Off Piste Deals
If you’re nodding your head right now, off-piste skiing could be the thrilling outdoor adventure you’ve been waiting for.
Many capable and confident or advanced skiers or snowboarders like nothing better than exploring the blissful backcountry of high altitude ski resorts in world-famous areas like the French Alps, Switzerland, Italy and Austria, and experiencing the thrill of being the first to carve up pristine powder which has just descended form the heavens.
If you’ve never tried off-piste skiing before, it’s vital that you get the best advice in order to enjoy the mountains safely ̶ and few ski holiday firms are better equipped to provide you with the help and support you need than Erna Low.
We’ve been helping snowsports enthusiasts of all stripes explore every nook and cranny of the world’s most majestic mountains since way back in 1932.
So you can rest assured that every component of your tailor-made off-piste ski holiday is designed to deliver maximum satisfaction ̶ from your travel arrangements to accommodation, and your ski passes to equipment hire and anything else that makes your break so brilliant that you can’t wait to come back for more.
Read on for more guidance on this exciting winter sports niche ̶ no one knows off-piste like Erna Low, so you’re in the best hands in the business!
What is off-piste skiing?
Off-piste skiing is sometimes called backcountry skiing or freeriding ̶ put simply, it means any snowboarding or skiing that’s done on ungroomed terrain outwith the marked pistes in a ski resort.
However, some enthusiasts differentiate between ‘off-piste’ and ‘backcountry’ by defining the former as referring to areas which can be found close to the piste sides, and the latter as referring to areas which are more remote and only accessible after hiking, using snowmobiles or even helicopters (although heli-skiing isn’t permitted in every resort).
However, no matter how near or far it is from the marked slopes, and regardless of the terminology, the main point of off-piste skiing is satisfying your pioneering passion for exploring those parts of a mountain that most others don’t reach and feeling at one with nature in wild, untamed and beautiful landscapes.
There are quite a few factors to consider before you embrace that fabulous feeling of floating across fresh powder, especially if you’re a first-timer ̶ but we’re with you for every twist and turn!
Is off-piste skiing for me?
If you’re a capable skier who is confident on the slopes and have recently reached advanced level, or an established advanced or expert skier who is comfortable taking on black runs at practically any resort, you’re at the right ability level to add off-piste skiing to your arsenal.
If you’ve always stuck to the slopes, backcountry skiing can make you fall in love with the mountains all over again, but the techniques, equipment and environmental awareness required vary greatly from downhill skiing ̶ therefore in order to ski deep powder responsibly and safely, you’ll have to relearn the way you make turns, maintain balance, approach moguls and much more.
Naturally, if you’re already a devoted off-piste skier, we’re preaching to the converted here, but we can arrange the perfect off-piste ski holiday package for you too.
Whether you’re an accomplished mainstream skier or snowboarder looking for a new challenge or a self-confessed powderhound looking for further adventures, we’ve got you covered!
Best time of year to go off-piste skiing?
Peak snow conditions vary in different ski areas, and there can even be slight differences between different resorts in the same area.
Also, while high-altitude resorts can be more snow-sure, sometimes resorts at a slightly lower level are more snow reliable than you might think because they’re nestled in a unique meteorological enclave that’s a magnet for massive dumps of fresh pow. And furthermore, some rare resorts have such an abundance of natural blessings that you can ski there in the summer as well as the winter.
That said, in popular European ski holiday destinations like Italy, Austria, France and Austria have main winter seasons that run roughly from November through to April, but those that offer glacier skiing can have extended seasons.
January and February are usually months when the snow cover is reliable in most resorts and while these are popular times to travel, by nature, the slopes are always busier than ungroomed areas, so that need not necessarily put you off.
Whatever time you’re able to travel, we can advise on where to find a resort with the best conditions, and if you’re open-minded about where you ski, we’re confident that we can find fantastic off-piste opportunities for you at practically any time in the season.
Why choose Erna Low for your off-piste ski holiday?
As well as having a unique heritage in snowsports holidays, everyone who works at Erna Low is passionate about skiing or snowboarding and most of us have spent at least one season working on the ground at resorts across Europe and beyond.
