Europe is brimming with ski resorts like nowhere else on earth. Mountains throughout France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy (and beyond) have for centuries been crossed on skis and there’s barely a pitch now untouched by a lift. But while the well-known resorts offer incredible skiing, masses of non-ski activities and buzzy nightlife, many are a victim of their own success. And if you’re in search of powder, crowds are no good.
While you can freeride anywhere, and let’s face it who doesn’t like lift-served powder runs, the steeper and deeper resorts of Chamonix, St Anton and Verbier are awesome ski areas that really take some beating — but you need to sharpen your elbows on a powder morning and be up at the crack of dawn to beat the rush.
If you’re after a more laid-back vibe, where the snow isn’t tracked out within an hour, along with more intimate and authentic side to European mountains, there are some real hidden gems that offer that authentic ambience, lower prices and just as much (if not more) pow.
This isn’t a place for beginners, as there’s not a lot of piste skiing, but Engelberg — with its “big give” off-piste routes of Galtiberg, Sulz, Steinberg, Laub and Steintäli, is mighty for adventure-hungry experts. The resort, just over an hour’s journey from Zurich, sits on the northern edge of the Alps with an excellent snow record.
While the town sits at 1050m, and can be prone to rain, the highest peak, Titlis, towers at 3040m, so there’s more than 2000m vertical to devour. Just make sure to take a mountain guide.
Top tip: Stay at Ski Lodge Engelberg for the full backcountry vibe.
Less of a hidden gem since its multi facelift by a developer and purchase by Vail Resorts, Andermatt still deserves a firm spot on Europe’s steep and deep list. Its main mountain, the Gemsstock, has rugged and steep terrain from 2965m, with glorious long off-piste options and reliable, bountiful snow (mountain guide needed).
Since linking with nearby Sedrun, there’s more piste skiing here for the less confident, too. The old village, once an Army garrison, charms with its Hansel and Gretel-style buildings lining the main street — with affordable places to stay and a buzzing nightlife, so save some legs for the dancefloor.
Top tip: Travel here via Switzerland’s excellent — and scenic — rail network.
Home to several unspoilt, charming villages — of which Grimentz and Zinal are the best known — this ski area in the Rhone Valley is low-key and crowd-free, despite its excellent snow record and massive range of off-piste skiing.
Don’t expect too many fast, modern chairlifts here and be prepared to hike to find the goods, but with a top altitude of 3000m and a ski area of around 220km pistes, there’s nothing humble about this Valaisan gem which happily sits quietly in the shadow of its glitzier neighbours of Verbier and Zermatt.
Top tip: Book mountain guide Nick Parks.
Offering everything from tree skiing, to open bowls and hike-to couloirs, this unknown valley close to the Italian border is a true hidden gem. The Maurienne still lies relatively unchartered — despite the fact you can find sweet, untracked feather-light powder for days after a dump thanks to its mainly north-facing slopes and impressive snowfall.
With a top height of 2800m, there’s decent vertical to be had along with some excellent mountain huts for touring. In the valley, a range of small family-friendly villages stretch from Bonneval-sur-Arc (a ski tour destination from Val d’Isère, over the hill), to Val Cenis and Orelle (linked by lift with Val Thorens and Les 3 Vallées) to Valloire and Les Sybelles.
Top Tip: Book a mountain guide, or spot on a shared day’s guiding, with Upguides.com
Okay, it’s not exactly ‘hidden’ but it does tick all the boxes: unspoilt, gnarly, big vertical, great snow and legendary off-piste. La Grave has less than 1,000 visitor beds, only one serious lift and an almost entirely freeride, steep mountain with a summit at 3550m which gives it reliably great snow (though not reliably good weather: be warned).
You do need to have a guide, like everywhere in Europe when you venture off the piste, but this is a serious resort for experts only and unless you hit that bad weather, you’re unlikely to leave disappointed — or with any energy.
Top tip: If that storm hits, weather it in nearby Serre Chevalier, equally unspoilt.
This high village sits at 1930m with its highest peak — the cutely named Wurmkogl — at 3080m, making it one of the most snow-sure ski resorts in the Alps. It oozes Tyrolean atmosphere (if not charm) so you’ll be fuelling up here for your freeriding on stodgy goulash and germknödel.
While it’s not exactly “unknown” — Obergurgl is very popular with families — it doesn’t have a big name among powder-seekers, which means you can find fresh tracks easily, with lots of it in mellow bowls and powder fields all easily accessed from lifts. A ‘something for everyone’ destination.
Top tip: Head to the Nederhütte for some proper foot-stomping, table-dancing Austrian après.
Owner of the lofty “snowiest ski area in the Alps” title, Warth-Schröcken is the ideal quiet base from which to ski the mighty Arlberg ski area, which encompasses 340km of pistes across St Anton, Lech and St Christoph.
The bigger village of Warth (1500m) isn’t much to write home about — until you hear its snowfall average is 10.6m (this is measured at 1650m) and learn it’s mainly north-facing skiing. None of the slopes are all that steep, but there is a high chance you’ll find freshies on every run — especially if you source the right mountain guide — and it’s lift-linked to St Anton.
Top tip: avoid weekends, this resort has a lot of local traffic.
This small and remote resort, sitting at 1200m on the eastern fringe of the Monterosa Ski Area, comprises the type of dark wooden farmhouses for which the Alps is famous. While the other Monterosa villages of Champoluc and Gressoney la Trinité have more life, it’s the mountains above Alagna that are most exciting.
The area is known for its steep couloirs and dizzying vertical — the highest summit is Punta Dufour at 4634m and there are several hikeable peaks over 3000m. Yes there’s no ground-breaking après in Alagna, but your legs will be weary after a day in this cult resort.
Top tip: splash out on a day’s heli-skiing if you can.
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