St. Moritz, Switzerland
The off-piste in the Chamonix Valley is unsurpassable, but before you get too excited, a word of caution: This mountain is dangerous and we strongly recommend you take a guide if you want to avoid going home in a box. There are four main freeriding areas listed below. The following are the areas and runs we think you'll enjoy most.
Brivent: Below the Col Cornu, there are steeps, chutes, and cliff drops. Another run with the same fare is to the left (facing down the mountain) of the Brivent top station. To the left of the Plan Praz are tight fast runs through trees.
Le Tour: Off the Charamillon Chairlift C , there is an awesome bowl (red dotted line No.3 on the Le Tour Trail map) with endless variants. Underneath the adjacent Chairlift D, there is a popular boarding run with hits, spines and quarter-pipes. The area to the left of Lift E also has big quarter-pipes, natural gullies, and gap jumps.
Argentihre: Les Grand Montets is famed worldwide for its stunning views and exhilarating riding. However, there is a small charge every time you ride up in the top cable car. There are lots of off-piste variations. The most scenic piste (Marked No.1 on the map) is the Point de Vue, from where the crevasses of the glacier are awe-inspiring. Run No.2 goes down to a natural bowl with wind-lips, small gullies, and jumps. At GG (Marked No.9 on the map), there are fast tree runs with drops, gaps, and piste jumps. This area is a great escape in flat light or poor weather. The various runs down the Combe de la Pendant are as amazing as they are dangerous. There are loads of cliffs, chutes, hits, and jumps, but the area is avalanche prone, so seek advice before you set off. Under Cable Car A, there is a plethora of wild tree runs, which are at their best just after a snowfall.
Flighre: To the right of L'Index (marked with orange dots), there is a long traverse that leads to a wide bowl, the Combe Lachenal . Another area, with more hits, jumps, and wind-lips, is directly below L'lndex. In times of flat light and poor weather, there are some tight tree runs by Lift D.
There is a fun-park at Charamillon (Le Tour/Col de Balme), which has tabletops, gap jumps, rail slides, and quarter-pipe jumps. The halfpipe is 150 m (492 ft) long and maintained by a pipe dragon.
There are over 140 km (87 mi) of piste from which to choose, but for scenery and steepness the best runs are off Les Grands Montets, Le Point de Vue, and Pylones. Le Brivent and La Flighre have easier gradients to cruise.
The Nitty Gritty
Mountain chain: Alps
Vertical meter range: 1,035m—3,840m (3,396—12,598 ft)
Length of season: beginning of December—May
Number of Lifts:
Le Brivent: one gondola, one cable car, three drag-lifts, four chairlifts
La Flighre: one gondola, four chairlifts
Les Grand Montets: two cable cars, one gondola, six chairlifts
Le Tour: One cable car, four drag-lifts, two chairlifts
Snow-making facilities: Not generally used.
Safety: A daily report is posted at the main lift station and the tourist office. Chamonix has many areas prone to avalanche, so ask the piste patrol for advice.
Lift pass alternatives: There are cheaper day passes covering the individual areas of Le Brivent, La Flighre, Batme, Les Houches, Les Grand Montets, Argentihre, and Le Tour.
Lifts to avoid: The lifts at the top are exposed and get fairly cold.
Switzerland's Upper Engadine region encompasses some of the world's finest and best-known riding areas, centered around the main towns of St. Moritz and Pontresina. While St. Moritz has a reputation as the glitzy center of a super-snobbish resort, it is surrounded by villages, which are more relaxed (though still not particularly cheap).
St. Moritz is what it is because the town has a fascinating cultural mix, and because it lies amid stunningly beautiful scenery in the southeastern Alps. The town itself is split into two distinct parts: St. Moritz Dorf (the old town overlooking the lake) has shops, expensive hotels, restaurants, and bars, while St. Moritz Bad is a 70s blot on the landscape with cheaper accommodation. Buses connect the two villages, but the walk takes only 20 minutes.
The main resorts are connected by one pass, though public transport between them is not included in the price. The geography of the valley floor and the differing aspects of the serviced areas can mean varied conditions in each area on the same day. To check what's going on, monitors showing live video links of local conditions are located at all the gondola stations and at the tourist office. Despite fairly dire expectations in the early years of the sport, there is a committed snowboard scene in the valley, focusing on the Playground in Paradise snowboard store in St. Moritz and the Workshop in Pontresina.
The valley and its surrounding areas have a reputation for consistent but moderate levels of snow. Though it can come in from all directions, the Engadine is primarily exposed to snow from the south, which means that if there is a low-pressure system moving from the Mediterranean in Italy, it's going to be dump time in St Moritz.
St. Moritz Essentials
Telephone: 081 864 9494
Fax: 081 864 9939
By air: The nearest connections are Milan and Zürich, both about four hours away by train.
By train: The station is near the Dorf at the bottom of the hill. Taxis from the station to St. Moritz Bad cost 18 Swiss Francs for a two-kilometer (1.24-mile) transfer! During the day, it is serviced by buses.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication