Off-Piste Skiing in Val d’Isère
Val d’Isère’s Best Off-Piste Runs
Get away from the crowds and carve your own lines down some of Val d’Isère’s legendary off-piste runs. From extreme Couloir des Pisteurs to the super-fun Fornet tree run, here’s a roundup of the best lift-accessed off-piste skiing that should be on every powder hound’s bucket list.
The ultimate ski resort, Val d’Isère is renowned for its off-piste skiing. In fact, this high-altitude village probably gets more snow and keeps it longer than any other resort in the Alps. Many respected back-country experts claim that Val d’Isère and Tignes have the best off-piste skiing in the world, although there are other strong contenders. What’s clear is that nowhere beats Val d’Isère for lift-accessed high-altitude off-piste or the quality and number of guides and schools helping you make the most of it.
Val d’Isère is surrounded by many beautiful valleys that have remained wild despite easy access from the pistes and offers almost limitless off-piste potential. The neighbouring Parc National de la Vanoise, which has helped preserve the natural environment, lends Val d’Isère a unique character. Thanks to its dominating position at the top of the valley, there’s easy access to La Plagne, Les Arcs or the Maurienne.
Val d’Isère is also one of the most beautiful and authentic of the big resorts in the French Alps, and famous for its traditional Alpine style as well as for its sporty-chic vibe. This special part of the French Alps at the far end of the Tarentaise Valley, between the Maurienne, Aosta and Piemonte, draws people from all over the world who come to enjoy the exquisite snow, wide open powder fields and renowned late season off-piste skiing.
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Our guide to the best off-piste runs in Val d’Isère (aimed squarely at dedicated powder hounds):
Classic steep n’ deep off-piste skiing in Val d’Isère | © Val d’Isère – andyparant.com
Tour du Charvet
Starting from the Grand Pré chairlift in the Bellevarde area, the Tour du Charvet is a Val d’Isère off-piste classic. Accessible to all competent skiers, it’s good as a first off-piste route or as a warm up for the more challenging Face du Charvet descents. Pillowy powder fields take you into the Vanoise National Park and some spectacular wilderness. The descent covers 900 m of vertical drop and the gradient is just steep enough to link up some nice turns.
The slopes of the Marmottons, accessible from the Solaise lifts, offer more experienced off-piste skiers and boarders the opportunity to string together some nice sweeping turns on quite steep gradient. With 800 m of vertical drop down to the lift, you can lap this one until your thighs set on fire. Long, steep, undulating terrain, the Marmottons off-piste descent will put a smile on the faces of the most demanding skiers.
Envers de Cugnai
Another great descent from the top of Solaise, the Envers de Cognai is renowned as the ultimate freeriders’ spot. Incredibly varied terrain offers a good dose of excitement on a wide and unspoiled mountainside. With a 1000 m of vertical drop and lots of lines to choose from, if you have the ability you can spend a whole day blasting this one and never ski the same line twice.
Accessible from the lifts in the Palet area in Tignes, the Chardonnet bowl and its many couloirs benefit from a favourable micro-climate which means the area gets more snow than anywhere else in the Espace Killy. Catch it after fresh snowfall and enjoy classic steep and deep conditions where you can string together almost 50 turns through the 400 m vertical drop in often waist deep powder.
Col des Barmes de l’Ours
Viewed from the bottom of Bellevarde, the Col des Barmes de l’Ours appears to be remote and wild terrain accessible only to intrepid backcountry skiers. Surprisingly though, reaching the col isn’t too hard and it’s fully worth the effort. Strike out from the pisted area for a long, mellow descent in the Vanoise National Park. From the bottom, it’s an easy two hour bootpack or skin to climb the 500 m to the pass. You’ve earned your turns and the 900 m descent back down to Val d’Isère is pretty epic.
Couloir de la Table d’Orientation
This off-piste descent is also accessible from the Bellevarde lifts, and after a short 25 minute (150 m vertical ascent) climb, the entrance to the Couloir opens up behind the starting hut of the 1992 Olympic Downhill. After an exhilarating descent through the couloir the run spits you out on to the vast open slopes of Le Kern. This is 1000 m vertical drop of challenging off-piste skiing for experienced skiers looking for big thrills.
Le Couloir des Pisteurs
Famously named because they say only the pisteurs (ski patrol) are crazy enough to tackle it, the Couloir is the epitome of off-piste runs. Only for experienced off-piste skiers, you start with a 45 minute hike to the peak of the Rocher du Charvet at the top of the Grand-Pré chairlift and then along the top until you reach the run. Catch a breath and take in the awesome views before starting down the Couloir, which is a 44° narrow, long descent of 300m which eventually opens out and rewards you with probably some of the best off-piste skiing you’ll ever experience. Rarely tracked out because of the sheer expanse, this will be one of the runs of your life. Carry on straight and you’ll come through the trees into Val d’Isère. Be careful if you head left as you are more likely to have to deal with rocks and narrow tree runs. If you head right, you’ll hook up with the ‘Face’ run back into town.
La Pointe Pers
Le Fornet offers some of the best off-piste skiing in Val d’Isère-Tignes when the Col is completely covered with snow and La Pointe Pers is a great example. It’s hard to tear yourself away from the views at the top, but you’ll be truly exhilarated by this open run which is one of the steepest in Val d’Isère. Starting at the top of the Montet draglift, you’ll drop 1,400m down to the Fornet bridge. Its easy accessibility makes it a favourite with off-piste skiers and boarders.
Le Col Pers
For breathtaking scenery and a real feeling of wilderness, try this classic Fornet run. Take the Montet drag lift and enjoy the wide run down to the Fornet bridge with not a lift in sight, only stunning mountain views. Take the red run at the top of the Fornet glacier and as it turns to the left, head right to the saddle between the two peaks. Walk up to the saddle and then off you go, dropping down over 1000m through this beautiful Fornet route. Wind and exposure can affect the snow conditions so pick your day carefully. Suitable for all levels of off piste skiers.
Le Grand Vallon
This huge bowl of powder is partly why Le Fornet is so famous for off-piste skiing. It is seriously popular for good reason so get there early as the whole valley gets tracked out in a couple of hours. From the top of the cable car take the Signal drag lift and make sure to hang on tight if you are a boarder. Walk forward 10m and you’re at the top of the Grand Vallon. You’ll find plenty of routes back and can either finish through the trees into Le Fornet or veer left to catch the drag lift back for another run. Go with a guide though because, fantastic as it is, this is serious avalanche prone terrain.
Le Fornet tree run
Perfect for a bad weather day when there is no visibility higher up, enjoy the amazing off-piste routes through the trees below Le Fornet cable car. With a massive variety of runs through the trees, you can spend the day here until it gets tracked out. Wise to arrive early as it does get very busy. With challenging steep runs and good spacing, this will give you the work out you need when the weather isn’t good enough for the higher runs. Get to Le Fornet area by either taking the Train Rouge Bus up to Le Fornet cable car or by the Leissier or Tunnel (3000) Lifts from Solaise.
For fantastic free riding terrain with lots of jumps and drops, take the Solaise chairlift and drop away to the left of the summit to find a variety of off-piste runs. Head left to miss the avalanche fences and take your pick of a number of routes back through the trees above Le Laisinant. From here you can take the ski bus back to town or, if you’re too late, take the Laisinant Express up to Arolay and bomb over the ridge into Le Fornet. Be careful though there are cliffs through the trees on either side of the valley which make some of those runs impossible without doing some big jumps.