Some of the greatest off-piste skiing in the Alps can be found in St Anton and the Arlberg ski resort. Off-piste terrain abounds, including high altitude ski slopes, tiny chutes and couloirs, and secret valleys for deep-snow skiing away from the ski lifts.
Valluga North Face Off-Piste St. Anton’s ‘off the back’ descents are legendary and may be busy on a powder day, but these’must do’ descents, particularly the Valluga north face descent to Zürs, are worth skiing even several days after a new snow fall. The gut-wrenching Valluga summit descent into the Paziel-Tal to Zurs is rightly recognized as one of the “must ski” off-piste descents accessible from a lift station. This incredible off-piste descent is not for the faint of heart! A tiny gondola transports visitors and skiers to the Valluga top viewing platform, however only those accompanied by a competent guide are permitted to bring their skis or board.
The slopes on all sides descend into the abyss from the exposed peak, and the first timer is unsure where to begin skiing since they are confronted with a convex slope and what looks to be a labyrinth of cliffs and rocks. It may help to remember that an experienced mountain guide is unlikely to allow you to attempt the descent unless you are already confident in your skiing ability, and the truth is that nervously straining your eyes will not make this gut-wrenching descent any easier, so relax, enjoy the scenery, and pretend you are not a little bit afraid.
Following the guide’s precise directions, the descent starts with two options from the peak. The iconic Valluga North Face starts with tight bends in the fall line on the far left of the face, where a precarious traverse goes right; here, extreme care is required since a fall may result in a rocket slide heading to a cliff that one would not want to see again. A successful traverse skiers right, followed by a traverse skiers left, results in exhilaration among the group, as the initial challenge has been overcome and the terrain now seems to be nearly delightful. Only fantastic twists are ahead, but caution is required to escape the 40-meter drop at its foot. During this adrenaline-pumping skiing, try to remain calm, gaze up from the tips of your skis, and enjoy your skiing while admiring the scenery ahead.
When you reach the col that separates the two prominent peaks of Valluga and Rogspitze, you look back at what you’ve skied and either thank your lucky stars that you survived or ask your guide when you can ski it again! The landscape is spectacular, with two towering peaks above providing a threatening but wonderful mood. As you ski away from the col, you’ll be met with seemingly limitless snow slopes down to Zürs.
The second alternative from the top, Valluga Bridge Couloir, is as exhilarating, and to add to the excitement, your basic mountaineering abilities and fear of heights will be put to the test as you descend the roped stairs to get access to the ancient wooden bridge that spans the famed “Bridge Couloir.” After a step down under the bridge’s wooden planks, a narrow 40-degree couloir requires great jump turn technique. After 15 turns, the couloir vanishes behind a left banking corner before ultimately opening out onto the Valluga’s vast west slope, where sweeping bends bring you safely to a meeting place at the foot of the west face. A short northwest journey brings you around a secret corner, revealing a treasure trove of powder and adventure that extends all the way to the Zürs ski resort.
The Galzig ski area is reached by an impressive high-speed gondola from St. Anton and includes some excellent off-piste ski terrain, but you’ll need to be quick here as well, as Galzig is one of the first areas that gets skied on a powder day, especially when the Valluga and Schindler are closed due to wind or avalanche risk.
You’re greeted with a plethora of alternatives as soon as you get off the cable car. The first stop is Zwischen, which is located between Ostang (blue 5) and Kandahar (black 2). Powder slopes and steep lines through the woods await you here, bringing you close to the Feldherrnhugel lift. Backseite is a Galzig classic: it’s north-facing, steep, and ideal for honing off-piste skills on steeper terrain down into Steissbachtal (Happy Valley). The red ski route (3) from Galzig to St Anton is a reincarnation of the black Ostang, and the mogulled part between the woods is often fairly difficult.
Backseite can be reached by riding the Zammermoos chairlift or the Tanzboden T-bar, then skiing towards red ski route (4a), which has multiple entry points and allows skiers to choose the steepest terrain, or by heading skiers left at the top of the Kandahar run towards the bottom of Tanzboden, then skiing off-piste down the steep north facing pitch into Steissbachtal (Happy Valley). On a powder day, you may perform fantastic laps utilizing the Zammermoos lifts and heading right at the summit.
It is easily accessible from the ground level of the Galzig cable car. Even when visibility is limited, Maienwassen is genuinely world class on a powder day, as the trees are never far away to aid with contrast, but considerable caution is required both the left and right sides of this descent are deep cutting valleys that may provide high avalanche hazard on fresh snow days.
Off-Piste Kapall Schonegraben
Schonegraben, which means “Beautiful Grave,” is located off the Kapall lift to the east of the resort. This descent has steep trees and open sides, and the proper path must be selected to avoid any avalanche hazards. When you reach the region, you should go towards the woods and be cautious of the higher hills to the left of the forest line. Looking towards Schonegraben from the top of Kapall is a very inviting bowl; however, this bowl should never be skied in its entirety as it ends in an ever increasingly convex form to end in a steep narrow gauge known as “The plug hole,” which has claimed many avalanche deaths in the area over the years. To bypass this, take the high logical traverse to the right to obtain access to the bottom of the drag lift and the top of the Kapall lift.
