As the season comes to a definite end, we continue to look for any possible place or way in which we can get some runs in, and of course, we will share our findings with you. This last week we have looked for the best backcountry skiing places in the UK and Europe, and mission accomplished!
Here are a few of the places we have found where you will be able to have a good backcountry ride, whether you have to go up by hike or lift, you won’t want to miss these locations. Before we get to the best places where you can go for backcountry skiing or snowboarding let’s give you a brief introduction to what backcountry is and how difficult it can be.
Backcountry skiing refers to skiing or snowboarding on totally unmarked and ungroomed territories, both within the boundaries of a ski resort or not, it can also be referred to as “off-piste” but in the UK it’s more common to call it backcountry skiing. Any experienced skier or snowboarder has access to backcountry skiing, find a mountain with snow, start hiking, and prepare for the ski downhill, it’s extremely similar to ski touring which you can learn all about in our Beginner’s Guide to Ski Touring.
We recommend reading our ski touring blog first if you want a more in-depth understanding of the uphill technique and ski equipment you will use which are the same as for backcountry. Snowboarders, on the other hand, use an equipment called a splitboard, which consists of a board made up of two skis allowing the person to use them for the hike uphill and then attach the two skis forming a snowboard to ride downhill.
Backcountry can definitely be more dangerous than skiing on a groomed ski slope, this is because you are skiing or riding on untouched territories, wherever those may be. When you are in the backcountry there is a higher risk of avalanches, as backcountry areas aren’t generally covered by avalanche control teams. You’ll also encounter much more uneven territory, so keep an eye out for cliffs, rocks, tree stumps, or any anomaly on the path in front of you.
Of course, skiing in such areas is also part of the fun in backcountry skiing, you really challenge yourself and have the ability to ski or ride previously untouched slopes. The first rule of skiing off-piste or backcountry is you should never do so alone, always ski with at least 1 other person and you should always carry with you at least the basic equipment for avalanches listed below:
Always remember to let others know in which area you plan to go backcountry skiing, so someone knows where to find you if needed. Other than that, backcountry is a lot of fun and you should be safe as long as you are taking the correct safety precautions – if it’s your first time venturing in to the backcountry or off-piste, it’s best to hire a qualified instructor or guide to teach the best practices. Now, on to the fun part of discovering where you can get the best backcountry skiing experiences.
Lake District - Located in NW England, the Lake District National Park encompasses a great area of mountains, some of which are over 900m above sea level. This location is a popular one for people looking to get some backcountry skiing done in England, because when it snows enough this national park becomes a great white snow park for all skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts.
Most people will be hiking up to Helvellyn (950m), the most popular peak in the Lake District, but there is also Lower Man (925m), Catstycam (890m), and Rise (883m). Surprisingly enough, you will also find a button lift that will take you up to Rise, operated by a group of volunteers members of the Lake District Ski Club, founded in 1936, which comes to show for how long people have been skiing in England.
If you want to plan a trip to the Lake District, check out their webpage where conditions of the peaks are uploaded daily to make sure you go on the right days.
Peak District - Just a 30-minute drive from Manchester, the Peak District was the first National Park formed in the UK. It must be said that they do not get as much snow as the Lake District, but when it does snow, skiers and snowboarders can get a good thrill down the Mam Tor and Back Tor, although it’s not usual to see good snow conditions on those two hillsides. More popular for backcountry skiing are Kinder Scout (636m) and Bleaklow (633m).
The conditions for skiing are a rare occasion here especially because the terrain can get quite icy and the downhill is steep but keep an eye out for that perfect snowfall and head over to the Peak District for incredible views, challenging hikes, and thrilling descents.
Back Corries - Located in the Scottish ski resort Nevis Range, you can find a series of off-piste backcountry referred to as the Back Corries. A good thing about this area of backcountry trails is that you can also access them by lift, not all the way, but some of the ski resort’s lifts will take you up and then you can walk to the Back Corries.
Another advantage is that Ski Patrol will assist anyone in difficulty or who has become injured which is not a luxury you usually get when going backcountry skiing in remote places. Even if you have the help of the ski patrol the ski resort cares to add that the terrain will remain untouched and ungroomed so you should still take all cautionary measures when going for a backcountry mission.
Nevis Range also provides daily snow reports for you to check out before going out there.
Cairngorms - In this ski resort you will find access to backcountry trails both within the boundaries of the ski resort and outside. Venturing outside of the ski area you will find a vast mountainous landscape just waiting to be explored. Ski touring and split boarding beyond the Cairngorm plateau and across the Northern Corries give access to a range of backcountry terrain and technical descents.
Cairngorm is quite unlike other alpine resorts. The sub-arctic plateau can be a dangerous place when covered with snow. The landscape and snow-covered terrain make it extremely hard to navigate in bad visibility, leaving even experts in challenging situations. When planning a trip into the backcountry it is vital that you assess the weather, snow conditions, and most importantly, your own skills.
Courmayeur, Italy - Courmayeur has become a very popular place for backcountry thanks to the Sky Way Monte Bianco lift which takes you up to Pointe Helbronner at 3,452m. From there you can do some of the best backcountry skiing in Toula glacier, Mont Frety and Aiguille de Marbree. Val Veny and Cresta d’Arp also offer great off-piste skiing.
Zermatt, Switzerland - Not just a luxurious ski resort, but also a great place for backcountry skiing, especially in The Stockhorn area where you will find some of the best off-piste trails. Take a 30-minute hike to Findgletscher or take the Klein Matterhorn cable car to Schwartztor which offers a long glacier route we’re sure you’ll love with north-facing powder descent to Gornergletscher before finishing up in Furi and Zermatt. There’s a lot more to discover in Zermatt than what you thought.
Sport Gastein, Austria - There’s Bad Gastein, then there’s Sport Gastein and if you’re looking for backcountry skiing the head for Sport Gastein. The Gastein Valleys are located only an hour from Salzburg and have pretty much any terrain you might be looking for. When it comes to expert backcountry skiing, you will be venturing into old goldmine territories ready to be explored. There are also lots of options in the area for intermediate off-piste skiers and there are wide-open routes with the Hohe Tauern mountains as a backdrop.
Hopefully, you have a better idea of where you can go backcountry skiing, especially in England and Scotland but also around Europe, now that even ski resorts in Switzerland are closing for the season.
We care to add that it is highly recommended to have a guide or instructor with you when going backcountry skiing if you’re not an expert yourself. We totally encourage you to try it but do it in a safe way, as we mentioned at the beginning, backcountry means the terrain is left as is, which is why any hill can become a slope if you really want to. It is important to have someone with you who knows the area you’ll be exploring and can show you not just how to stay safe, but also the most incredible views and challenging runs to make sure you get some good skiing or boarding done.
Instructors on Maison Sport are always ready to help their clients to learn new things and explore new territories. Make sure you check them out in Scotland, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Austria, and we’re sure you’ll find one that fits your needs.
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