Results based on an unofficial survey of Ski Club staff, ex-seasonnaires and die hard fanatics.

Riding powder is absolute gospel. There’s no doubt about it, turning through deep, fresh powder with the crystalline particles flying past your face is nothing short of spiritual. The snow absorbing all sound, and you’re left with perfect silence besides the sound of your skis slicing through each and every turn. Far gone are the swarms of casual ski enthusiasts on piste, and it’s just you and your pair of fatties getting waist deep in the trees.

Whatever destinations you choose to ski in Europe, there’s a world of powder and spectacular scenery for you to explore, wherever you choose to get your fix.

Here at Club HQ we’ve compiled our totally unofficial list of the best places to get off piste this winter. Feel free to let us in on your favourite hide-outs too – although we can’t guarantee we’re not going to ski them!

Chamonix, France

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Chamonix is Europe’s off piste Mecca and another fabulous resort for those looking for an off piste challenge. Among the Ski Club staff it’s known for having the “sickest lines”, but the terrain is suitable for off piste skiers of all abilities. With vast glacier systems, wide powder slopes, steep couloirs and tree skiing, you’ll be hard-pushed not to find something that gets you smiling like the Cheshire cat; and all under the spectacular backdrop of the Mont Blanc massif.

If you’re hesitant about navigation, the snow conditions, or would prefer not to have the responsibility of route planning then it’s best to hire a ski guide in Chamonix. With plenty of crevasses to fall into you want to make sure you’re exploring the off piste areas safely.

From the top of the Bochard bubble you can head into the Combe de la Pendant bowl for 1000m of unpisted descent. The runs down are amazing with loads of cliffs, hits and chutes, but the area can be avalanche-prone. Out of La Tour are some fun tree runs towards the Les Esserts chair, with small drop-offs just big enough to ensure you keep your wits about you, dont get carried away and head down too far as you’ll end up walking back up to the lift.

Engelberg, Switzerland

engelberg.ch

Engelberg - 'the mountain of the angel' - was founded by a Benedictine monk who heard an angel telling him to build a monastery where the town now lies. Today the monastery still stands, and Engelberg echoes to the whoops of skiers here for incredible off-piste skiing and one of the world's longest vertical descents.

Some of the best off-piste terrain can be found having taken the Jochstock express lift to reach the slopes on the Alpstublii, where you will find some amazing runs. The Laub area is also unmissable with 1120 vertical metres of sheer, unadulterated off-piste joy – although this pleaser shouldn’t be attempted unless you know the score and can handle fast steeps, because it’ll make a mess of you if you should you stuff up. For tree-skiing check out Brunni, particularly the Grünewald freeride route, which brings you out by a request train stop.

As for the freestylers – the terrain park isn’t up there with the best in the world, so we’d recommend playing around on the scores of natural hits on offer.

Fieberbrunn, Austria

7 in 7 - Our guide to Fieberbrunn in the Skicircus

In this episode the Ski Club visit Fieberbrunn, part of the Skicircus ski area but still in the Austrian Tirol. Fieberbrunn is famed for the amazing Freeriding on offer to advanced skiers and snowboarders.

Touting itself as the "best hidden ski area", Fieberbrunn is about to get a whole lot less hidden as a result of a new link up with Saalbach. The 10-person 'TirolS' gondola will connect Fieberbrunn with Skicircus (Saalbach Hinterglemm, Leogang), crossing the Tirol/Salzburgerland regional border to create a sprawling area of 240km of pistes served by 68 lifts.

Fieberbrunn, which has in recent years carved out a reputation for itself as a freeride destination, may no longer be the 'hidden gem' it once was, but the addition of the TirolS gondola will open up even more off-piste terrain, as well as accessing some under-utilised off piste area on the Saalbach side.

Freeriders, however, are likely to still gravitate towards the steeps, gullies and trees beneath the Wildseeloder (2117m), where the Freeride World Tour has regularly held top-tier events in recent years. Some of the best terrain requires traversing or hiking to access - not to mention considerable off piste safety knowledge - but Fieberbrunn has a good snow record, and efforts are usually well rewarded. For off piste skiers wanting to stay closer to the marked trails, there is plenty of playful terrain under the Lärchfilzen chairlift, including the freestyle-oriented 'Powairea' near the top station.

If backcountry freeriding is what you’re after, there’s no better place to head to than Fieberbrunn. As the only resort in Austria to host the Freeride World Tour, you can be assured that you’ll be skiing the highest level of off piste terrain that Austria has on offer.