The Rendl ski region on the other side of the valley is now simpler to access, thanks to the replacement of the old gondola station outside the town with the stunning new Rendlbahn gondola station in St Anton. Rendl’s off-piste skiing is popular for guiding because to its varied terrain and consistent snow. There is superb off-piste skiing between the pistes to the left and right of the Maass Bahn, with moderate slopes flowing through the woods; this is a popular spot on rainy days since the trees aid with visibility. Moving up the mountain, take the Gampberg six-man chair lift and skiers right, skiing the line under the chair lift, which is long and perfect for getting into that powder rhythm. You can either traverse out left back to the piste or continue further for more fall line turns to reach the Tobel T-bar, which will take you back to the restaurant area.
When you want to go away from the lifts, St Anton’s Rendl ski area truly comes into its own, with a number of small side-stepping climbs leading to fantastic concealed off-piste stashes. The Hinter Rendl bowl, the difficult North Face, and picturesque solitude in the relatively moderate Rossfall are just a few of Rendl’s numerous ‘off the back’ alternatives.
Off-Piste Hinter Rendl
Hinter Rendl is a massive north-facing bowl with steep and broad untracked powder runs in high alpine ski terrain and open forest lines. It can be tracked early, but because of its immensity and limitless lines, you can nearly always discover something untracked several days after the last snowfall. Ride the Riffel 1 and 2 chair lifts to get to the bowl, then cross through a roped-off zone with a notice informing you’re leaving the guarded area. To ski here, you must have avalanche judgment experience. After riding the Gampberg lift, proceed right along Schimalegg ridge and once the terrain flattens, follow a line right to reach a spectacular wide bowl that leads to trees and the track down to the Rendl Bahn, but be careful that this route demands competence in route finding and avalanche judgment. It is important not to ski in the couloirs straight soon after a strong wind or new snow, since they contain hazardous snow and have been the site of numerous accidents.
North Face Rendl Off-Piste
Rendl’s North Face, just south of St Anton, is long and commanding, casting a shadow over the hamlet and offering a fantastic powder route that lures you to its higher open faces and lower tricky tree lines. This approach, on the other hand, requires great route-finding abilities, since taking the incorrect path may leave you surrounded by cliffs and drops, with a tough, if not impossible, walk back up the mountain.
You may reach this region by skiing the itinerary route number R5 to its halfway point, traversing right till you reach a radio antenna and skiing the fall line to reach the woods, and then taking the mandatory right traverse line to avoid the cliffs. This face has multiple convex slopes that should be avoided on powder days since they are major potential avalanche areas.
Off-Piste at Rossfall
Rossfall’s broad undulating pitches provide delicious powder for those who aren’t quite up to the task of Rendl’s north face. A short traverse and steep side-step climb up the right side of the Riffel 1 chair lift leads to this tiny heaven, where the breathtaking vistas and mountain stillness remind you that off-piste skiing is what life is all about! Experience with route finding is also useful here, as you must avoid specific convex slopes and possible terrain traps in this section.
The ski slopes Schindlerkar (15) and Mattun (16) may be accessed by using the chairlift to Schindler Spitze (2,660m) or the Valluga I cable car to Vallugagrat (2,650m), then skiing red 19 and riding the cable car to the ski routes. Here you’ll find skiers cutting consecutive lines as they go high and wide in search of favorable lines back down to the main ski path. However, with so many off-piste powder hunters around, you must be fast to discover new tracks in these heavy traffic locations.
If you like skiing steep and tight couloirs with boulders on each side, try out the Schindler West experts-only chutes that plunge down to your left from the summit of the Schindlergratbahn. A sturdy wooden barrier prohibits unintentional access to these couloirs, and you can bet there’ll be quite a crowd when pros scale the fence and sit rather uncomfortably before leaping in and vanishing from view after only a few spins, or even faster if they fall. And, save for the absolute greatest new snow conditions, when local ski instructors and ski bums will have arrived ahead of you, it’s moguls all the way.
On a powder day, the Schindler South slopes beneath the Schindlergratbahn triple chair offer excellent deep snow opportunities and can be accessed high up from behind the top lift station, but you’ll need an instructor or guide for safe route finding and a safe descent through rocky couloirs higher up and on avalanche prone south facing slopes. Ski down on piste from the Schindlergratbahn, then not long from the top, as you head left towards Ulmer Hutte, traverse skiers left off-piste quite some way over Schindler’s shoulder, then a short boot up and you can drop on to the slopes flowing down under the chairlift.
Neningastal Off-Piste – Sonnenkopf
Sonnenkopf is largely a family resort that just entered the Arlberg region. Sonnenkopf is about thirty minutes by car or bus from St Anton and is included in the main Arlberg lift pass. The ski region is comparable in style to many ski mountains in North America, with spread out trees and bowl-like skiing options. The very impressive Nesingastal off-piste run, however, is hidden over the back of the top lift, offering 1,500m vertical of exciting steep lines, huge open faces in impressive scenery, and the obligatory steep exit line through a demanding and gullied steep section studded with bushes leading to the Nesingastal. This amazing excursion concludes at Langen, where you board the train back to St. Anton in time for a well-deserved après ski!