15 of the Best Ski and Snowboard Resorts for Off-Piste
The best backcountry from the Alps, North America and beyond!
Eventually you get to a point where black runs no longer fill you with fear and you’re keen to explore the boundless mountains rather than be limited to the piste map - it's time to head off piste.
With the help of a guide, a helicopter or just your own wits, the possibilities are endless. But where to go? Fear not, we’ve assembled the 15 best resorts for off-piste from the Alps, North America and everywhere else. So get out there and explore!
[part title="Verbier - France"]
It should be no surprise to see the home of one freeriding’s premier competitions on the list. The Verbier Extreme attracts the best and the bravest skiers and snowboarders from around the globe to tackle the notoriously rocky and icy Bec des Rosses. The north face of the peak is generally reserved for experts and given the frequency of avalanches shouldn’t be attempted without the right kit or expertise.
For a more gentle introduction, base yourself around the top of the Mont Gele cable car. The car serves no runs - just challenging off-piste. The Col des Mines is a classic run that has to be tackled if you visit.
It requires a bit of travel to get to the main freeriding area of Corvatsch (about 20minutes by bus) but it does benefit from being quieter than the rest of St. Moritz - most tourists stay closer to home - as well as offering top drawer powder. The slopes suit all levels of ability and offers a variety of terrain including a fun run through the trees back down to St. Moritz itself. Given that the slopes are north facing and situated at 2500m, good snow is almost guaranteed.
[part title="Chamonix - France"]
Most people ease themselves in with the Vallée Blanche which offers stunning views of the surrounding Alps. It runs right down into Chamonix which makes it a great way to end the day. For more challenging terrain head to the Aguille du Midi or the Grande Montets, these will really test your abilities to the limit. For the latter, make sure you’re there early in order to beat the crowds. Once there you’ll see why it’s so popular.
The main reason people head to La Plagne for off-piste is to tackle the huge Face Nord. This descent from the top of the Bellecôte offers a great technical challenge combining couloirs and a steep gradient to really keep you on your toes all the way down. If you want something a bit more mellow then the Petite Face is worth a try.
For the showmen reading, head to the Grande Rochette lift and tackle the narrow couloirs that run below. It twists below the chairlift below so any falls or stumbles will be in the lift in full view of everyone aboard it. Better bring your A game.
St. Anton has a reputation for being more about partying than skiing but one cannot forget that the Austrian resort offers some epic off-piste riding. If you can fight off your hangover then it’s worth getting up early to beat the crowds and enjoy the powder when it’s at its best.
If you’ve got a guide then head to the top of Valuga and explore at your leisure, if not than you’ll have to make do with the area around Rendl - a popular haunt of with the Austrian locals. Watch out for the plentiful rocks and enjoy racing through the trees. A little bit further afield is the village of Lech am Arlberg which offers plentiful off-piste opportunities and will be quieter than the usual St. Anton fare. It's definitely worth a day of your trip.
Whistler Blackcomb is the largest ski area in the whole of North America and is consistently voted as the best resort in North America. To go with its huge park area and immaculate varied piste, Whistler also has some incredible off-piste riding.
The Harmony area has windlips and couloirs a plenty and once you drop down a bit there's also some excellent treeriding. There’s plenty of helicopter tours available in Whistler for those of you who fancy exploring a bit further and have pockets a little deeper. The imaginatively named Whistler Heli-Skiing Company is our pick starting at about $900 per person for a day of skiing or snowboarding.
[part title="Mammoth - USA"]
Mammoth by name and mammoth by nature, the California resort is known for it's huge parks beloved by the pros but it also has world-class off-piste to enjoy. The resort is wildly popular so getting up the mountain early has its advantages if you fancy claiming some untouched pow.
There are huge bowls to explore and you can spend all day just cruising these. A guide proves useful when there’s so much back-country to explore as they'll ensure you ride the best of the best. Make sure they take you to the ‘Hole in the Wall’ (pictured) and the ‘Devil’s Post Pile’. If you really want to make the most of Mammoth then hire some snowmobiles so you can really explore.
[part title="Telluride - USA"]
The San Juan mountains offer much steeper, more alpine slopes than the rest of the Rockies. They’re so photogenic they were even immortalised on the logo of Coors beers.
San Juan has a reputation for attracting a hippie crowd but that’s beginning to change as more and more people discover its bountiful off-piste riding.
As previously mentioned this is about as Alpine as skiing in the US gets, bringing with it steep, icy couloirs and narrow runs as well as having the usual mega bowls such as the awesome Revelation bowl.
