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Top Powder Destinations: The best places to ride powder

15/1/2024 | Horsefeathers / Renča

Forget about the usual pistes and join us in the world of powder, where the snow is deep, the terrain is challenging and the excitement is indescribable! We have selected for you some of the top powder destinations in the world, from the well-known Japow aka Japanese powder, through the famous Canadian Whistler to the incredible alpine slopes. So grab your board or wide skis, check your gear, including avalanche safety kit, and your powder adventure can begin!


AUSTRIA - TOP EUROPEAN POWDER RESORTS

Destination 1: Obertauern, Austria - a top accessible freeriding resort near Salzburg

The Obertauern resort is promoted as a place with guaranteed snow and powder. It has a specific location, situated quite high, with the cable car starting at 1700 meters above sea level. It is not a glacier, which is quite rare, as all the surrounding resorts are located at lower elevations. Obertauern is also located in a very windy zone, and the wind is a crucial element that brings snow.

Nearby attractions: The Absolut Park is nearby, so a powder trip can be combined with riding in the top freestyle Absolut Park.

Recommended time to visit: End of January to mid-February or late March.

Tip: Check the local avalanche forecast for this area on @lawinenwarndienst.salzburg account on Instagram and lawine.salzburg.at website.

Other useful apps and websites: Snow Safe for avalanches, www.bergfex.at for weather, and www.fatmap.com for terrain.

PROS

+ Numerous accessible freeride trails reachable by cable car or with minimal hiking (20-30 minutes)

+ They have their own local avalanche forecast

+ Large mountains and clean, long lines

+ The resort's location allows for better and safer exposures to choose from

+ Freeride point where you can check your Pieps

+ Relatively safe and enjoyable lines under the cable cars and in the forest

+ It is one of the smaller resorts, so it's easy to navigate

+ Parking for campers

CONS

- It is starting to become quite touristy (the number of freeride enthusiasts has increased since covid)

Thank you for the info and photos, @paya_papaya.

Destination 2: Sportgastein, Austria - a camper van-friendly resort

In this resort, the terrain is suitable for riders with limited freeriding experience. It is relatively safe, with controlled avalanche releases, and interestingly, they have a training avalanche site with buried Pieps devices. This allows people to simulate avalanche situations. If you have a splitboard, there are also routes for touring, always marked for where one should not go.

Nearby attractions: In the valley, there is a superb pool, which is great for a soak after days of sleeping in the van.

Recommended time to visit: December - March

Useful apps and websites: www.bergfex.at and www.windy.com for weather, lawine.at for avalanches.

PROS: 

+ Excellent parking for vans, no pressure to leave in the evening

+ Possibility to ride 2-3 locations, starting in the morning under the lift, moving to more remote areas in the afternoon, and returning to the resort via shuttle buses

+ Terrain variability within the resort and its surroundings

+ Camper van-life-friendly resort

CONS:

- Public toilets close with the resort

Sportgastein ski resort, source: Skiamade.com
Sportgastein ski resort, source: Skiamade.com

Thank you for the info, Michal from @protivetru.

SWITZERLAND

Destination: Verbier, Crans-Montana, Switzerland - freeride paradise in Switzerland

It is a massive resort with over 400 km of slopes and consistent snowfall. There are many options for freeride descents, making it an absolute playground. You will find numerous spots for beginner freeride riders who are just getting acquainted with powder riding. There are places for powder riding for all skill levels, catering to both beginners and advanced riders who want to earn their turns, with endless possibilities available. In terms of safety, during significant snowfall, avalanches are bombed in the morning and early afternoon. They close the surrounding slopes and cable cars, only reopening them once everything is bombed, controlled and safe.

Tip: If you want to explore the resort safely and without worries, consider hiring a guide from the ESS Crans-Montana Ski School. They will guide you to freeride spots, whether on skis, a splitboard, or by helicopter for heliskiing or heliboarding. It's an incredible experience.

