Given how vast the Portes du Soleil ski area is, it's probably no surprise to hear that there are plenty of great places to find off-piste skiing, from the sides of the pistes and into the backcountry.
We would always recommend hiring a guide to go off-piste, especially if you don't know the area or have the right safety equipment.
Off-Piste Skiing in Avoriaz
Avoriaz probably offers the biggest area for easy access off piste, and this high altitude play area is easily reached from most villages in the Portes du Soleil.
If you are unsure of the area or the snow conditions there are a few Snowcross Zones in Avoriaz. These are un-pisted but secured areas where you can enjoy the freedom of the off-piste with the safety of the pisted runs. These do get tracked out quickly, so you need to be fast to get the fresh snow and remember that if they are closed then they are very dangerous.
Once in Avoriaz take the Express Lac Intrets to the top of the Hauts Forts and descend towards the Secteur Chavanette using the Bleue du Lac, ensuring you explore the little stashes to either side of the piste. Follow the Aller Chavanette down through the tunnel and you’ll reach the foot of the Secteur Chavanette with a choice of two lifts to access the top; Express Choucas and Express du Fornet. The latter lift takes you up above the Canyon du Pschott Snowzone. This is a large un-pisted area characterised by multiple canyons, natural half pipes, cliff drops and kickers. It is one of the best areas to head for after a big dump of snow as the variety of terrain is immense and, despite it sitting right in front of everyone on the lift, does take some time during the day to become tracked out. The multiple lines down this area all converge on the aforementioned lifts making multiple runs easy. The Express Choucas provides access to similar terrain on the opposite side of the bowl and again the multiple lines drop you down to the two lifts at the bottom. The latter has less potential to run you down into a big cliff drop if you lose your bearing but is demanding none the less.
To finish off your day in the Secteur Chavanette take the Express du Fornet and head a little further afield to the Vallée de la Manche. Watch out for the warning signs at the top indicating you are headed into a totally un-patrolled area and are therefore operating at your own risk. The traverse will be obvious, before dropping into the canyon du Pschott bare left and drop over the low saddle to enter the valley. This will give you access to a huge powder field with a huge drop affording plenty of chances to put in the powder eights or big GS style turns complete with rooster tails. Just keep on following the obvious valley route past the old chalet building and onwards to the head of the valley road. If there is sufficient base then it is possible to ski all the way back down to Morzine all though this does involve a little bit of poling. For anybody not up for that, and any snowboarders, then catch the new bus service back to town. Unfortunately the latter has prompted an increase in the popularity of the valley but still, it’s not one to miss.
Secteur Linderets sits adjacent to Avoriaz and the Fornet valley. Lower down this valley the drop under the Col de Bassachaux is accessed from the TS Chaux Fleurie. Drop straight under and to the left of the lift line along multiple lines passing through the trees and into the little, and some not so little, cliffs at the end of the run near the foot of the lift stations.
Higher up the Linderets valley, accessed via the Express Mossettes lift drop straight under the lift line for a long section of natural features where, drops ins, wall rides and kickers abound. The section is marked on the lift as La Frontalière Snowzone but receives fairly light use as a function of its demanding nature. Alternatively, drop down a little way from the Mossettes lift station towards the Les Cases run and, as soon as the fence runs out, drop the edge and traverse back towards the lift line. This is a great big hump of mountain dropping all the way to the Les Cases blue for a return journey to the Express Mossettes lift. On the opposite side of the valley, the TS Cubore lifts you up to the ridge line whereby you can traverse along as required before dropping down again to the Les Cases blue.
If you’re new to the world of off-piste and are feeling a little nervous about taking the step into the unknown then the tree runs up the Super Morzine might be the perfect place to head to. Take the chairlift up the Zore and explore the runs all the way back to the top of the Super Morzine bubble. It’s a great area to help you perfect your powder skiing. It’s also perfect if you’re not looking to travel too far.
Off-Piste Skiing in Morzine
Above Morzine sit the Nyon and Chamossière ski peaks, the highest points of the local ski area and the best sectors for powder enthusiasts.
