OnTheSnow has called upon pro rider Rowan Brandreth to give his expert opinion on the best lesser-known resorts for freeriders. As well as representing Great Britain in FIS competitions, Rowan manages Nortlander Ski Tours.
Here's Rowan's favourite four lesser-known resorts that are gaining a big reputation with advanced and expert skiers:
1. Sainte Foy: Deep off-piste powder
Sainte Foy Tarentaise is a small ski resort near Tignes and Val d'Isere.
"Sainte Foy is excellent for off-piste," says Rowan. "When there's powder, this is one of the best resorts around. There's a large bowl with top-to-bottom off-piste accessed from it. Pistes stay well-groomed due to the low numbers on the slopes. There's some nice tree-lined runs lower down the mountain and plenty of fun, natural freestyle features."
Take a guide to explore one of the off-piste routes to the farming hamlet of Le Monal or the 1,700-metre vertical descent on the north face of the Fogliettaz. The latter is one of the best-loved off-piste routes in the area, favoured by local mountain guides because of the quality of the snow due to its north-facing slopes. Routes here can stay untouched long after others have been tracked out.
Sainte Foy also offers plenty of good ski touring routes with summits of 3,000 to 3,800 metres, such as the Archeboc and Ruitor peaks. You can also link up to the Italian valleys of Valgrisenche and Val d'Aosta just over the summit ridge that forms the border between France and Italy.
Powder skiing in Sainte Foy Tarentaise, France
Copyright: Gergely Csatari
2. La Grave: Unmarked and unpatrolled
La Grave, linked to Les 2 Alpes, is no typical ski resort. This is a real mountian environment - an unmarked and unpatrolled area that you ski at your own risk. Be aware of all the mountain hazards including rocks, avalanches, crevasses, and drastic weather changes.
"There are practically no pistes in La Grave, only freeriding," says Rowan. "It can be dangerous if you don't know where you're going so it's only for the most advanced skiers and boarders."
There is one main lift from which you can access the entire resort. In 30 minutes, the cable car (téléphérique) transports you up to 3,200m. Take one of two marked pistes on the glacier or create your own route down huge snowfield or steep chutes. Hire a guide to explore the wide variety of couloirs, including the three Trifide couloirs, which is the location of the La Grave Derby.
Freeriding in unmarked and unpatrolled La Grave, France
Copyright: Kent Goldman
3. Orelle: Quiet village, great off-piste
Orelle is part of the Les 3 Vallees ski area, 600 kilometres of slopes set between 1,800 and 3,230m, with links to Val Thorens, Courchevel, Meribel, Les Menuires, La Tania, Martin de Belleville and Brides les Bains.
"Orelle is the lesser known neighbour to Val Thorens," says Rowan. "It's a very quiet town, but has some great off-piste directly above it."
On Orelle's side of the mountain you'll find challenging runs in the Cime de Carron area as well as some excellent off-piste. From the highest Bouchet chairlift, freeriders can traverse onto a wide open bowl below glacier Pointe Renod with lots of powder opportunities. The longer off-piste run off the back of the Bouchet chair into the valley below Glacier Bouchet is well worth doing too.
Quiet, pretty village of Orelle in Les 3 Vallees
4. Massif des Aravis: Ideal for ski touring
The Massif des Aravis, 60 kilometres from Chamonix Mont Blanc range, is one of the best kept secrets in the French Alps. The Aravis includes the La Clusaz-Manigod ski area, linked by shuttle bus to the Grand-Bornand and Saint-Jean de Sixt ski areas.
These two connected areas comprise a total of 84 runs and 54 ski lifts, but Rowan says it's the ski touring that attracts the experts skiers and riders.
Ski touring (skiing without the lifts) is a great way to discover the mountains away from the crowds as it allows you to access peaks not accessible by lift. The rugged terrain of the Massif des Aravis holds the powder well and offers endless possibilities for hiking to summits or passes and skiing back down the mountain. The large, snow-filled Aravis bowls attract ski tourers of all levels. Some of the best ski touring routes include the Tete Pelouse, Trou de la Mouche and Point Balafrasse.
Schools like Aravis Challenge run ski touring courses in the Massif des Aravis from one to seven days.
Ski touring in Massif des Aravis