The locals have named Fieberbrunn a “Schneeloch” (snow hole), capturing all of the fresh snow when the heavens open. This “snow pocket” means that Fieberbrunn collects nearly 50% more snow than Kitzbühel over a season and it’s no surprise then that Fieberbrunn has been termed Tirol’s best kept secret.

When you’re there you’ll notice that half the people on the mountain either have touring bindings or ABS avalanche safety bags, and all the ski schools market themselves as “Freeride Experts”. Like Kicking Horse in Canada, Fieberbrunn is the sort of place where the locals live and breathe off-piste skiing.

According to Jonny Cassidy, General Manager of Ski Club Freshtracks: “I was lucky enough to experience a day in Fieberbrunn when the conditions were excellent. I didn't know what to expect as it's a small resort but what a hidden gem. Although there is only a handful of lifts, there is a surprising amount of easily accessible off piste terrain. When I was there, there were was a contingent of Austrian ski instructors completing their off piste training which shows that there is some good terrain to access.”

Gressoney, Italy

Based at the centre of the Monterosa ‘three valleys’, Gressoney is one of the world’s great freeskiing areas. Home to fantastic slopes and the mighty Monterosa massif, it’s obvious why advanced skiers are attracted to the region for superb off-piste and heli-skiing.

Gressoney, the self-proclaimed capital of the valley, has boasted nearly a decade’s continuous reliable snowfall for the majority of the winter. This has meant that locals and holiday makers alike consistently enjoy post card perfect conditions for nearly 5 full months. With 13 peaks over 4000m there is more accessible terrain than in many other sister destination.

Much of the terrain remains undeveloped and perfect for off piste skiing, and while there’s crowds on weekends and during holidays, for the most part skiing in Gressoney is amazingly quiet.

“Gressoney will always have a special place in my heart, it's one of my favourite places to train before a comp, for challenging and rewarding terrain. When people ask for my top snowsports destinations I’m reluctant to mention Gressoney as I'm happy for it to remain a little powder secret. For quiet, undisturbed mountains with an incredible amount of accessible terrain both in the patrolled Freeride area and beyond, Gressoney will have any visitor charmed.” Angelica Sykes, Freeride Athlete.

La Clusaz, France

Candide Thovex - One of those days 2

Candide Thovex having another one of those days in his home resort.

Quickly becoming regarded as the freestyle skiing capital of Europe and one of France's best kept secrets, La Clusaz has more off-piste than you can shake a stick at and is rarely busy - hurrah! Ski Club staff are loving all the side-hits, natural lips and kickers to play on, and there always seems to be plenty to challenge us.

With only 7 official black runs on the map, the resort may appear to not have a lot for advanced skiers, but this theory has been smashed to pieces with the resort reaching legend status on the freestyle ski circuit; not to mention being infamously dominated by Candide Thovex.

With over 1200m of vertical descent to play with, open bowls, tree lines, interesting features and drop offs abound, you can have a whole day (or even a weekend) ahead of you without touching a piste. At La Balme there are 2 upper combes that have to be explored – take the quad to Col de Balme at 2477m – two red pistes make their way down either side of the combe, the off piste under the chairlift is fabulous – but take care not to face plant or suffer the consequence of abuse from the chairlift!

What our members say: “Our week in La Clusaz started by skiing off piste and making fresh tracks following a decent overnight snowfall. We skied our last day in fantastic snowy conditions. The powder becoming thicker and thicker. As a telemark skier making tracks through the trees it was about as good as it gets.” Tim Coleman.

La Grave, France

ski-resorts.wanderbat.com

Situated only 77km from Grenoble, La Grave is a cult destination for hardcore skiers looking for extreme off-piste. Its vast snowfields, huge glaciers, giant seracs, morriane fields and menacing coloirs bring true exhilaration and a wild skiing experience.

Although a few words of serious warning: Many of La Grave's extreme ski routes are ON glaciers - this means gaping crevasses, falling seracs and extreme avalanche danger. It’s worth investing in a guide if you’re planning to go off piste.

The 'piste map' says it all - pick your own route, with care. The retro-style 'pulse' gondola inches up to 3200m in 30 minutes, pausing at the P1 mid-station. At the top, a short walk brings you to two drag lifts on the glacier. After pretty technical entry points, the two primary descents, Vallons de Chancel and Vallons de la Meije, offer a mixture of steeps, open powder fields and forest. Extreme cliff drops and couloirs await those with a guide, equipment, skill and guts.

"If you want purpose built convenience, long lunches with sheep skin throws and heated chairlifts, then look elsewhere. If you want to ski in one of the most famous (and infamous) resorts in the world for off piste skiing, where the runs are not marked, (and neither are most of the cliffs) -  look no further. Every day in La Grave is an adventure – even if you are just lapping from Peyrou d’Amont to P1. In the morning, you will see skiers with ice axes and crampons, along with those just heading up for some winter climbing.

