from Zurich airport, so keep an eye on the forecast and why not head out for a last-minute, weekend trip?

Where to venture

Andermatt is best experienced with a professional. For example, the Giraffe is an unmissable route, but should only be tackled with a backcountry ski guide. Hiring an experienced, qualified local will mean you can enjoy every huge face and skinny couloir with an added sense of security. Skinning up to the Hansimgluck area is also an opportunity not to be missed.

Where to debrief

Andermatt’s social scene is quiet and aside from flashy hotel bars, the Spycher is a relaxed spot in town where locals and tourists are welcome for drinks, nibbles or dinner.

Powder skiing in the backcountry

These are the ski resorts that attract the backcountry lovers and the powder hounds, so of course that means they attract some of the finest backcountry ski guides too. Combine a trip to one of these destinations, with a passionate, expert guide and you’ve got a serious adventure lined up! Speak to Ongosa about what you like to ski, and we'll match you to the perfect guide. If you're chasing the wilderness even further afield, or you've skied in these locations already, check out A Mountain Journey for backcounty inspiration, news and reports from all over the world.

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