The giant ski resort of the Les 4 Vallées requires very little introduction to initiated backcountry skiers or snowboarders. With 80 lifts and 410 km of slopes to play with across the Swiss resorts of Verbier, Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon, Les 4 Vallées has more than a lifetime’s worth of couloirs, powder bowls, exposed faces to get even the most skilled backcountry aficionado excited.
The Mpora team recently spent time accessing the delights of all this terrain from the perfectly situated Nendaz . On top of the world class skiing on offer, Nendaz offered a more affordable vibe, compared to its slightly more ‘snobby’ sibling Verbier.
“Les 4 Vallées requires very little introduction to initiated backcountry skiers or snowboarders”
While spending time out in Nendaz, we learned that there really are descents to whet the appetite of any backcountry skier. From far-flung heliskiing missions, uber-steep and exposed freeride faces and, of course, introductory backcountry descents are all possible from this resort that’s helped to shape the history of freeride skiing.
For when you do decide to venture out beyond the piste, we’ve got our selection of five of the best routes to get you going, after our time skiing in the Les 4 Vallées. These routes range from Freeride World Tour faces, to the glorified restaurant trip. Safe skiing all.
Disclaimer: If you’re planning to ski any of these descents, then please ensure you do so in the stable conditions, with the correct equipment (transceiver shovel and probe), partners and correct training to perform avalanche rescue. If you’re unsure of what stable conditions are then a mountain guide will happily show you.
*Although we list some of these descents as ‘beginner’ difficulty, we mean beginner backcountry skiers. In our opinion, a beginner backcountry skier should be capable of taking on black graded slopes, in a range of conditions.
This guide has also been written assuming good snow conditions on the descents – they’re obviously going to increase in difficulty if you find them in icy conditions.
Les 4 Vallées is known for its “itinerary routes”. These routes, although not groomed, are frequently patrolled and are clearly marked routes through the wild and expansive terrain of Les 4 Vallées.
Marked by yellow lines on the piste maps, and single yellow poles on the mountain. The route is set 20 metres either side of these yellow poles, so ensure you’re looking out for the poles if you’re new to backcountry skiing, or you’re skiing in poor visibility.
“Les 4 Vallées is known for its ‘itinerary routes’”
Although these routes are within the resort boundaries (and therefore in a ‘controlled’ avalanche environment, we’d always recommend every member of your party is equipped with avalanche safety equipment, and the knowledge of how to use this kit. If an itinerary route is closed then you MUST follow these closures. They’re going to be closed for a reason.
The route from the Col des Gentianes down to Tortin is one of the most famous of Les 4 Vallées’ itinerary routes.
This descent is best started at the top of Mont-Fort, where you’ll be treated to one of the finest panoramas in the Alps. Starting on top of the 3,328 metre Mont Fort telecabine also means that this is one of the longest descents in Les 4 Vallées, and who doesn’t like starting a route with some of the steepest moguls out there?
If you’re willing to work a little for your turns, then you’re going to be rewarded with one of Verbier’s best powder runs (conditions dependant, of course) in the aptly named ‘Rocky Garden’.
Access to the start of the descent is made via a reasonably short hike. To reach the beginning of the hike, cut off high on the Lacs Rouge piste underneath a small cliff band (there will usually be a traverse route set). Once you’ve reached the end of the traverse, take your skis off, clip them to your pack to begin the short ascent on foot. The ascent is extremely straightforward, thanks to the popularity of this route, with large steps frequently being stamped into the track.
Once you’ve reached the small col, you’ll see Tortin below, with large and varied slopes stretching out beneath. Take the east facing slopes below in what will, most likely, be some epic snow. This is a great descent that can be lapped all day, with fresh snow (usually) being on offer each time.
The one descent on this list that needs little introduction. Home to the most daunting event on the Freeride World Tour, Xtreme Verbier.
With 50 degree slopes, large cliff bands and tight couloirs starting from the top down, the Bec des Rosses should be reserved for expert backcountry skiers and snowboarders only. Those with the skills and fitness to get up (and down) the Bec des Rosses are rewarded with one of the finest descents on the planet.
This complex terrain also makes for some complex route finding while you’re on the face. As you’ve most likely seen while watching Xtreme Verbier, you can really choose any route down the Bec, based on your experience. However, we’d recommend the ‘Dogleg’ route for your first taste of the spice on offer on this crazy face.
The Dogleg route takes the most natural line on the face, following a steep couloir for most of the length of the Bec, before taking a dogleg turn to reach the apron slopes below. We’ve purposefully left the route description vague to ensure only the experienced are taking on this route. If you feel like you’ve got the steep skiing experience required to take on the Bec, then you’re going to be rewarded with one of the most gripping ski descents out there.
While it may be compared to the Bec des Rosses as its little brother, we’d wager that 80% of freeride skiers and boarders on the planet would have twice as much fun riding Mont-Gond, than its hard man brother sitting to the south, thanks to its more amiable nature.
Mont-Gond is home to the much-loved freeride event – Nendaz Freeride. Nendaz Freeride has gained a reputation in the freeride industry thanks to its festival-like culture, stoked competitors and, of course, the beautiful face of Mont-Gond.
“Freeride skiers and boarders on the planet would have twice as much fun riding Mont-Gond, than its hard man brother”
The face has everything. From wide couloirs to airy cliff drops, all while lacking the life-threatening exposure found on the Bec des Rosses. But don’t just take our word for it, here’s what king of the freeride world, Jeremie Heitz, has to say about the face:
“I’ve been on that face twice, I think. Yeah, this face is really nice. It’s actually better than some of the faces in the Freeride World Tour. It’s a real mountain – you need to climb it first … For someone with an alpine racing background it’s really nice because there are direct lines, but then there are a lot of jumps where it’s also possible to throw some tricks, so every time we’re seeing a beautiful show on it.” If it’s good enough for Jeremie, it’s surely good enough for you and I.
Another route begins from the top of Mont-Fort. This time, the descent is a little more wild and serious, but experienced skiers and boarders should listen up though, as this route is an absolute blast.
While the ‘front’ (west) side of Mont-Fort is a graded piste, sometimes with moguls the size of small cars, the ‘back’ (north – east) faces of Mont-Fort offer an escape from the resort like no other. This descent offers 2,080 vertical metres of skiing through extremely varied terrain, and for that reason it’s a real ‘must do’ for backcountry skiers.
Starting off at the top of Mont-Fort, this route can be accessed by taking the stairs down from the top of Mont-Fort and ducking under the rope barrier. A leftwards traverse is then taken to reach the top of a wide couloir. Care must be taken during this traverse, particularly in icy conditions, as a fall here wouldn’t be pretty.
Once you’re on top of the wide couloir, you’ve cleared the worst of the exposure, and can open out the turns a little more. The apron slopes then lead you onto the Glacier Du Petit Mont-Fort, where you’ll need to keep a high line on your left before following the valley down towards Lac de Cleuson. The Cleuson Dam sits at the end of the lake. Ski underneath the dam and through the trees to reach Tortin.
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