There are a couple of marked runs right at the top on the glacier, but that is not what La Grave is about – it is about skiing in true high mountain terrain, experiencing all that entails and having some of the best (and most challenging, if you want) skiing of your life. If you’ve not been there before, then hire a mountain guide – you won’t regret it if you do (but you might if you don’t).

Every time I have skied there, there’s been a dog running down the mountain with someone skiing/boarding– that makes it the coolest resort in the world, if you ask me." Al Morgan, Head of Member Services at the Ski Club

St Anton, Austria

The ski resort that can make dreams of epic freeriding and extreme après action come true (and give you the mother of all hangovers).

The pretty town of St Anton positively hums with a palpable energy. This energy is generated by the sheer enthusiasm of the people who make the pilgrimage to what's become a Mecca for off-piste skiing, equalled only by its party scene. Pilgrims include seasonaires, Scandinavians and Brits staying for weeks and powder hounds who drop everything to come out when conditions are good. As a result you need to be up early and charging if you want to make first tracks.

This is a serious Freeriders resort, and with the right conditions and definitely with a guide, it’s possible to board from the top of the Valluga into Zürs, and off the back of Rendl from the top of the Riffelscharte.  Another great off-piste run is from the top of Albonagrat down to Stuben or Kloesterle. You’ll have to walk about 10 minutes from the peak but it’s worth it for long powder runs in large open bowls.

“After a dump the early gondolas are packed with serious skiers, powder skis and ABS back packs – this is the best indication of the type of resort that St Anton is. It would be an exaggeration to describe the pistes as a means of linking the off-piste areas to the lifts, but it really is an off-piste paradise.” Paul Margetts, Ski Club member.

Val d'Isere, France

Léo Taillefer shredding in Val d'Isere

Léo Taillefer is back at it again - sending it through the trees in his hometown resort Val d’lsére, France

With a well-deserved reputation for being one of the world’s best ski resorts for lift-served off piste skiing, including Val d’Isere in this list was an obvious choice.

As part of the Espace Killy, a whole world of possibilities are open to skiers with 25,000 acres of off piste, Pisteurs’ Couloir & legendary back country. The high altitude determines some epic freeriding possibilities, and these are especially good off the runs back down into the village. Germain Mattis, piste A and piste M are all quite tricky, but undoubtedly the best is Face on the Rocher de Bellavarde.

According to the powderbeds.com guide to the TOP 5 off piste routes in Val d’Isere, The Pisteurs’ Couloir tops the charts. It earns the name because supposedly “only the pisteurs (ski patrol) are good enough (or mad enough) to ski it. This couloir and the run after it is everything a great off-piste run should be: it requires a hike, it’s steep, difficult, and very, very scary. You can see it as you come out of the Olympique cable car – although you’ll really have to look for it. It’s the narrow, pencil thin line of snow weaving its way down the rock face in front of you.”

Ski Club staff also rate The Le Fornet Trees due to their dependability. In a whiteout with zero visibility all the pounderhounds are getting below the treeline here and lapping the Le Fornet cable-car until their legs turn to jelly.

“Val d’Isere offers endless options within easy reach of lifts (no hiking required – unless you want to!). And unlike Tignes, there are trees within the resort, so head to Le Fornet on a whiteout day for laps through the forest.” Rachel Rosser, Ski Club Events Marketing Executive

Verbier, Switzerland

Yves Garneau

Verbier is home to some of the most challenging lift accessed terrain in the Alps, and is hailed (by some) as the freeride capital of Europe. With its wide powder fields, impressive chutes, naturally rolling terrain and fabulous snow conditions, it’s not hard to understand why.

The most famous off piste slope would be the “back side” of the Mont Fort, the highest point of the ski area with a huge bowl and many routes through untracked powder. The first time you head back side is an experience you’ll never forget, and it’s a rite of passage for any aspiring powder hound.

Furthermore, the Mont Gele cable car serves no groomed runs, just a series of off piste areas with couloirs of varying extremity.This is hardcore off piste and according to worldsnowboardguide.com “you better tuck your balls (or equivalent) away before you get up there”… cause this terrain is not for the faint-hearted. Or for the more squeamish you should visit the areas around the back of Lac Des Vaux.

TIP: If trees are your thing, Verbier has loads of them - but remember, Switzerland is big on protecting its forests so taking lines through the trees is not always appreciated.

Ski Club Freshtracks run a number of off-piste development holidays to many of these highlighted hot-spots.