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Backcountry Bliss

Go freeride! Powder days are sheer heaven in these shredding hot spots…

Words: Amanda MacLean

SAINTE FOY, FRANCE

Average winter snowfall: 135cm

Top station: 2620m

Freeriding terrain: Sainte Foy is small but full of incredibly fun terrain. Even inside the main ski area you can find plenty of freeriding to keep you busy. If you’re feeling adventurous and are fully versed in backcountry safety techniques, try the 45-minute hike from the Col De L’aiguille to Le Fogliettaz. It’s north facing, so the snow stays good, and it’s a 1,700m descent that leads to the village of La Mazure.

Take a guide: Qualified mountain guides from the Ecole du Ski Francais or Premiere Neige will take you straight to the good stuff.

Take a chopper: Heliboarding is banned in France! Good job there is so much accessible off-piste terrain.

Take this number: Pisteurs +33 479 069 515

Eat: La Bergerie (+33 479 062 551) is a traditional restaurant with an open fire to warm those limbs after a day in the backcountry.

Drink: Join the locals at the ice bar, for live music and après ski.

Sleep: Snow Shacks have apartments, while Gite de Sainte Foy (+33 479 069 718) is a luxury chalet with outdoor hot tub.


ST ANTON, AUSTRIA

Average winter snowfall: 205cm

Top station: 2450m

Freeriding terrain: St Anton might be Austria’s flagship resort, but freeriders know it best as part of the incredible Arlberg area, with links to Lech, Zürs and St. Christoph. A great introduction would be to hook up with a guide to give you the Arlberg tour. It’s so huge you could get swamped.

Take a guide: They know their guiding in these parts – try the tourist board (www.stantonamarlberg.com).

Take a chopper: www.wucher.at is the site with details of heliboarding in the Arlberg area. It’s based near Lech and Zürs, which are closer to the border with Switzerland.

Take this number: 140 is the general number for the lift company.

Eat: Go on, splash out at the underground on the slopes restaurant for some candlelit sophistication.

Drink: You’ve got to check out the Anton Café, a trendy place that offers prizes for people with ‘anton’ in their name.

Sleep: It’s an expensive town, so try the Stantoner Hof for a cheap option.


ENGELBERG, SWITZERLAND

Average winter snowfall: 218cm

Top station: 3020m

Freeriding terrain: Switzerland’s best-kept freeriding secret is laden with easy access powder runs that are marked on the maps. Try the classic round-trip, the Laub, by taking the stand cable car.

Take a guide: www.skischule-engelberg.ch will fix you up.

Take a chopper: www.heliswiss.ch has details of heli operators.

Take this number: Lift company +41 41 637 50 50

Eat: The Alpen Club serves traditional Swiss food, while the Yucatan is the place for Tex-Mex and other bar foods.

Drink: Happy hour at the Yucatan goes right off at après and is where you’ll meet Engelberg’s Swede-heavy community.

Sleep: The Hotel Belle Vue is popular with the young crowd, or try Hotel Europe for some bond girl glamour.


NISEKO, JAPAN

Average winter snowfall: 398cm

Top station: 1308m

Freeriding terrain: One word: snow. Niseko is the latest hotspot on the world powder circuit and, thanks to Crystal and Inghams opening a new package route there this coming winter, it’s never been easier to get there. For your world-class powder initiation, take the top lift and make the simple 20-minute hike to the summit. Get ready for leg burn.

Take a guide: Noasc (Niseko outdoor adventure centre) or look at other options at www.snowjapan.com.

Take a chopper: No heliboarding, but no bother. Should the place get tracked out, speak to the locals to discover their secret stashes.

Take this number: The Japan helpline (+81 120 461997) offers nationwide assistance in 18 different languages.

Eat: Ignore the McDonalds up the hill and instead try the 100-yen noodle shop, Bang Bang or The Big Cliff for good yakitori.

Drink: Almost too many good bars to choose from… Ice Bar, Fridge Bar, Red Bar, you get the picture.

Sleep: Shinzenkan (www.niseko-backpacker.com) is cheap and central, or sleep Japanese-style at Uranaka Lodge.


KICKING HORSE, CANADA

Average winter snowfall: 139cm

Top station: 2450m

Freeriding terrain: It’s the in-resort freeriding that gives Kicking Horse its formidable reputation, with over 70 chutes accessible from the lifts. Pay particular attention to Redemption Ridge and CPR Ridge as well, if you fancy a little hiking to earn your turns. If it’s snowing (pretty likely out here), find the trees on the way to the golden eagle express lift. Just don’t go too far and stray out of bounds.

Take a guide: Check www.kickinghorseresort.com for the full range of guiding options, from beginner to pro level.

Take a chopper: Try www.purcellhelicopterskiing.com for local heli access. They’ve been going since 1973 and offer a relaxed take on the heli experience.

Take this number: Lift operators +1 250 344 5237

Eat: The Local Hero (+1 250 344 7220) is good for buffet-style pub food, while Eagle’s Eye Restaurant (+1 250 349 5424) at the top of the gondola is a slightly more expensive and classier option.

Drink: It’s back to the local hero for drinks (it’s Scottish themed, and has some good single malts), or over to extreme peaks for après shenanigans.

Sleep: Kicking Horse Hostel is cheap and cheerful, while A Quiet Corner is a does-exactly-what-it-says-on-the-tin B&B.


Take Cover

These days, every smart rider knows travel insurance is as essential as a fully charged ipod. It’s even more important when you’re riding off piste, where an accident could see you paying out for a helicopter rescue. Firstly, be aware that most standard policies don’t cover winter sports as standard. The golden rule is: always check the smallprint. The info might be buried, but it will be there. Usually, you’ll either have to pay for a supplement or get out a separate policy to get a better deal. Whatever you decide, make sure you’re covered for the length of your entire trip, and that off-piste and fun park riding is included – some don’t pay out if you’re out of bounds, and some don’t pay out if you don’t take a guide with you off piste.

If you plan on heading to the mountains more than once a year, get a policy that covers multi trips, not just your first trip of the year. If you’re a seasonaire with a job where travel insurance is included, check the policy carefully, because you may not be covered for off piste. Finally, look at the ‘single item limit’. This figure is the most that the insurance company will pay for any single item that is lost or stolen – like a snowboard. Most only go up to a couple of hundred quid; not much use if you’ve shelled out a grand on your new pride and joy.

Our advice is to choose a company that’s geared up for extreme sports. Try www.snowcard.co.uk, www.x1sportsinsurance.com, or if you’re a snowboarder head to www.snowboardclub.co.uk in association with Tagconnect.


Further reading:

• ‘Snowboarding the World’ by Matt Barr, Ewan Wallace and Chris Moran. Published by Footprint Books, £19.99. On sale now.

• ‘Free Skiing, How to Adapt to the Mountain’ by Jimmy Oden, UIAGM mountain guide, £33. On sale at www.freeskiing.nu.

• To learn more about avalanches and the work of the Swiss Federal Institute for snow and avalanche research in Davos, and to get daily updates on avalanche and weather
warnings for the whole of Switzerland, visit www.slf.ch

• To learn more about safety, how to respect the mountain and the latest conditions in resorts worldwide, visit www.skiclub.co.uk

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