Let’s be honest, us skiers are like fishermen in that during bar room bragging the slopes get steeper, the speed gets faster and the style gets more polished. Most of us UK skiers are firmly entrenched in the intermediate ability range, albeit that range is a very wide spectrum of abilities. We may look good amongst our peers but in the harsh reality of an advanced lesson we can be found floundering in the powder desperately trying not to ride on the tails of our skis whilst gulping for oxygen as the “Cliff Thighburns” set in. As a result I’ve decided to compile a short list, in no particular order, of great ski runs/pistes/trails/routes/itineraries that we can all do to massage our confidence and make us think that we are the true Kings of the Hill, the real deal Mountain Goats.
- Jerusalem, St Martin de Belleville. This great little run starts on the top of the Tourgnette (one of the ridges between Meribel and St Martin) at 2434m. The run meanders down into the hidden gem of St Martin. Previously a red run, interestingly, the piste management shallowed out a few of the steeper gradients and it has now been recently downgraded to a blue. I would imagine this is a marketing tool for the resort to demonstrate that all ability of skier will be able to navigate this region back into the resort and not just the more advanced skiers. This piste 16 has a medium pitch and holds its snow well into late April. The run is ideal for controlled G.S. turns and there are a few rollers if you want to get some low height but lengthy air. Occasionally the run can be a tad crowded so it’s best to hit it around 1pm when many skiers are dining or alternatively early morning. As always, be patient, wait a couple of minutes for other skiers to move on so you can hog the piste to yourself. On the steeper pitch higher up there is a great left hand bend that if timed right you can abort your turns and tuck straight into a schuss to carry you at speed across the slower flat section, then attack the steeper gradient again before schussing the mountain path past a restaurant on your left and the smashing into the merging Biolley piste (looking left for other skiers as you filter in) before grinding to a stylish finish in the horseshoe that is the front des neiges in St Martin Village. Queue rapturous applause from the impressed onlooking diners at the various restaurants.
- Rock and Roll, Whistler. Taking the Crystal Ridge Express chair from Blackcomb Mountain you arrive at an elevation of 1845m. Bear left when departing the chair as Rock n Roll and Trapline trails (both blue – there are no reds in North America) start as one and the same. As the two trails drop below the Crystal chair you are faced with a split in the psite and take the right hand fork into Rock n Roll. This is one hell of a run! On powder days keep to the sides to ride the freshest deepest powder; it’s a ecstasy of silence and tranquillity as you glide through blankets of champagne powder surrounded by the pine forests. Rock n roll has a slightly unusual topography for us Europeans in that the piste is banked either side like a mini quarter pipe. Couple that with its ridges and rollers you can see what it is named so. This is one thunderblast of a fun run that will make you want to ski it again and again and again. There are so many twists and turns and bumps and jumps it’s a fairground waltzer of a ride and you’ll be screaming for the silver hoop earringed gipsy to spin you faster each time. For that reason on non-powder days ski the whole width of the piste to maximise the experience and you’ll be making air turns with your knees above your head whilst whooping like a banshee. Rock ‘n’ Roll baybeee.
- Pistes 76,61,60, Ischgl. Ok, these pistes are actually in the Samnaun sector of Switzerland but we Brits tend to ski this from staying in Ischgl, Austria. This is a legs- -to jelly, top-to-bottom, ‘ee oo dares Rodnerneee’ run and I absolutely love this challenge. The Austrians don’t really like to name their pistes, instead opting for a Tutonic numbering system that doesn’t really offer the personalisation that, say they French do. Riding the M1 chair to the top you are greeted by a red run that splits and rejoins itself – this is a carvers paradise as you start your descent into the valley. As an alternative take the off-piste that is directly under the chair or on the skiers left – there is some great terrain here and its so quiet. At a wide interchange the piste merges with blue run 60 known as the Duty free run on account of Samnaun’s duty free status. Although the pitch is shallower it is also narrower again so can sometimes be a little mogulled and busy. My advice is to stick to the sides and ride this last lower section with linked slalom turns all the way to Samnaun Compatsch. If you’ve done this from the top at 2380m to the pistes end at 1840m you’ve certainly earned a well-deserved beer at one of the two bars that greet you adjacent to the bus stop that takes you to the grand double decker cable car which in turn whisks you back to Ischgl. This route is a right proper bobby dazzler!
- Pistes 30,31,32,33, Obergurgl. Like the Ischgl itinerary this one is actually in Hochgurgl but again we Brits are more familiar with the name Obergurgl. I’ve done this run so many times and it is a killer if you do it top to bottom without stopping but there is a respite in the middle section where you can catch your breath and recede the levels of lactic acid that will be pumping through your thighs. In the Hochgurgl section take the Schermerbahn gondola up to 3000m. There is some great off-piste either side of this run but if sticking to this red you will find the top section sometimes a little mogulled but overall it’s very wide and sparsely populated with an average red run gradient. Bearing right at the fork you will soon join blue run 32 but fear not as all roads lead to Rome here, essentially you are just heading to where the main cluster of lifts operate from (in essence look for the base of the Top gondola that comes in from Obergurgl). This latter part before hitting the lift stations is relatively flat and where you will restore your energy levels. Continue on piste 32 below the lift stations and you will circumnavigate Hochgurgl to your right (just a collection of swanky 4 and 5 star hotels), although a little steeper it is still the recovery period before the fun really starts again. A sharp left onto piste 33 sign posted to the Hochgurglbahn I Gondola and you follow this home. The run has more twists and turns than an angry eel and it snakes into the valley with moguls, soft patches, sunshine, and shade all adding to an exciting experience. The final section into the valley floor area of Pil is a small chopped up mogul path so save your best turns for here as you are on view to all of those in the Umbrella bar to the left. What a ride that is………..“looking good Billy Ray feeling good Lewis”.
- The Hidden Valley, Lagazuoi-Armentarola (Cortina/Ala Badia). I skied this when I stayed in Corvara by skiing down to Armentarola just outside of San Cassiano. From here I was greeted by a line of taxis where the drivers simply fill their cars with mixed groups of skiers and solos charging just €5 per person for the 15 minute journey to Lagazuoi. From here the cable car takes you to a summit of 2800m where the views are just spectacular across the whole of the Dolomites. This route of varying pitches is 8.5km long and at about half way down you will see the most beautiful frozen waterfalls amidst the peace and tranquillity of this valley. Often ice climbers will be ascending and you can watch them hone their skills on this vertical death trap – not for the faint hearted is that. Back to the skiing and this is one run that I’d be inclined to take my time on to truly savour the outstanding beauty of the pink hued Dolomiti landscape. As the gradient peters out you will see a stunning mountain hut on the right and the experience of skiing through friendly alpacas roaming across the piste is surreal to say the least, yes I did say alpacas. Time for a chocolate mit rum before taking the horse drawn multi person rope lift back into Armentarola. Fall on this and your fellow skiers will never let you hear the last of it!
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