What comes to mind when you close your eyes and think of skiing?
Is it queueing up for ski lifts and dodging others on your way down the hill? Or is it you and some friends, fresh mountain air on your faces, deep in the backcountry, in total silence? You can have that second option - you’ll just have to work for it. Ski touring, or splitboarding, involves attaching grippy skins on the underside of your skis or board so that you can hike uphill.
And while to some that might seem a little bit mad when there are perfectly good lifts to take, others know that it opens up endless possibilities on the mountain. So if you’re seeking adventure, and want to escape the crowds, it’s hard to refute. And that feeling you’ll have when you pick your line and glide down the untouched snow? Well, it makes all the effort worth it.
Here is a little insider knowledge about a few of our favourite ski tours in the Alps.
Route: Mont Fort - Rosablanche - Siviez
Location: Accessed from the top of the Mont Fort cable car
Good for: Advanced/Expert (the descent from Mont Fort can be challenging)
Duration: 5 hours
The route starts with a descent down the steep south facing slope towards a small lake. After putting on your skins you’ll make your way up a valley and along a ridge towards a col. Across the col there is a short descent around a bowl before the skins go back on for the ascent up the Grand Désert glacier to the summit. You are now on glacial terrain, which increases the safety considerations, but offers a sense of really being away from the hustle and bustle of resort. The final metres to the summit can be tricky so a boot pack is advised. There you’ll be greeted with stunning views of the Grand Combin and beyond. At over 3300m it really does feel like you are at the top of the world.
The ski down to Siviez is far less steep than the first descent from Mont Fort so once the glacier is out the way you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the snow and scenery and even take in the dam. Make sure you get to Siviez in time to catch the connections back to Verbier.
Why we love it: You get 2000m of descent for only 600m of ascent, and the can feel a long way from hustle of the resort.
Route: Grand Aiguille Rousse
Location: Accessed from the top of the Teleski du Montet
Good for: Advanced
Duration: 6 hours
With three skin sections and three skis, this is not the easy option. But if you’re willing to put in the work it could be the highlight of your trip. The first two skin/ski sections are short and sharp as you traverse up and over two ridges. One ridge is south facing so pack Harscheisen to attach to your skis, and don't head out too late in the day. The third skin is the longest of the day with 600m of ascent, gently snaking up a glacier before following a ridge to the summit. The view from the top is formidable, as the slope you are about to ski drops away steeply below you.
This first section is sure to get the heart pumping. As the terrain mellows, it allows you to add a little extra speed and playfulness to your skiing on what will feel like a never-ending run. As your legs and lungs start to give out, the Refuge de Prariond will pop into sight. Grab an omelette and a few beers in the sun while you’re there! From here it’s a really gentle ski through the Gorges de Malpasset and back into town. Make sure the gorges are passable before you start your trip otherwise it will be a four skins, four skis day.
Why we love it: You leave the world behind you with stunning vistas across the Alps, including the Matterhorn on a clear day. Plus, the long descent offers an awesome mix of a steep start, playful midsection and picturesque finish.
Siviez (4 Vallées)
Route: Col de la Rossette
Location: Off the Combatseline piste
Good for: Advanced
Duration: 5 hours
The adventure begins on a narrow path off the Combatseline piste in the Siviez ski area. As you depart the path, put your skins on and begin an ascent through the woods and into a bowl at Les Troutes. From here you continue up a narrowing valley that eventually reaches a col at 2913m. By now you’ve ascended nearly 1000m vertical so will want a well-earned snack and time to take in the view.
Having earned your turns it is time to ski into the Combe de la Rosette following the crest of a ridge. A left turn at the end of the ridge takes you to an enjoyable ski down to the alpage of Orchéra. A track then takes you back towards the ski area where you will join the forested L’Éteygeon itinerary route until you hit the road. There is an hourly bus back to Thyon and the 4 Vallées lift system.
Why we love it: A short, simple tour that has a wild feeling, good skiing, and great views.
Route: Breche de la Portetta
Location: Accessed from the top of Chanrossa chair, Courchevel 1650
Good for: Advanced
Duration: 5 hours
The tour starts with an easy traverse, and short boot pack to the top of the first col. After a gentle descent past two refuges, Lacs Merlet and Grand Plan you’re ready to start the main ascent. Keeping left, the first part is fairly gentle as you cross small valleys. Then, it becomes steep up to the Passage de Plassa, where you’ll take a long traverse below the ridge, beneath four imposing rock pillars.
The ascent finishes with a few minutes climb to reach the Breche de la Portetta (2651m), but is well worth the effort. As you approach the seemingly unpassable rock faces, a small passageway opens up, leading to the col. From here you have stunning views over the blue wall of the Vanoise glacier. You have two options for descent. You can descend back down the valley from which you’ve come (Les Avals) to Courchevel 1650, or descend down the other side into Pralognan.
Why we love it: In the heart of the stunning Vanoise National Park, it offers breathtaking views of glaciers and mountains. Due to its north-easterly facing slope, the descent back down towards Les Avals offers great snow conditions.
Route: Dos de Cret Voland
Location: Accessed from the top of Olympic chair
Good for: Beginner - Intermediate
Duration: 2.5 hours
From the top of the Olympic chair traverse down the gently sloping ridge of le Verdet on the east side of the Meribel valley, carry on along the ridge until you reach the col before the Dos de Cret Voland. A short section of skinning, only 100m, but a chance to practice, brings you to the summit of the Dos de Cret Voland.
From here you get a fantastic uninterrupted 800m descent into the picturesque village of Les Allues. The slope undulates nicely and picks its way through trees until you arrive in the village. From here you can take the Olympe lift back to Meribel, or stay for a vin chaud first!
Why we love it: For relatively little effort you get a fantastic varied descent and there are many lines to take so it takes a while to get tracked out.
Route: Terre Rouge
Location: Accessed from the top of the Aiguille Percée or Marais Chairlifts
Good for: Everyone
Duration: 3 hours
This unique tour rewards you with two descents totalling 1200m. And with the start just a 5-minute hike from the top of the lifts, it’s super easy to access. This is a north-west facing slope so generally, you can count on incredible snow conditions any time of the year. And for the most part, the tour is gentle and a great introduction to heading uphill on skis.
The ski down offers a mix of wide-open gentle bowls and short steep sections dropping off like steps. The second section has a steeper gradient and the landscape transforms from high alpine into glades of trees. Know where you’re heading here as a wrong turn can put you on top of some pretty big cliffs.
Why we love it: Not only is the skiing the perfect mix of playful terrain dropping into steeper more technical lines but the tour is short and the snow is almost always the best in the resort.
Ski & Snowboard School
Lessons and guided adventures for ski tourers and split boarders.
Whilst these route summaries give you a taste of some incredible tours on offer in the Alps, they don’t replace the need for expert local knowledge. For your safety and enjoyment, we always recommend taking a local guide when heading off into the backcountry. Not only will they know the safest routes, and best tactics for navigating terrain; they’ll also be able to find you the best snow, and their favourite lines.
Before you go touring, or off-piste, ensure you have the necessary safety kit and knowledge of how to use it. If in doubt, hire a guide.
www.skinewgen.com or call 01462 674 000