These offer lift accessed off piste saving the necessity to hike for hours. Firstly Nyon reached via the TS de la Pointe, has a multitude of lines down the face of the mountain in between the pisted runs. It’s easy to venture as little or as far as your experience allows. To the skiers far right is the ridge line demarcating the Vallée de la Manche, don’t go over the edge as you will very quickly find yourself on the valley floor and you will not have covered the distance on your skis! But don’t worry too much the edge is marked out with denser trees a little tight for skiing anyway. To skiers left the face of Nyon can be accessed cutting off the Aigle rouge piste at the first switchback and traversing to the weather station. This takes you over the bowl's ridge line and allows you to drop down to the Chamossière valley on a variety of lines depending upon how far you traverse.
Secondly, Chamossière accessed via the TS des Têtes express chair lift or the high-speed Chamossière Express has a perfect un-pisted bowl to skiers right. Take the traverse from the lift station over the small ridge above the avalanche cannon and drop into the bowl. Traverse as far as required and pick your line down emerging at the foot of the old TS Chamossière lift. Follow the piste down and round and you will arrive at the Chamossiere Express again. The bowl does get tracked pretty quickly but it is a big area and you’ll be able to get multiple runs down before the snow loses its appeal.
For those willing to hike a little a greater drop can be achieved by hiking along the ridge line above the Chamossière bowl and dropping in before the Pointe d’Angolon peak. This will gain you many vertical meters before you hit the lower traverse as described above. Due in no small part to the hike, this upper bowl area remains un-tracked far longer than the easy access lower half and as it's a north facing shaded bowl powder here stays in great condition long after a snowfall.
The Arbis red from Chamossière offers a number of off piste options to both the right and left of the piste as does the drop down the black Creux run. For the former, the run to the skiers’ right offers the chance to traverse along the ridge line separating the red and black runs and ultimately drops out near where the Blanchots red and blue Choucas join by the drag lift. Take the latter and you return to the bottom of the TS Chamossière for another run or alternatively drop down to the Grand Pre on the Choucas and move on to Les Gets or head for home.
Off-Piste Skiing in Les Gets
Les Gets’ best area for off piste is the Mont Chery side of the valley. Not only is it quiet and the back side is north facing but it also has one of the best views in the whole Portes du Soleil. Head to the top of the mountain via the Telecabine Mont Chery and the Grande Ourse Chairlift. Then skirt round the back and drop down the side next to the Bouquetin Black run. There are some open pitches here and some sections through the trees. Pick up the old and rickety Planeys chairlift and do it again.
Alternatively, drop off the back and explore the section accessed by the Chery Nord Chairlift. Once you have ridden the powder you can enjoy a well-deserved lunch in the excellent Grande Ourse Restaurant, but you will need to book as it is very popular.
Another good spot, but on the other side of the Valley is the Chavannes bowl sitting under the peaks of Le Ranfolly and La Rosta. The five lifts servicing this area offers multiple off piste tracks between the abundance of red, blue and black runs in the bowl. The off piste options are clear from the lift but the area is big and does take a little while to become fully tracked out. Once the more open spaces have been used up you’ll need to go exploring in the trees but don’t worry as there is little chance of getting too lost, all routes lead back to the lifts.
Descend off the Ranfoilly peak drop into the small bowl to the skiers’ right before you get as far as joining the blue Gentiane piste. The bowl funnels tighter between the trees but offers multiple lines eventually depositing you on the Tetras red run and onward to the Choucas leading to the Grand Pre for a return to Morzine.
Before heading off-piste
Before you head off piste, here's a few things you should be thinking about:
- Hire a guide!
- Take a course in avalanche awareness and practice the techniques learned. Henry's Avalanche Talk is one way to find out more with regards avalanche safety and there are several companies who run courses in alpine resorts throughout the winter.
- Look at the weather and avalanche forecasts for France, reviewing the degree of local avalanche risk also. Henry's Avalanche Talk produces a translation of current avalanche conditions in English and PisteHors is also an excellent reference place.
- Don’t ignore advice given by local mountain guides or others if advised to ski a certain path, or to keep a specific distance between fellow members in a group
- Plan the route carefully, evaluating all different options and assessing all elements of danger. Look at the timings for each route. Inform others of your route, and when you expect to arrive back
- Attach your transceiver properly to you and DON'T FORGET to turn it on, test the signal is working, and make sure you have all the necessary equipment. (A transceiver is of no use if the user has not been trained in its use, it is turned off, or it is in a rucksack - unless you want just your bag to be recovered).
Read more about understanding avalanches & how to try to avoid them.