Because we want every customer to take the mountains to their heart in the same way we do, we take care to listen keenly to all of your requirements and focus all of our skills and experience on getting every customised component of your off-piste break just right.
But our in-depth industry experience also means that we’ve got a deep and wide network of connections across every resort, and the insider knowledge and insight necessary to go that little step further in adding those final flourishes that turn a good skiing or snowboarding holiday into a truly great one!
Europe’s best off-piste ski resorts
You’re able to find fab freestyle skiing in many European ski resorts, but some are better than others.
Take a look below for the lowdown on dynamic off-piste skiing in France, Italy, Austria and beyond.
Best off-piste ski resorts in France
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to Backcountry ski resorts in France.
For starters, Val d’Isère has long been a favourite for British ski holidaymakers and the apres-ski is legendary, but it also has much to recommend it to freeriders. Some of the best ungroomed terrain here doesn’t require a trek to get to either ̶ for instance, the Bellevarde Banane is easily accessible from the famous La Face piste. But there’s also brilliant off-piste in the powdery bowl of Le Grand Vallon and the more remote areas at Rocher Du Charvet.
Alternatively, chic Courchevel is another French resort that’s no slouch in terms of off-piste. Dou des Lanches is a stellar attraction for early bird backcountry enthusiasts here, while Vallée des Avals and Col du Fruit are fantastic if you’re up for more of a trek, while the couloirs that cascade down from Saulire are also firm favourites.
Best off-piste ski resorts in Italy
Italy’s not just the best place in the world to feast on lip-smacking cuisine without breaking the bank ̶ it’s also home to some cracking freestyle ski resorts.
Part of the cross-border Cervino Ski Area with sister resort Zermatt on the Swiss side, Cervinia has some thrilling off-piste trails at the Theodul and Gorner glaciers, and for an experience that will make you feel like the next 007, heliskiing providers can drop you off at immaculate powder on the Monterosa chain and the Roisette.
Alternatively, La Thuile, which is part of the Espace San Bernando ski area along with La Rosiere on the French side, is another great choice for freeriders, with heliskiing available at Monte Miravidi, wonderful runs through the woods at Le Suchet and further fresh powder at the Bella Valletta route.
Best off-piste ski resorts in Austria
When you want to combine sublime scenery with authentic Alpine culture, Austrian ski holidays are hard to beat. And away from the well-groomed runs, this is also a renowned European ski destination where you’ll find excellent off-piste skiing.
One Austrian ski resort that’s becoming increasingly popular with off-piste enthusiasts is Mayrhofen, with 300km of premium unpisted terrain permeating Penken’s lifts and slopes. The powder bowls at Horberg are hotspots here, as is the ungroomed terrain off to the side of the vertiginous Harakiri piste.
Alternatively, Kitzbühel is another cracking Austrian resort with plenty of dynamic distractions for powderhounds. There’s a mesmerising choice of brilliant backcountry here, from the rugged 11km Blaufeld trail to the powder fields at Blau Lacke, and not forgetting the marked but ungroomed #21 run on the Hahnenkamm mountain, which is a steep and speedy descent through the trees that’s an absolute joy. ‘Glitzy Kitz’ also fully embraces off-piste culture with special freeride weeks throughout the season and there’s a vast area of unspoiled powder to discover in this plush but welcoming resort.
Best off-piste ski resorts in Switzerland
If Switzerland conjures up images of chocolate-box resorts with perfectly-pressed corduroy for skiers of all abilities, heavenly chocolate and cute cuckoo clocks, you can also add brilliant backcountry skiing to your list.
Off-piste Swiss ski holidays from Erna Low are an excellent choice for the discerning skier or snowboarder and there are several resorts to choose from. Zermatt is one of the best choices for freeriders and the Stockhorn in the Bernese Alps in particular is famous for fresh pow and gnarly terrain. The cable car here whisks you up to 3420m and you’ll have a magical time with the Matterhorn as a backdrop. Meanwhile, there’s also some excellent off-piste at the Cima di Jazzi if you’re prepared to ski for a couple of hours to get there, and the Schwartztor glacier route, accessed from the Klein Matterhorn cable car, is a white-knuckle powder run with a dizzying 2200m vertical drop ̶ definitely an adventure which even advanced skiers need a guide to attempt.
