There’s no better recipe than plenty of snow, and few skiers trying to grab it. Fall Line Editor-at-Large Jonny Richards picks his favourite powder skiing spots for getting deep without the crowds.
There’ll always be tips and tricks, strategies and plans, getting up earlier and earlier. But wouldn’t it be nice to saunter out, sans competition, and effortlessly ski powder all day without a care in the world? No queues, no rushing, no stress? Here’s how…
Amihari Onsen, Japan
Best for Soul skiing
The north of Japan is studded with brilliant options for big snow and small crowds. With Iwate prefecture’s Amihari hard to beat if you’re seeking the ultimate in no-one-around, soul skiing. Think under a dozen marked runs and just four basic chairlifts clunking away above a usually deserted car park. Yes, only a couple of the faces exceed 35 degrees, but the trees and sidecountry are sufficiently good to ensure this is a place that stays with you. And in my case gently haunts me whenever I’m in some mega-resort not getting nearly as much powder or enjoyment as I should. The single, excellent hotel at the base (the Amihari Onsen, obviously!) makes things wonderfully easy too. Think traditional tatami rooms, communal bathing in the volcanic springs, superb seafood, and a lot of homemade ice cream (with the Japanese almost as obsessed with gelato as they are with the healing properties of geothermal water).
Best for Amount of snow
Where?! But how can you resist two tiny, linked villages in upper Bregenzerwald (that’s western Austria to you and me) that number just over 500 permanent inhabitants, yet claim over 10.5m of powder every year? Yes, you did read that right, making it the snowiest place in the Alps. While just as promising is the fact that ski numbers are kept down (versus busy neighbours like St Anton) simply because despite being connected to the mighty Ski Arlberg (77 lifts and 302km of piste) Warth-Schrocken is only joined to Lech, and even then it’s by a single not-that-easy to reach gondola, the Auenfeldjet. Yes, on the negative side the vert’s fine rather than majestic (with most of the runs under lifts like the Jageralp Express and Salober Jet offering only 500m or so of fall) but given the mega snowfall stats, who cares?
Best for Terrain
A leftfield choice you might think, for anyone wishing to get away from the masses, and score maximum goodies. But while I toyed with including less celebrated Colorado bangers like Monarch and Wolf Creek, I couldn’t quite get beyond all the brilliant days and sheer number of storms I’ve enjoyed on this 300-inches of snow per season mountain. And scrolling through the memory banks (and multiple visits over the last two decades) I realise it’s never let me down. Not once. No monster queues, no hellish elbow sharpening for the best lines, just pow-pow-pow, smile-smile-smile. Yes, the 2965-acre, 17-lift area is miles from being a secret-spot (and who knows what changes their latest expansion plan will bring) but for now, to me at least, it remains an absolutely essential, impossible to beat US powder skiing spot.
Best for Value
This may seem another strange option, largely because it’s Turkey. But the infrastructure is excellent and modern (high-speed six-pack ahoy), there’s plenty of decent accommodation at the base, and lift passes are absurdly cheap (at under £15 a day). Contrary to what most skiers assume, Anatolia beats plenty of Europe for snowfall too. You just need to head for the right place at the right time – with Sarikamis in February the smart pick. The light, open trees that pepper the mountain echo the best of Hokkaido, while, well, how to put this? There are not many decent skiers around. So you will have anything even vaguely advanced to yourselves. And during our visit early last year, we saw precisely no one off-piste or in the sidecountry. Nada. Just us. For hours, hoovering up all the shin-high snow. More than once we looked at each other and said, best come back before this place is blown!
Best for Scenery
It’s a mystery why this super spot in the Valchiavenna region, tight to the Swiss border, is not more known, and skied. And it’s long been a favourite of Fall Line publisher Dickie, thanks to its pretty village, good value (welcome to Italy) and very-decent snow record (which can push beyond 4m a season). Crucially for our purposes, many of the wealthy Milanese who own apartments here keep them for weekend use, rather than renting them out to visiting hoi-polloi, meaning mid-week can be… joyously quiet. We say, wait for the powder klaxon to sound, make a mad Easyjet dash for Milan Linate (two hours by car) and fill your boots via the numerous off-piste itineraries (and glorious, sweeping pistes) that flow from the top cable car station, the 2,948m Pizzo Groppera. No hiking, no hassle couloirs from here too, with slots like Fiammifero – the matchstick – just waiting to be conquered.
Best for Quality of snow
Another spot where you may just need to get the atlas out! And the reason this Pyrenean spa town makes the list is that when it’s good here, it’s really good. Thanks to the area being notorious for the sort of cold, dry pow you usually only get in Utah. Think storm-nothing-storm (very US), rather than regular top-ups, so it’s definitely one to book late after following the weather. But with so many skiers out-of-hand dismissing the area (versus the Alps), you can have that flex, while town to slopes could not be easier. Simply hop in the gondola for a 12-minute ride above the trees, to the north-east-facing Cirque du Lys, with its 36km of piste and two-dozen runs. The highest chair is, well, not very high, topping out below the Soum de Grum, at a shade over 2,400m. But before shaking your head, just think of all that cold smoke. Because when it’s on here, it’s pure can’t-feel-the-bottom velvet.
Castle Mountain, Canada
Best for Authenticity
‘We believe in dry powder’ shouts Alberta’s snowiest spot (354-inches per annum). ‘Not run by accountants working for some mega-corporation’ the mountain’s workmanlike website confirms. Best support them then, we say! And having been, it really is just as you may have gleaned from that far from subtle introduction. A little raw, but when things are pumping… it’s nothing less than exceptional. And who needs chi-chi restaurants, and yoga on the deck when you’ve got eight linked bowls, and a handful of solid chairs and T-bars to take you there. At 3,500 acres it feels plenty big enough, packed with epic fall lines and double-diamonds below the Skyline Traverse. Handily there’s accommodation at the base via Castle’s ski lodge to ensure first dibs on any powder day. Not that you’ll need it, given how light the traffic usually is…