Top Ten Powder Hound Destinations
November 11, 2013
Alaska USANo ski film is complete without the mandatory scene of a pro speeding down a ridiculously steep Alaskan powder face - as such no serious winter sports nut would omit Alaska from their top ten powder bucket list.
The spiny fluted lines that cling to the mountains of Alaska are both awe inspiring and unmistakable; nowhere else on the planet has so many steep, and yet skiable, lines as they do in Alaska.
Alaska isn't the easiest place to get to, but once there, there are ways to ski/snowboard Alaska without breaking the bank, such as the resort of Alyeska - just 40 miles from Anchorage, and which in 2011/12 had almost 1,000" of snow - or forgoing hotels altogether, and opting for a RV tour. And of course you can always hike up the mountains, rather than spending a fortune on helicopters and cats...
Many know of Japans legendary powder, but not too many know of the resorts out of Myoko, with most foreign visitors heading straight for the Sapporo and Nagano resorts.
Myoko, located in Niigata Prefecture which borders the Nagano Prefecture, can boast to have the first ever ski resort in Japan, and a huge dump of light and dry powder snow each season. Myoko is one of the few areas in Japan that openly encourages off piste/backcountry skiing and snowboarding, although care should be taken as there are many lift accessed off-piste areas which aren't avalanche monitored.
The resort of Seki Onsen is the powder pick of the bunch: with only two lifts (one, a one person chair) and six pistes, you'd be forgiven for overlooking this place, but if you did you would be missing one million square feet of powder and some of the Japan's best tree skiing.
While not the most extreme of off piste runs, the Vallée Blanche is possibly the best known. Accessed at 3812 meters from the top of the Aiguille du Midi cable car you then have the arête, which is the most dangerous part of the whole 17km decent. The arête is a knife edge ridge that has around a 40 degrees pitch on either side. If you fall here you won't stop till you reach Chamonix some 2000 metres below.
Vallée Blanche, Chamonix France
Once safely down the arête, the standard route follows the not so steep valley floor. From this point on you will be skiing past blue ice fall and actually over crevasses that have filled in with snow, creating snow bridges. It's imperative that you don't ski too close together and always follow the guide's tracks. There are more technical steeper variants, which involve a greater risk due to more crevasses and greater avalanche danger.
With a vertical descent of 2700m, this run has stunning views, and the high mountain environment provides a real sensation of wilderness. This is one of those memorable life experiences that you'll never forget.
A Powder Highway Road Trip, British Colombia CanadaThe name says it all: "The Powder Highway". What could be better than a circular route, with many side spurs, that connects numerous world class ski resorts, such as Kicking Horse, Revelstoke, Fernie... But it's not just the resorts that lure powder hounds to the Canadian Province of British Columbia, it's also the backcountry lodges, the cat-skiing and heli-skiing operators that litter the route too.
As you drive over mountain passes, such as Rogers Pass on the Trans Canadian Highway, you will see backcountry skiers and snowboarders parking their cars and heading off into a powder heaven on touring skis, snow shoes and even on the back of skidoos.
There're also numerous catered and self-catering backcountry lodges to stay at, with access options from walking in, to needing a helicopter drop. The Powder Highway really is a must for any Powder Hound - in fact it should probably be top of your list.
MontanaMany Europeans will not even consider a ski trip to Montana, not for any particular reason other than it's just not a destination you hear much about. Few British tour operators offer trips here, so it's down to any self-respecting powder hound to get themselves over there.
And let us tell you it's well worth the effort, with large resorts, such as Big Sky and Whitefish backed up by small powder paradises, such as the excellent not-for-profit resort of Bridger Bowl.
Montana is the fourth largest state in the USA, and yet one of the least populated. Summer sees numerous visitors heading for Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, but few venture here in the winter, leaving the 'Cold Smoking' powder snow for those that do. Like the two Canadian states of Alberta and British Columbia that Montana borders, it gets tons of snow, and the ghost trees that are created by the abundant snow and low temperatures are a joy to ski between.