To really get the most from Telluride you’ll want to head into the Frontier bowl and the basin below. You’ll need a guide and some transportation but the rewards are worth it. You’ll be able to explore the huge frozen lake as well as the old gold rush towns that have long since been abandoned except to the most intrepid back-country rider.
The confidently named Heavenly resort benefits from having some of the biggest snowfalls anywhere in North America, averaging about 10m annually.
On the California-Nevada border, Heavenly offers the best of both worlds with steep and narrow off-piste in Mott Canyon and some excellent runs through the trees if you head further down into the Nevada Woods.
The resort keen to remind you of the dangers of heading off the beaten track - and so are we - so make sure you’re packing the right kit.
Stop sniggering back there, Crested Butte Colorado offers some seriously good pow. It’s another ex-mining town and they certainly picked a pretty decent mountain when they set up back in the 19th century.
Crested Butte offers challenging terrain to get your edges into and has been voted the best freeriding destination in the US, with steep, nerve wracking runs and massive bowls. It also offers some great marked runs for when you fancy an easy day.
A trip to Crested Butte also makes a great early Christmas present. If you head down from 15 November to 25 December you can ski or ride free of charge.
Resorts in Japan have a reputation for enjoying some excellent snowfall. There is something unique about the fineness of the powder, it's as close as you'll get to floating on air. Rusutsu, on the northern island of Hokkaido, is no different.
Rusutsu offers some of the most incredible tree riding you’ll ever experience. The runs are tight, the trees close in and the snow up your knees. Mount Isola is where the action is and most of the lifts head to its peak. From there you can make your own way down.
The trees make avalanches thankfully rare but to be on the safe side don’t leave home without the necessary safety equipment.
Slovakia’s biggest ski area offers some excellent off-piste action. And the fact that Red Bull holds the qualifying rounds for its freeriding competitions in the Tatras mountains is a good sign for the former Soviet resort.
There are five zones to be explored and unlike many better known resorts you won’t have to fight your way through the crowds to enjoy the powder. The Russian and Polish tourists that come across the border tend to stick to the piste and the park leaving you with the pick of the mountain.
This Japanese resort is keen to cater for the the adventurous and if you arrive with off-piste in mind you won’t be disappointed. For the best views head to the peak of the Annupuri mountain, it’s just a 20 minute hike from the top of the single seater chairlift and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the gorgeous scenery.
The backcountry is spectacular and you’ll soon be drowning in powder. The off-piste is plentiful but access is administered by the resort through controlled entry points. If they’re not open you're out of luck - don't be tempted to sneak in, you'll have your lift pass confiscated if discovered.
Mizuno No Sawa gorge offers some of the most challenging riding in the resort. The area is prone to avalanches which recently claimed the lives of some tourists. Because of this you'll have to take a short safety course for a moderate fee. Don't be put off by all this though, it's definitely worth it.
Hakuba is the biggest network of resorts in Japan and has been likened to Chamonix given it's size and popularity. It enjoys an average of 14m of snow annually, making it perfect for off-piste.
Because of its location on the west coast of the southern island Hakuba takes the brunt of the weather coming in from Siberia. Cold - yes, powder - definitely, every cloud has a silvery lining.
Cortina Kokusai offers the best riding and you’ll have a great time tearing through the trees. If at the end of the day of you’re still hungry for more then head to Kashima-Yari for some fairytale riding under floodlights.
Hakuba is the backdrop for movies by Jeremy Jones and Xavier de le Rue, that’s a hell of an endorsement. What are you waiting for?
Sochi is the Russian resort in the news at the moment but if it’s powder you’re after then head a few timezones to the east and hit up Kamchatka. Somewhat more remote and back to basics than Stalin’s favourite holiday destination, if you want adventure and boundless piste than Kamchatka is the place for you.
It sits on an island formed by a dormant volcano and is a mecca for backcountry explorers. You’re going to need a helicopter to truly see the most of the peninsula, but since we’re out of the Alps they're significantly cheaper to hire.
Kamchatka is different to the rest of the destinations on this list in that it caters almost exclusively for backcountry enthusiasts. Once you've arrived at the peak of a massive volcano you won't find any comfortable red runs or over-price apres ski, just awesome views and glorious powder. It's up to you to find your own way down - with the help of a guide of course. The most popular destinations are the Viluchinskiy and Mutnovskiy volcanos but you can't really go wrong.