The mercury is falling, the days are shortening and becoming crisper, you’ve flung the flip-flops to the back of the cupboard for another year and dug out the scarf and gloves. It can only mean one thing – winter is on the way.
3 Best European Freeriding Resorts
ST ANTON, AUSTRIA
CLOSEST AIRPORT: Friedrichshafen
THE RESORT: One of Europe’s best all-round resorts (pictured above) is also one of the most prized powder resorts in the world. The entire St Anton/ Arlberg area includes St Christoph, Stuben, Lech, Zurs, Nasserein, St Jakob, Pettneu, Oberdorf and Klösterle. And with almost 5,500ha of off-piste terrain it’d take an entire season to come close to exhausting the options on offer.
MUST DO: The North Face of the Valluga is one of the Alps’ prized scalps. Take a tiny lift from the top of Valluga I gondola (see Valluga II in Scariest Lifts), and look forward to a steep pitch before it opens out into broad powder fields down to Zurs.
CLOSEST AIRPORT: Basel
THE RESORT: This lovely old Victorian-era ski resort should count as a European must-do for any serious skier. The mellow atmosphere that pervades the entire town shouldn’t detract from the seriousness of the mountain. Head to the Titlis side of the ski area, where you quickly find yourself in a serious high-altitude environment. Essential runs include Laub – 1,120 vertical metres of sheer, unadulterated off-piste joy; Galtiberg, nearly 2,000m of more varied off-piste; the Steinberg glacier route from Klein Titlis to Trübsee; and the east face of Jochstock.
MUST DO: Take the Rotair cable car to 3,020m. It is apparently the world’s only rotating cable car, so best avoided with a hangover.
LA GRAVE, FRANCE
CLOSEST AIRPORT: Grenoble
THE RESORT: Only the French could come up with a resort like La Grave – one main lift, a million potentially deadly crevasses and limitless freeriding opportunities. This tiny village offers some of Europe’s most challenging high-altitude skiing, with a vertical drop of 2,200m. The ski area is unique in that 90% of it is unprepared and unpatrolled, with just 12km of designated pistes and three ski lifts. The “piste map” says it all – pick your own route, with care.
MUST DO: After quite technical entry points, the two primary descents – Vallons de Chancel and Vallons de la Meije – offer a mix of steeps, open powder fields and forest. Extreme cliff drops and couloirs await those with a guide, equipment, skill and guts.