Nearby attractions: 40 minutes from Verbier, on the adjacent hill, is the longest sledge run in Switzerland. Nearby is also Alaia Bay, where you'll find a freestyle park, an artificial wave for surfing, a skatepark, trampolines, and more. The area also boasts a vibrant nightlife.

Recommended time to visit: February

Thank you for the info and photos, @reneleitner_.

GERMANY - BEGINNER-SPLITBOARD FRIENDLY RESORTS

Destination 1: Altastenberg Resort, Dortmund, Germany

Altastenberg resort in Germany is suitable for splitboarders who enjoy short ascents (200-300 vertical meters) and brief descents. This allows them to do more runs in a day, according to their preferences and fitness level. This place is suitable for less experienced splitboarders or at the beginning of the season when you are still getting into shape. The terrain consists of sparse forests, somewhat reminiscent of the scenery in Japan.

Recommended time to visit: From February to mid-April

PROS:

+ It is a small local resort, and not many people visit

CONS:

- For some, the already mentioned short ascents and consequently short descents may be a drawback

Altastenberg resort

Destination 2: Ifen Resort, Allgäu, Germany

In the Ifen resort, you can take a cable car to the Hahnenköpfle mountain, where you can enjoy freeride either directly in the resort with plenty of options or descend all the way down to Austria. The Hoher Ifen mountain is the highlight of the entire resort, but reaching it requires a hike. It's a beautiful trek, and because it's not as well-known, there aren't as many people going there.

Recommended time to visit: From February to mid-April

Nearby Attractions: Excellent food in Ifen resort at the Auen Huette restaurant, offering delicious pizza, great beer, and a pleasant atmosphere.

Tips: Regarding snow, another safe resort in this area is Balderschwang - on one side, there are slopes, and on the other, there are hiking routes. There's always plenty of snow, and you can ride there until April. It's also beginner-splitboard friendly.

Ifen resort

Thank you for the info and photos, Josef from @goodboards.

Georgia - an interesting powder trip

Destinations: Bakhmaro, Gudauri and Mestia, Georgia

When it comes to powder in Georgia, the best places are Bakhmaro, Gudauri, and Mestia.

In Bakhmaro, you can book your trip through a Czech travel agency, Georgia-Trip, or through Swiss travel agency Powder Project, as you can only get there by snowmobile or groomer due to snow-covered and impassable roads. However, there are no lifts in the resort; you can either hike or be transported uphill by a groomer, snowmobile, or helicopter.

Recommended time to visit: January-February

In Gudauri, you can ride powder using lifts. If you go to the top of Mt Sadzele, you can ride towards Kobi Pass all the way to the gondola. These are northern slopes, and rides are nice in there. There are also other marked freeride spots around the lifts. While Gudauri is a more commercial resort with quite a few people from the nearby capital city Tbilisi, most of them stick to the groomed slopes, so the powder doesn't get ridden as quickly. You can book your accommodation directly in the resort in Gudauri, and the lift pass is still budget-friendly. And if you want to save even more, stay and eat outside the resort. A few kilometers from Gudauri you will find really budget-friendly accommodation and restaurants.

Recommended time to visit: March-April

Getting to Mestia can be quite challenging, taking a long time, but on the other hand, the nature is beautiful, and it has a very local feel. There are no large hotels, and it's not commercial. You can feel the local atmosphere of the original villages. The terrain there is also very nice. It tends to snow more in Mestia since it's closer to the Black Sea. Mestia is well-known as a powder destination, and people deliberately go there for this purpose. Usually there are minimum of people riding on the groomed slopes, meaning the freeride terrain gets ridden very quickly.

Recommended time to visit: March-April

Tip: Lifts in Georgia generally shut down in mid-April, but you can still hike there even later, in April and May, as there is still snow.

Tip 2: You can book heliskiing in Georgia, for example, through Heliski Travel.

Splitboarding in Bakhmaro
Bakhmaro village
There is so much snow in Bakhmaro, that houses need to be raised.

Thank you for the info, Tomáš @kamzici_mozog.

