We caught up with our friends at Ongosa, who have put together their top five resorts in the Alps for off-piste guiding. Ongosa can recommend and book the best ski and snowboard guides out there to help you fully embrace your next backcountry trip.
Why should you hire an off-piste guide?
The time we spend in the mountains is precious - usually only a week or two each year for the most of us. And so making the most of it is crucial, which is why hiring an off-piste guide is a must. If you’re looking to get comfortable with the mountains, explore the routes that are likely to suit your ability and learn how to read the snowpack, then spending a day or more with an instructor or guide is for you.
As the home of free skiing, it comes as no surprise that Chamonix is a hot-spot with intermediate and expert skiers alike.
We have the Vallee Blanche to thank for its famously epic backcountry, and Mont Blanc right on your doorstep - as a result there are more ski instructors per capita here than almost any other resort in the alps.
Chamonix is also renowned for its mountaineering, climbing and snowboarding and is the backdrop to many ski and snowboard films.
We caught up with an Ongosa-recommended off-piste guide in Chamonix, and here’s what he has to say about the resort:
“The wide variety of skiing available has so much to offer from intermediate skiing, up to the world’s professionals. There is enough skiing to spend more than a lifetime here. From the epic ‘Vallee Blanche’ to the Grands Montets at Argentiere. Then there is the tree lined skiing of Les Houches and the world free tour visiting Brevent. The list goes on and on - It’s the world’s mecca for alpinism and skiing for a reason.
The plethora of terrain available makes Chamonix so great for off-piste guiding. There’s more choice in Chamonix than you know what to do with, including ski touring, heli-skiing and ice climbing to enjoy. No matter what the weather does, there is always an ideal spot for that day. It’s up to you (or your instructor) to know where to find it.” - Will, Chamonix Off-piste Guide
Take advantage of the ‘Four Valleys’ lift pass to ensure that you’re able to explore the neighbouring resorts; La Tzoumaz, Nendaz, Veysonnaz, Les Masses and Thyon with an off-piste guide.
Book a guide who will to take you to Verbier’s finest routes on Col de Mines or Col de Mouches, hidden powder stashes in the trees of the smaller villages, or even experience hut-to-hut ski touring on the Haute Route via Verbier!
For expert skiers and snowboarders, the Backside Mont Fort run has glaciated terrain, avalanche potential and a long walk out, which means that you should definitely hire a guide who has good knowledge of avalanche awareness to tackle it.
After all, if it’s good enough for the Freeride World Tour - it’s good enough for us!
Home to Switzerland’s most famous landmark - the Matterhorn - we absolutely love Zermatt. Why? You have the Swiss efficiency to thank for smaller lift queues, endless slopes with early lift starts, coupled with three ski areas to embrace.
Hear it from an Ongosa-recommended off-piste guide if you need convincing;
“Zermatt’s off-piste options have long been overlooked in favour of neighbouring powder meccas Verbier and Chamonix but when the snow falls in Zermatt, it really falls! (Last January being a case in point!) The choice of routes is diverse, and they are extremely accessible from lifts; avoiding the long trudge for the fresh lines that are common place in Cham & Verbs.
2-3 days after a fresh fall of snow, just a small traverse from the main slopes it’s easy to find untouched powder in perfect, glittering condition.
It’s always hard to pick one place that’s best for powder skiing in Zermatt, but thanks to so much north facing terrain and high altitude, the Stockhorn/Gornergrat area is excellent. A huge and varied area that rolls over steep and more gentle terrain and sweeps down gullies and along moraine walls. It’s the accessible wilderness that draws you back, time after time.” - Rowena, Zermatt Off-Piste Guide
La Plagne, France
La Plagne is one of the most popular ski resorts in the world - with over 2.5 million eager skiers visiting each season! The double decker cable cars of the Vanoise Express linking Les Arcs to the 12 villages of La Plagne make it a vast and well connected ski area.
As a resort it is incredible popular among families and beginner to intermediate skiers. So if there is a powder day you are competing against fewer experienced skiers for fresh tracks.
Head off from the top of the Traversée lift to enter the north face of the Bellecôte via one of several couloirs, for a true backcountry experience in La Plagne.
St Anton, Austria
Renowned for its nightlife and steep terrain, St Anton is a confident skier’s paradise. The resort’s chutes, couloirs and valleys, far from the lifts are great for off-piste guiding. You’ll need to know exactly where to hike to find them however, as the area extends to include the likes of Warth, Lech, Zurs and Stuben. These areas of the Arlberg have the highest average snowfall of any European ski resort - Stuben is arguably the powder capital with an annual average of 12 metres!
St Anton is full of ‘must-do’ off-piste descents, most famously the Valluga’s North Face, which offers a variety or routes down, but most commonly to Zurs. However, you’ll only be allowed to ski from the summit if accompanied by a qualified guide.
Here’s what Ongosa-recommended guide, Jürgen (who goes skiing 100+ days each season in St Anton!) has to say;
“Start early! You are not alone, but it is worth it! Early birds come home with the biggest smile on their faces! Due to the fact there is such an extensive lift system great off-piste runs and slopes are easy to get to and it is easy to come back to ride the gondola/Chairlift up for the next one.
Some classic runs, such as Valluga to Zürs (Pazieltal), Klemm (Lech to Schröcken), Nenzigast (Klösterle to Langen) create memories for a lifetime.
For us guides we always take safety as the top objective. So we share information amongst us to be updated, use weather predictions and the latest local snow and avalanche bulletins.
Once we get up and out there, our local knowledge plus the many years of living here and spending time in the mountains in summer allow us to choose the best matching runs on that moment, considering the skiers ability, getting there and back easily.” - Jürgen, Senior St Anton Guide.
So, there you have it - our top five resorts for off-piste skiing. These attract the backcountry lovers and the powder hounds, so of course that means they attract awesome backcountry ski guides too. When you’re visiting a new ski resort it’s also important to get yourself a map and talk to local skiers, ski patrol and the lifties too. These people know the resort inside out.
Combine a trip to one of these destinations with a passionate expert guide, and you’ve got a serious adventure lined up! Speak to Ongosa about what you like to ski, and they will match you to the perfect guide.