Seems like this piece I did on the 10 best freeride spots in the Alps went down well, so here’s some more top 10 trash for you all. A couple of the usual spots and a few lesser known gems thrown in for good measure. In no particular order.
The highest mountain in Sweden and her surrounding neighbours are the perfect place for a late season trip. You can find good snow here even into May when long daylight hours make the awesome possibility of riding under the midnight sun a reality. Terrain in this zone is all above tree line so riding in a storm isn’t really an option, but when it does turn blue the vast arctic wilderness is endless and huge faces, riddled with couloirs and features and stacked with snow, are in abundance. Various backcountry huts are scattered throughout the area for accommodation and the area is prime winter camping territory too.
Binntal is a beautiful, secluded, secret valley that is home to just a couple of small, old villages and pretty much nothing else – other than awesome mountains, obviously. Entry into the mountains is at the hamlet of Feld – a tiny place full of typically Valaisian buildings. Gain the track into the forest and skin on up into the valley proper. As you gain height the views open out in front and big peaks start coming to view. The surrounding south-facing lower slopes offer some great riding in bad visibility – they’re at a good pitch without too many hazards and give a good option on storm days. Further up the valley the Binntalhutte offers refuge and a good base camp from which to explore the terrain above.
A big Norwegian presence is inevitable in a list like this, so I thought I’d lump the Arctic ones together. Truth be told you could fill a list like this with just Norwegian spots – so rich is the country’s abundance of awesome backcountry terrain. Anyway, right up there in the Arctic you’ve got 3 big areas and a shit load of smaller spots that will no doubt be just as awesome.
Starting on the coast, there is the Lofoten Islands. Wild, raw, beautiful and unpredictable. Go there when it’s on and it’s about as good as it gets, anywhere. Go there during a warm south-westerly and you might just have a week of gales and rain to the top of the peaks.
Next up around the coast is Lyngen. World famous and for good reason, Lyngen and the greater Tromso area is spell bindingly beautiful and blessed with every type of terrain you can imagine. Steeps, spines, couloirs, tree runs, mellow stuff. Lyngen is the standard-bearer for splitboarding in Europe.
Last up is Tamok. In reality Tamok is actually just a little further inland from the Lyngen peninsula so it’s easy to combine the two in one trip. If Lofoten is the wild one and Lyngen is the all rounder, then Tamok is the powder hole. The valley is far enough inland to stay cold but it’s perfectly situated to catch all those Arctic storms. The result is usually pow in abundance.
This place has really made an appearance on the backcountry map in the past few years. Svaneti is located in the Caucasus Mountains in the old Eastern Bloc country of Georgia. This is the place for the adventurous – ancient villages, a rich culture and big empty mountains. Georgia is on the windward side of the Black Sea which means regular large falls of snow. Visit Svaneti in Januray or February and the mountains will most likely be loaded with pow. This zone is perfect for both single day tours out of Svantei itself or for a more adventurous multi day tour through the mountains.
Col du Lautaret, France
One of the good things about going touring in the Alps is the number of high alpine roads and passes. They are a great way to get high easily and gain quick access into the alpine. The Col du Lautaret is in the southern French Alps in an area with an abundance of wild splitboarding riches, with high mountains topping out at 4000m and some amazing terrain nearby. The Col du Lautaret is also very close to legendary La Grave along with many other awesome freeride resorts should you fancy a day or two on the lifts.
Along with the area around Kebnekaise Sweden’s other prime backcountry zone is Sarek. Sarek is a little different to the rest of the spots in this list for a couple of reasons. Firstly it’s an area that is insanely rich is wildlife. Moose, Bear, Wolf and other awesome creatures all call Sarek home. Wildlife is allowed to flourish there because Sarek is a huge National Park and remains unspoiled due to the ban on motorized transport within the park.
Secondly it’s very, very remote. It’s not the only place people dub the ‘last great wilderness in Europe’ but in my opinion, it’s probably the most worthy of that title. As Johan Jonsson says – “draw a line between Mont Blanc and the city of Turin and then make a circle around that line, that’s how big the area without one single road is.” The main draw with Sarek has to be the wilderness experience but there are undoubtedly some big lines to be ridden there too. Being so far from a potential rescue though, it’s probably not the place to push the boat out eh.
Val Maira, Italy
Tucked away in the southern Italian Alps is Val Maira. In a mountain range that has its fair share of secret mountain valleys to explore on a splitboard, Val Maira just might be the definitive example. The place is a splitboarding paradise. Perfectly spaced larch trees adorn Val Maira’s lower slopes with endless high alpine terrain above. Tiny villages dot the valley with some beautiful looking hotels and restaurants that offer a traditional Italian welcome and amazing food.
Val Maira is situated in the Piedmont region of Italy, within fairly easy reach of Turin. This is the place to be during a southern winter, or during a retour d’est when incredible amounts of snow can fall in this region. Whatever the snow conditions though, the natural beauty of the valley and quality of the terrain makes for an awesome place to go splitboarding.
Sunnmøre Alps, Norway
I probably could have gone for pretty much any of the zones on Norway’s west coast but the Sunnmøre Alps gets the spot. This is classic Norway country – massive fjords, steep mountains that rise straight out of the sea and shit loads of snow. Because this area is located on the ‘shoulder’ of Norway, it’s also sheltered from some of the dirty warm fronts that can bring rain and thaw further south. Go here when the wind blows down across the north Atlantic from the north or north-west and you’re gonna get Japan-like amounts of cold blower pow, with terrain and views that stack up against anything else on the planet.
It’s also an awesome place for a cruise with splitboarding right from the boat. If conditions aren’t amazing right on the coast head a little further inland to the big glaciers around Stryn and Jostedalsbreen where the mountains are higher and drier and touring is great all the way into summer.
A bit of vague one this, I know, but I’ve included Central Switzerland simply because of the numerous possibilities that exist by using the train to get around. The truth is the whole of the Swiss Alps are well served by rail but the areas accessible from Zurich are particularly so.
It just so happens that there are some incredible splitboarding zones here too. Engelberg in the north, Airolo and Bedretto to the south, Glarus to the west and Davos to the east. Snow conditions often vary from location to location depending on which direction the last storm came from, and it’s easy to hop on the train and get to a completely different spot within an hour or two. Try staying somewhere central (Andermatt, Hospental or Realp would be a good choice) and travelling around to find the best snow and conditions.
Not the most obvious entry on this list, Obertauern none the less makes for a great place to go splitboarding. Obertauern has a kind of dual personality – on the one hand it’s very much your classic Austrian recreational ski area, full of hotels, banging apres bars and lots of middle-aged dudes with Atomic skis and shit hats who like to ‘ski fast’. On the other hand it’s a really awesome freeride area with decent tree runs and great alpine terrain – this is why I think it makes for a good splitboarding option, especially for less experienced splitters, or those looking for a short day out.
The road across the pass makes it super easy to access the goods and as the mountains top out at around 2500m, only 800m or so above the road, it also makes a for a good spot for done in a day objectives. Another big plus is Obertauern’s snow record – it’s one of the few places in the Alps that gets snow from both the north and the south and the location far to the east of the alpine chain ensures lower temperatures and a reliably long season too.
I’m fully aware (and a little ashamed of the fact) that the Pyrenees don’t get a mention. Looks like part 2 will be coming soon… Anyone out there like to school me on some sweet spots in the Pyrennees? Or anywhere else for that matter? Albania? Macedonia? Greece?