HOKKAIDO, JAPAN - JAPOW, POWDER HEAVEN

Destination: Furano, Hokkaido, Japan - powder like nowhere else in the world

The resort in the city of Furano is one of the few that has a modern cable car - a huge gondola that can fit many people. Other resorts mostly have terribly old cable cars, some of which have been there since the Olympics in the 80s. From the top of the cable car in Furano, you can then freeride in any direction, the terrain is made up of iconic Japanese forests. The slopes are not very difficult, but in Furano, there are slopes with the right angle, that are steep enough to keep you from getting stuck. The rides are smooth and you can ride the freeride by cable car all day without hiking. In Japan, there is snow that you will not experience anywhere else in the world, it is incredibly light and when it falls, it falls a lot. So much, that sometimes your whole car gets lost in it. Or, for example, powder lines that are "reset" by heavy snow after every ride, so you can ride fresh, untouched powder all day.

Budget-friendly food tip: In Japan, the culture of semi-finished products works very well, every supermarket has free hot water from a kettle and a microwave, so you can buy it there and make it right away. In the evening, the semi-finished products are also discounted.

Nearby attractions: Japanese onsens (something like spas with saunas, hot pools and relaxation rooms - they can be outdoor or indoor), which are incredibly cheap, because they are used by the vast majority of Japanese people even during the day at work. You can find onsens everywhere, even in ski resorts.

Recommended time to visit: January and February (in March it can be quite warm and the snow then turns to rain).

Tip: Never go riding solo - as there is an incredible amount of snow, you can easily fall in and get stuck in the powder. There are also marked freeride zones in the resort, which should be safe, but it is always necessary to have avalanche equipment and a friend with you.

PROS

+ Incredibly light snow that you won't find anywhere else in the world

+ Very frequent and intense snowfall

+ Riding in iconic Japanese forests

+ Interesting cultural differences

CONS

- It's generally expensive

- When buying food, everything is written only in Japanese, so you often don't know what you're eating

- Strictness in following the rules

Thank you for the info and photos, @slobodnylyziar.

WHISTLER, CANADA - A PLACE WHERE EVERYONE LIVE FOR THE POWDER

Destination: Whistler, Canada - the best powder in Canada

In the Whistler resort, everyone literally lives for the powder, from small children to seniors. There's even a rule called the "20 cm rule", which means that once there's a 20+ cm snowfall, you don't have to go to work – you can go ride the powder instead. People monitor this through a live camera displaying a ruler measuring the accumulated snow. On powder days, people wait for the gondola from 6 in the morning (the resort opens at 8). Regarding safety, when it snows, the resort bombs avalanches early in the morning. The lifts and slopes in the affected area are closed, and once that part is cleared, they open the lift. So, you usually need to decide wisely which lift line to stand in to get to the powder as soon as possible. It's good to have a snow patrol friend, who can tell you which area will be bombed first.

The most legendary is probably the Peak Chair on the top of Whistler mountain, where locals head straight, as it leads to a slope featuring the epic Air Jordan. It's a 15-meter massive drop into the powder, ridden by the coolest riders. Locals thrive on it, and photos from it also often appear in newspapers.

Whistler is quite a commercial resort, attracting many people from Vancouver, but they might not know the tricks to enjoy good powder. They arrive around 9 when everything is ridden, and locals are already sitting in the lodge after epic powder rides.

Tip: If you go with someone who knows the place, they might take you to the top of Blackcomb Peak, hike for an hour, and then have a great ride back to the resort.

Tip for someone who is in Whistler for the first time and unaware of secret spots: Go there early in the morning, wait in line, and enjoy epic powder on the slopes, as they don't groom them when it snows.

PROS

+ Top powder resort in Canada

+ Frequent and intense snowfall

+ Also has a snow park

+ If you want to stay there long-term, it's not a problem to find work, especially in manual labor and tourism-related jobs

CONS

- It is a commercial resort, attracting many people, especially from Vancouver

- It is expensive

- Finding accommodation can be challenging due to limited availability

Thank you for the info, @matejdolnik. Autor of the photos is Robert Grešo @captured_by_robert.

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