Skiing the Andes should be on every powder hound's list. It's not just the skiing, but a combination of the journey, the cultural experience and the fact that its Europe's off season, so you won't be missing any of the northern hemisphere's powder days.
South America, Argentina and Chile
A great place to start your Andean powder experience is the resort of Las Lenas in Argentina. High above the treeline, the slopes of Las Lenas are smooth scree and steep, allowing for some wide open powder faces. The wind can be a problem here, but on a still day with fresh snow, it's the best place in Argentina to get some turns. Las Lenas is a one hour transfer from Malargüe Airport, with flights from Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo, Brazil, making the resort relatively accessible on the vast South American continent.
Not to be missed is the backcountry valley of Arpa in Chile. The cat skiing operation here offers it steep and deep, with skiing possible between 2,700 and 3,740 meters on an average snowfall of 5 meters. It's only 108 km from Santiago, so day trips are easily possible, and it's all in the shadow of Aconcagua, the highest peak of the Americas.
Ski TouringNot so much a place, as an activity. No self-respecting powder hound can really claim to love their turns until they've proved they're happy earning them. As such, a multiday tour should be high on the list of any powder hound.
Ski-touring is true escapism, just you and your kit journeying through the mountains, climbing slowly under your own steam before cutting some powder turns, well away from any lift or resort. Multi day tours, as opposed to day tours, take it that little bit further, allowing you to gain access deep into the back country.
Waking in a mountain hut, with a small group of friends, is one of life's true pleasures; knowing that all over the world people are preparing for a commute to work, while you are planning a day of isolation in the mountains. See our top ten European tours for route advice.
The direct translation of La Grave is 'The Serious' and they're not joking; this place is as extreme as lift access skiing gets in Europe. There are no pistes in La Grave, and care must be taken as this place is gnarly.
La Grave France
The one cable-car (the only lift) deposits you to 3200m and its then down to you to find a route down, so you should always ski with a guide, as there are many large cliff bands to fall off and avalanche traps and crevasses to be avoided.
Even their own website warns 'It is your sole responsibility to decide whether you can go without endangering yourself or others. Consequently, you are personally liable for all material or bodily harm caused to you or others.'
Where else in Europe do they welcome you like that?
Having said all that, treat La Grave with it's due respect, and in fresh snow you will have some of the best fun you can have on skis/snowboard anywhere in the world.
We simply couldn't choose our favourite spot to heli-ski, so we cheated a little and squeezed in three, as, while heli-skiing is hated by some, yet revered by others, there is simply no doubt that it's the fastest way to get in as many powder lines in the shortest possible time (that is, as long as the weather allows you to take-off).
Iceland - the maritime snowpack often allows steeper terrain to be skied safely, and there are many first descents to be had as you ski from snow stacked mountain tops down to black ash beaches of the shoreline.
British Columbia, Canada - there are so many heli-ski operators that you could spend a lifetime never retracing your turns. Selkirk Tangiers, out of Revelstoke, is a top option.
The volcanoes of Kamchatka, in the far east of Russia is our last choice, quite simply because it's just the maddest place on the planet to ski. You'll be making turns from crater rims and past smoking blowholes. Kamchatka has over 200 volcanoes with sulphurous smoke spewing from the 29 still active peaks.
Long after the season has finished in most of Europe, the Norwegians are still up to their eyeballs in snow. The Lyngen Alpes, of Northern Norway, are a spiky range of razor edged sharks teeth peaks on a peninsular jutting out into the Barents Sea, close to Tromso and the borders of Sweden and Finland.
Lyngen Alps, Norway
Ski-touring at 70° north, well inside the Arctic Circle, is the order here. Sail and ski is becoming very popular, as it gives you the freedom to choose your line from the fjord/sea at a distance, before making your way ashore using a small rib and starting your climb at the water's edge. It's also highly likely that you'll see the northern lights, making the whole experience a truly special one.
The Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) have limited unstaffed mountain cabins available for rent if you want to cut down on costs: staying in Lyngen and taking day trips to the mountains is also an option.
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