Mark’s off-piste skiing routes
Every time I go riding in the Espace Killy, I think how lucky we are to have such challenging, unrelentingly steep, interesting and beautiful off-piste skiing which is so accessible and just on the doorstep of our ski hotel in Tignes. The following off-piste routes are ones that I have done over the past few years living in Les Brévières, Tignes. This is by no means a definitive guide to off-piste itineraries in the region, but rather a selection of my favourites with the emphasis heavily on the Brévières side of the mountain where I spend a lot of my time. As with all skiing or snowboarding in un-patrolled areas away from marked ski runs you should employ the services of a qualified mountain guide or ski instructor who will have knowledge of how the snow conditions have evolved throughout the season and will know what is, or is not, safe on a particular day. The ski routes shown are merely to demonstrate what is possible and should not be used as a substitute for a professional guide. On all the photos, the numbered runs are pistes, and the coloured, narrow lines are my routes, with descriptions below. Click to download high resolution maps of each sector.
DISCLAIMER – As with all skiing or snowboarding in un-patrolled areas away from marked runs you should employ the services of a qualified mountain guide or ski and snowboard instructor who will have knowledge of how the snow conditions have evolved throughout the season and will know what is, or is not, safe on a particular day. The routes shown are merely to demonstrate what is possible and not what can be achieved on any particular day. They should not be used as a substitute for professional advice. Chalet Chardons and its representatives accept no responsibility for the use of this information. Skiing or snowboarding off piste may result in injury or death even with a professional mountain guide or instructor.
Yellow Route – Vallon de la Sache
At the top of the ‘Aiguille Percée’ chairlift, walk up to the top of the ski slope on the right. From here there are three couloirs going down to the right ranging from terrifying to about 35 degrees. You may have to jump a wind lip but the drop is not large (about 2 to 4 metres). All couloirs exit into a large flat area. Continue across this, then down two more steep sections to the flatter area in the Sache valley. You will need to either walk to the piste from here, or use tracks made by earlier skiers and snowboarders to access the piste. Go along the piste to the hut in the middle of the Sache ski run then drop away to the left. Either stay high to rejoin the sache ski run lower down, or head down the very steep pitch into the gorge at the bottom of the Sache valley. CAREFUL – if you go down too far, you will end up above a 30 metre frozen waterfall so walk out along the fire road before the bottom of the gorge (follow earlier tracks). From here, rejoin the piste and continue to Les Brévières.
- Purple Route – La Sachette
Walk up the same ski slope as the yellow route, but head left at the top. There are several wide and not too steep north facing couloirs into the top part of the Sache valley. Keep your speed up to make it over the flatter area at the bottom and then carry on down the valley to join the yellow route. At the bottom, you can go through the trees having walked a short way along the fire road. Only do this if there is a lot of snow and you are very expert at skiing and snowboarding as the trees are steep and contain a lot of drops and other hazards hidden beneath the snow cover.
- Green Route – Black Sache
Follow the ‘Silene’ ski run and cut left after 2Km just before it gets steep. Many variations of route take you back onto the Sache ski run. Use the piste for the flatter parts, then cut away left from the road and down the steeper sections through the avalanche barriers into Les Brévières, rejoining the pistes at the bottom. CAREFUL – the avalanche barriers are a known trigger point so avoid this area after heavy snowfalls or strong winds.
- Red Route – Silene
Follow the ‘Silene’ ski run and cut away left just AFTER it gets steep and traverse the ski slope. Alternatively, walk to the top of the peak to the left of the ski run (about 10 minutes walk). There are many skiing routes down the face, rejoining the chairlift at the bottom, or carrying on down to Les Brévières via the trees under the cable car. CAREFUL – there are a lot of difficult drops and cliff bands in the trees above Brévières and there needs to be a lot of snow to cover the hazards in the trees. Route-finding is also difficult here as the mountain gets steeper at the bottom and is hard to see whilst in the trees.
- Blue Route – Les Boisses couloirs
A skiing and snowboarding favourite in bad weather. Take the bubble up and cut away immediately right on the piste coming back to Brévières. Follow under the old two-man chair lift down some very steep terrain to Les Boisses. CAREFUL – this always slides, though seldom catastrophically. Alternatively, traverse the flat section at the bottom of the chairlifts to find a steepish couloir that rejoins the piste above Les Boisses. Once in Les Boisses, take one of the many ski routes through the trees at the side of the ‘Summer Road’ to get back to Brévières.
- Orange Route – For serious backcountry hounds only!
WARNING – you WILL need a guide to do this. Hazards include extreme exposure to risk (cliffs below the slope you are descending) and high avalanche probability.
In the middle of the Sache valley, cut away left, and either put on your snowshoes or skins for a 25 minute walk. Descend the very exposed, but not too steep pitch above the cliffs then cut away right to traverse into the trees. Find the very narrow and steep couloir which links the two levels of trees then traverse back left under the cliffs to find the final pitch into Les Brévières. A great skiing and snowboarding route if you can find a guide to take you as you often see chamois and other animals on the trip.
Tignes Le Lac
- Light Blue Route – Lavachet Wall
Take the Aeroski lift to the top and then descend the piste to the left till you get to the top of the drag lift track. If the drag lift is closed (most of the time), use the piste track to get over the flatter area till you reach the start of the wall. Several ski routes are possible, including a reasonably hairy one through the avalanche fences, all ending up on the pistes in Le Lac. CAREFUL – This wall is very unstable if the weather is warm or there has been windy weather and many avalanches occur here.
- Purple Route – The Fingers, easy route
Come down the blue skiing run and take the right fork towards Le Lac. On the left are several possible entries to ‘The Fingers’ ranging from quite steep and narrow to easy. The easier ski routes end in a long traverse back to the Aeroski, whilst the harder ones will end in a walk to the bus stop, or across the Lake. It is very advisable to scope these routes from the bottom before attempting them, as some of the narrow couloirs contain either quite large drops, or often sections of blue ice which pose obvious hazards. If there is not much snow, some can be impassable and these are better suited to the end of the season when there is more snow. CAREFUL – The narrower couloirs require a high degree of capability as you may need to turn in not much more than the size of your skis or snowboard on very steep and unrelenting terrain. A fall could see you hitting rocks in an unstoppable slide – especially if the snow is hard. Helmets are a good idea in here.
- Yellow Route – The Fingers, harder route
Come down the blue ski run towards Val Claret and on to the flat section. Head off the piste to the right after a small summit. A flatter section then drops away into the various couloirs as seen on the photo. At the bottom, traverse across the flatter sections and get the bus near the chalets in Val Claret. All of what is written above applies here, only more so as these couloirs are very steep and narrow and some are not passable without quite large jumps, though the more obvious ones are more scary looking than technically difficult.
- Red Route – ‘Mickey’s Ears’ and Lavachet Wall
Take the piste as for the Light Blue ski route but take off your skis or snowboard and walk along the crete towards the radio antenna on top of the crete. After twenty minutes walking, drop down below the antenna and climb back up to the crete where you will find the descents on the north facing side of the crete (not shown in photo). Several possibilities exist and all are steep (up to 50 degrees at the top), though quite wide and generally have good snow as they never receive sun. At the bottom, bear left to take you onto the Lavachet Wall, and down to Le Lac to get the bus. CAREFUL – the Lavachet Wall is often unstable and very prone to avalanches especially in warm weather or after westerly winds have formed wind slab. At the end of the season it is possible to carry on down to the Lac du Chevril as long as the water level has dropped enough to expose the old bridge under the water. Check this before setting out. Once you arrive at the lake it takes about 20 minutes to walk over the bridge and back up to the main RN90 road connecting Val d’Isère to Tignes. You should have left a car here or have an understanding partner or friend to pick you up.
La Daille and Toviere
- Red Route – Spatule
Take the funicular to the top of Bellevarde then head down the ‘OK’ downhill ski run. At the first steep section traverse right, keeping as high as possible till you come round to the north side of Bellevarde. From here there are a multitude of skiing and snowboarding routes down to La Daille through various couloirs and trees. Most of the routes are not too steep and there is lots of interesting terrain (boulders, drop-offs and bowls) to play on as well as good quality snow due to the north facing slopes.
- Orange route
This is a continuation of the ‘orientation couloir’ route detailed below
- Yellow Route – Picheru and Vallee Perdu
Take the Aeroski from Tignes or the Tommeuses lift from Val d’Isère to the top of Toviere, then descend the piste to the ‘combe folle’ draglift. Remove skis or snowboard here and walk along the ridge for about ten minutes. Take one of the many not too steep couloirs from the top or any of the more open skiing routes. After a steeper section, you will come across a fairly flat and open area which needs speed or earlier skiers’ tracks to cross. Once over the flat there are two options:- Go into Vallee Perdu, or keep left to end up above La Daille. If you go through Vallee Perdu be prepared to crawl through holes and negotiate some very tight sections at quite high-speed. This is loads of fun, especially for the less confident ski or snowboard enthusiast, as the run is technically undemanding but rather akin to a mini rollercoaster and is seldom full of deep snow as so many people do it since the piste marked ‘3’ on the photo was built about two years ago. The run to La Daille is straightforward but be aware that there is often not a lot of snow on the last pitch as it faces South.
Roc de Bellevarde
- Red Route – Banane
Take one of the many ski lifts to the top of bellevarde then go down the start of the ‘Face’ black run. Cut right as soon as possible to find a short pitch before dropping into one of several quite steep couloirs. Keep speed to get over the flat bit at the bottom, then keep right to drop onto a very nice open section which ends up on the road to Manchet. Walk back to the ski lifts and do it all again! CAREFUL – the cross-hatched area is extremely prone to sliding as it is in the sun all day so this ski run is one to do in the morning. You should never go into the cross-hatched area even then. Snow is normally transformed or spring snow, often with a crust, except early season on this route due to the sunny exposition. This can be a lot of fun on a snowboard but misery on skis unless you are very good.
- Yellow Route – Orientation Couloir
One worth a brag about as it’s almost a morning out just for this one run. You used to be able to take the old cable car to the top of Bellevarde but it was dismantled to build the new ‘super eggs’ out of Val d’Isère. You now must take these then walk up about 10 minutes to the old cable car station. Once here walk up the metal staircase which takes you to the top of the Downhill run. Take a look at this and imagine what it would be like to launch out of the start gate and go straight to the first corner – scary! After the downhill start, keep going till you find the orientation table and continue on till you find a steep but wide couloir on your right. There are other options here but you need to be seriously good as all the other descents further on end in cliffs so a fall is not an option. After the initial steep part, the couloir opens to a lovely wide field that has several options. If you keep right, you will rejoin the ‘face’ run. Go straight and you will end up coming through the trees to the middle of Val d’Isère but watch the route as the more left you go the more likely you are to have to jump rock bands or negotiate very narrow tree runs with avalanche fences in them. If you keep left, you will join the ‘spatule’ run listed above. A happy consequence of the old cable car being dismantled is that a lot less people now tackle this couloir as it has become 20/25 minutes to walk up instead of 10/12 minutes.
Often a surprisingly good area for skiing and snowboarding when the snow cover isn’t so good as it seems to catch a lot of snow, especially when there have been strong westerly winds in the preceding days
- Yellow Route – Danaïdes
Take the Solaise Express chairlift and drop away onto the ski slope to the left of the summit. Either bear left to miss the avalanche fences or go straight through them and descend into the obvious valley below. There are several options which take you back to the bus stop at the end of Val d’Isère. This ski run always seems to collect a lot of snow and has great terrain for free riders with lots of drops, hips and boulders to play on. CAREFUL – the trees to either side of the valley have a lot of cliff bands in them making some of the lines through impassable unless you are prepared to do some fairly big jumps.
- Orange Route – Solaise Couloirs
At the top of Solaise traverse the piste to the right and keep as high as you can to enter one of several obvious couloirs below. At the bottom, use the piste road to take you back to the lifts via Club Med. CAREFUL – in warm weather this slope is often fairly unstable and prone to wet snow avalanches. It has also recently become something of a Meca for the emerging sport of Speed Skiing in which you take a tiny paragldier and fly down, touching the snow from time to time at up to 70 MPH. This could be the only ski and snowboard off piste slope where you have to look up as well as down to avoid collisions! I’m taking it up this winter so it could be me you see whizzing towards you.
A nice area but suffers from too many AGNI’s (All the Gear, No Idea) all tearing up the ski slopes after even the merest sniff of snow. There are some very good ski routes over the back of the glacier but these are beyond the scope of this guide.
- Yellow Route – Signal
At the top of the Fornet cable car take the left hand drag lift to the top via an ‘interesting’ steep section if you are on a snowboard. Walk 10 metres straight on at the top to access the ‘Grand Vallon’. Many straightforward routes take you back to the cable car via some good tree runs at the bottom. After snow every man and his dog from Val d’Isère goes here so if you want to do it, get there early and experience Val d’Isère style off piste as the whole valley gets trashed in the first two hours. You’ll also see a lot of suntanned middle-aged men in day-glo one piece suits yelling ‘hup la!’ and ‘oh la la!’ attempting to impress their teenage mistresses as they race to be first to light up a Galois at the restaurant at the bottom. Worth the trip just for the laugh.
- Purple Route – Fornet trees
Lots of variations of the tree routes under the cable car at Le Fornet. Fantastic if you can find them untracked as they are steep and nicely separated. Like the Grand Vallon it suffers from the same over-use troubles though it is usually too steep for the day-glo and Range Rover ‘ya darling’ brigade.
- Orange Route – Danaïdes variation
At the top of the Solaise Express chairlift go immediately left. Drop down the steep open face, taking great care of the cliffs to the right. Locate the narrow and steep couloir to join the ‘Piste L’ run in the valley below. CAREFUL – route finding is quite hard here as the mountain is rounded and drops away from view getting steeper as you go lower. There are cliffs at the top which pose obvious hazards.
As I said at the top, this is not a comprehensive guide, but rather a selection of my favourite skiing and snowboarding routes that I have done whilst living here. Lots has been left out (North face of the Grande Motte, Couloirs de la Balme, Le Dome, Glacier, Chardonnay, Tour de Pramecou, Glattier, Pisteurs Couloir, Gorges du Malpasset…….) and was as much influenced by the fact that I couldn’t get photos of some of the areas as anything else. I have also left out anywhere that requires serious walking to get to. Get some avalanche transceivers and learn how to use them then ask one of the many guides in the region to show you around for the day. Don’t dawdle, don’t go in a large group, get rid of any slow people after the first descent and don’t have a three hour lunch break (take sandwiches and eat them on the lift). It will be some of the best money you have ever invested in your skiing or snowboarding. Ride safe and remember that no-one will be impressed if you end up in an avalanche, fall off cliffs or get a broken leg miles from rescue and on your own (I know – I’ve done all three but am a world famously jammy git when it comes to getting myself out of trouble…..).
Mark Hayman, November 2002, updated August 2006