10 Hikes All Snowboarders And Skiers Should Do Before They Die
Earn your turns… here's our pick of the world's best lift-accessed hike-to terrain
Here's our pick of the planet's finest hike-to terrain, which you can access from a ski lift. We're not talking mega-splitboard or ski-tour missions here, and none of these hikes are more than an hour, but they will give you unforgettable rides down and plenty of jaw-dropping scenery along the way.
1. Highland Bowl, Aspen Highlands, Colorado
Celebrities and their swank may hog the headlines when it comes to Aspen, but this Colorado resort also happens to have some of the best vertical snowboarding and skiing in North America, the highlight of which is the hike-to Highland Bowl.
Take the Loge lift then you can either start hiking or cheat with a snow CAT, which will cut your hike by a third. Even then you’ll be lucky to do the hike in less than 45 minutes, especially if you live at sea level, as the altitude here is lung-busting. The summit is almost 3,800m.
But boy will you get your rewards in the form of some of the steepest, the average pitch is 35-40 degrees but it goes up to 48, and sweetest snow, think dry champagne powder, you’ll ever have ridden. The hike and vastness of the bowl also means you’ll find freshies for weeks.
2. Vallee Blanche, Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix, France
In the shadow of Europe’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc, the top of the Aiguille du Midi is a place of such otherworldly beauty it will make you gasp.
That could also be the altitude (3,842m), or the fact you have to hike down a gnarly snow-packed ridge with sheer drops into the abyss on either side, before you can ride or ski anywhere.
In truth the hike is actually fine as unless you’re an expert rider or skier who lives locally you’ll be doing this run with a guide anyway, as it’s not a resort as such, and there are no marked runs and crevasses everywhere. I can vouch for that as I fell down one once.
There’s a rope to hold onto and your guide will rope you together for the ridge hike too, instructing you to dive one way if your rope-compadre has fallen the other. The Grand Envers du Plan is one of the more tricky Vallee Blanche routes down with sustained slopes of 40-45 degrees but that steepness saves snowboarders from walking, as they can have to do on the flatter sections of the regular Vallee Blanche route.
3. Ruby Bowl, Whistler-Blackcomb, Canada
On the Blackcomb side, take the Glacier Express chair up, then head rider’s left, then veer right for the short hike up to the start of Spanky’s Ladder. On a powder day you’ll have to get in line but don’t worry there will be plenty of lines to go around.
Spanky’s Ladder is actually more of a snow wall, so you’ll need to take your board or skis off and take it easy as you climb up. Don’t be afraid to crawl on all fours if you need to.
At the top head rider’s left, traverse past the cliff signs and you’ll find yourself at the edge of Ruby Bowl. Bounce into those oh so sweet powder pillows and enjoy!
4. Hidden Valley, Stubai, Austria
Instead of pretending that snowboarders and skiers don’t go off piste. And then having to deal with the potentially super serious problems that occur when they do and get out of their depth, Stubai has an enlightened approach to freeriding.
The Powder Department includes 14 freeride runs, which you can follow by GPS track and even watch on Youtube before you ride them to check they’re the right level for you. Before you ride you can also get advice on the avalanche conditions and rent powder safety kit including airbags, probes and AVS search devices. If you have your own devices you can check them before riding.
Hidden Valley starts at the Kitzlift Mountain Station at Gamsgarten. Then you have to take on a 10-minute hike to find the start but your reward will be a sweet run with a decent pitch and lots of nice rocks to hit along the way.
5. Highline Ridge, Taos, New Mexico
Taos in New Mexico is a resort for advanced snowboarders and skiers, with a big focus on hike-to terrain. The most famous spot for that used to be Kachina Peak. At 3,804m, it’s the highest summit in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, and was once only reached by a tough 45 minute hike, but now a new lift will whizz you there in five minutes.
Now the best hiking is found along the Highline Ridge, a moderate hike up from lifts 2 and 7A. From there you can whoop through endless powder stashes, take on steep runs and enjoy some awesome tree skiing, with legendary views all around. They get a lot of bluebird days here too so you make the most of it.
6. Mickey’s Ears, Val d’Isere/Tignes, France
Mickey’s Ears, named in reference to the antennae at the top that resemble Mickey Mouse, is located between Val d’Isere, Tignes and the Lac du Chevril. And it’s home to a plethora of epic lines, from the user-friendly to the you-sir-are-nuts!
Drop down the Crêtes piste from Toviere for 300m or so until you reach the top of the Combe Folle drag. Throw your skis or board on your back and walk along the undulating ridge for ten minutes or so. The main lines are two gorgeous couloirs that begin beyond the antennae.
In good snow years though, the whole flat ridge skiers’ right of these can be rideable. At the bottom either cut right and join the Vallée Perdu in Val or left to join the Lavachet wall in Tignes. Or go straight on over the flattish plain before dropping down through the forest through insane pillows right down to the Lac du Chevril.
Be warned if you do take the Third Way though it’s a long hike out (on skins).
7. Gold Chutes, Telluride, Colorado
Telluride is blessed with stacks of phenomenal hike-to terrain and the Gold Chutes, which number from 1-10 left to right along the trail map are one of the highlights. Ride the Revelation Bowl lift to the top, then traverse across to the chutes. Gold Chute 1 has the shortest hike, while 10 is the longest and probably only recommended if you’re used to hiking hard at altitude as it’s almost 4,000m above sea level up here.
Gold Chutes 9 and 10 are about 30 minutes hike away; the latter has an iron staircase to help you at the end. The views of the San Juan mountains along the top are exceptional, and once you’ve ridden the steep pow, they’ll spit you out grinning like a fool into the Palmyra basin below.
8. Wendelucke, Engelberg, Switzerland
Engelberg means “Angel Mountain" in German and especially where the beautiful Wendelucke off piste run is concerned, it’s easy to see why. You can do sections of this run right off the lift but hiking for a short 15 minute stretch at the top will make things so much sweeter.
Or if you’re in good enough shape to hike for an hour you will be rewarded with one of the runs of your life. Though during your powder bliss make sure you save enough in your legs to hike the 10 minutes back to the lift at the end of your run.
9. Val De Mezdi, Alta Badia, Italy
Slicing through the Sella Massif in the western Dolomites, a splitboard or ski tour through the Mezdi is one of the most classic off piste routes in the world.
But you’ll have to hike for it, climbing for around an hour or more if the conditions are icy, though the stunning dramatic rock formations all-around you will distract you from the graft. Especially if you’re a Sly Stallone fan, as many sequences from the survival movie Cliffhanger were filmed here.
You’ll start in Alta Badia and need skins for your first climb up to the Boe/Bamburger Hutte. Enjoy the wonderful 360 panorama, before taking on the first narrow, steep descent. You’ll have another of these narrow chutes midway through the run but the end towards Colfosco is nice and mellow running along a forest path.
10. Palisades, Squaw Valley, California
The Palisades loom over the top of Squaw Valley, inviting you to get yourself up there and take them on.
To do so you’ll need to ride the Siberia chair lift up, then unstrap your board or skis and start hiking. The walk is easy enough and you can scope lines down as you go, while watching the more hardcore folk huck off the path and holler their way down far more challenging runs than you might fancy. Big drops and steep, super narrow chutes… it’s easy to see why many a snow movie has been made up here.
Be sure to stop for a proper look over the edge to get your heart racing. But also don’t fret too much as if you keep hiking you’ll get to National Chute, the furthest chute on the rider’s right, which has a far more friendly, wide entrance. It can sometimes have a cornice at the top, but if you take that on at an angle you should be good.