Another Swiss off-piste paradise you shouldn’t miss is Davos, home of the Pischa, which powder skiers have affectionately dubbed ‘Freeride Mountain’. Routes here are hazard-controlled and marked, but ungroomed, so this is a beautiful spot to build your confidence if you’re reasonably new to freeriding. At the other end of the scale is the 2662m Weissflujoch, which you reach via the Parsennbahn funicular railway ̶ there are some very long and fiendishly tricky off-piste runs in this area.
Best off-piste ski resorts in Andorra
If you’ve never been skiing or snowboarding in Andorra before, this tiny principality high in the Pyrenees offers some pretty good powder at a very reasonable price. Andorra ski holidays from Erna Low are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in the gorgeous Grandvalira Ski Area, which is home to the lively resort of Pas de la Casa, swish Soldeu and charming El Tarter.
The 2876m Alt Del Griu descent is easily accessible from Grandvalira and it’s a cracking run that starts off wide and gets progressively narrower and gnarlier as you drop from the Enrradort to the north east ridge of the Alt Del Griu and onwards down to the finish at the Funicamp.
For a slightly easier Grandvalira freeride run, try the Bony D’Envalira La Menera, a beautiful 4km route along the gulleys found between Bony D’Envalira, Pic de la Menera and Pic d’Endgait. These corridors are still narrow, steep and technically demanding, so approach them with caution.
As you can see, there are several ski resorts across Europe which serve up spectacular off-piste skiing and suit every taste and budget ̶ all you need to do now is have fun sampling them all and deciding which is your favourite!
Powder skiing tips
If you’re a powder-skiing beginner, this is a very different discipline from downhill skiing on groomed slopes, so it’s best to arrange some advanced skiing lessons to find good form fast (we can arrange these for you). However, here are a few basic tips to help get your head around gliding across fresh powder:
By skiing with more even pressure on both skis, you can create a bigger and more balanced base and avoid your outside ski descending into the snow.
Take long, sweeping, curved turns on powder because if you turn too quickly and sharply, you’ll end up head over heels.
It’s vital to keep up your speed in order to float on the surface between turns, so take an aggressive line in order to avoid slowing down and sinking.
Try to build a rhythm in your turns that allows you to smoothly transfer energy from one turn to the next ̶ this allows you to spring smoothly across the surface.
Use your entire body to lean into the snow and change direction, instead of using your lower limbs and ski edges as you would on a harder and shallower groomed surface.
Buy or hire a pair of fat skis if you want to make powder skiing more accessible during your first few runs ̶ this style of skis will create a broad base for you, allowing you to float on the snow using much the same skillset as you would on the piste. As you gradually adapt your technique you can then move to narrower skis.
Essential off-piste ski equipment
You’ll need slightly different equipment for off-piste skiing, but don’t let this put you off ̶ we can make all the ski equipment hire arrangements for you, ensuring that you grab a great price on high-quality gear from a ski hire outlet near your accommodation.
Remember that for certain off-piste areas, it’s also advisable to hire a local mountain guide to ensure that you enjoy yourselves as safely as possible.
Just for information, here are a few off-piste essentials you’ll need, especially if you’ve venturing far beyond the marked pistes:
A transceiver: this is an electronic device which is strapped to your body and sends out a continuous signal that will help people find you in case you get into trouble in an avalanche.
Water ̶ vital for any physical activity but especially important when you’re exploring remote spots.
Backpack, first aid kit, radio and snowshovel (this is a light but strong shovel which allows you to dig through snow after an avalanche).
Booking your off-piste skiing holiday
Off-piste skiing is not for the faint-hearted and, as is the case with any mountain activity, safety always comes first.
However, when it’s organised responsibly, we’re confident that it’ll add a whole new dimension to your skiing and snowboarding.
Book your off-piste skiing holiday with Erna Low and we’ll make sure that everything’s in place for you to enjoy the incomparable freedom of backcountry skiing in some of the world’s most awe-inspiring locations!
Ready for your off-piste skiing adventure? Call 020 7584 2841