World’s Best Backcountry Ski ToursWorld’s Best Backcountry Ski Tours


January 26, 2018

5 min read

Anyone who is serious about their snow knows that the best powder is far, far away from the French fry stands and bunny hills that decorate most kitschy resorts today. Instead, it’s deep in the backcountry where routes rarely exist, the human species is sparse, and an old musty hut awaits you at the end of the day, beckoning fireside beers.

If you’re willing to travel for an epic backcountry adventure, here are some of the most offbeat routes (or non-routes, in some cases) with undoubtedly the best views you’ll see on skis.

Hut-to-hut between Telluride and Ouray along Colorado’s Sneffels Range

Create your own expedition under the epic 14,000-foot alpine peaks that define the Sneffels Range, home to three of Colorado’s 100 highest mountains. Choose trails between two and 10 miles long, and descents from 60 feet—such as the Last Dollar and Blue Lakes routes—to 1,700 feet—from the North Pole to Blue Lakes—with cozy accommodation at any of the five San Juan Huts sprinkled throughout the range.

The San Juan Hut System links Telluride to Ouray via an intermediate route, which varies from three to eight hours between huts, while advanced, expert and extreme terrain can be found above each hut.

For $30 a night per person, each wooden hut can sleep eight people—though you’ll likely be the only one there—and offers a propane stove, wood stove, toilets, and even cookware to save you from carrying the extra weight on your back.

The San Juan Hut System
  1. The San Juan Hut System offers intermediate to beyond advanced terrain from fall to spring. Photo Credit: San Juan Huts
Haute Route in the Swiss and French Alps
  1. Earning turns on the classic Haute Route in the Swiss and French Alps. Photo Credit David Ryder.

Between Chamonix, France, and Zermatt, Switzerland in the shadow of Mont Blanc

In the heart of the Alps, the Haute Route is a classic six-day traverse across mountains and glaciers from France’s Chamonix to Switzerland’s Zermatt. You’ll not only get personal with such stunning peaks as Rosa Blanche and Pigne d’Arolla, but you’ll also get views of Europe’s tallest mountain, Mont Blanc, from all kinds of angles only a backcountry skier could see.

The high-level route travels through a network of beautiful contemporary and conventional-style huts—or refuges, as they’re formally called—run by the Swiss and French Alpine Club, and dips you into the valley once before spitting you out in the shadow of the famous Matterhorn. A straight line between its starting and finishing points would be about 70 kilometers(44 miles), but the actual distance of this winding route remains unclear.

And if six days just isn’t enough, you can tack on a couple of days to the end of the trip and finish in the Swiss resort village of Saas-Fee.

Tour a Canadian Classic on the Wapta Traverse

A hut-based route across the Wapta and Waputik Icefields and over the Glaciated Continental Divide, this alpine traverse goes through Banff National Park and the majestic Canadian Rockies. The classic traverse, rated intermediate, going from Bow Lake to Sherbrooke Lake, will take you four days, but a six-day option, starting at Peyto Lake and finishing at Sherbrooke Lake, exists for more experienced skiers.

You’ll be climbing peaks up to 10,800 feet with a pack on your back, dodging crevasses and speeding down 35-degree slopes with a sort of frigid wind chill that only Canada can create, but the unique sastrugi and unmatched views from the top of eight different peaks are what make this route every ski-mountaineer’s dream.

Out of the four huts along the route, only Bow Hut has a woodstove, so prepare yourself for a few cold nights and possibly even some suffering, but a true thrill-seeker’s trip that will keep the butterflies fluttering in your stomach.

Hjørundfjorden Haute Route, Norway

It isn’t everyday you have an ocean view while skiing the backcountry, but that’s what you’ll find high up in the Sunnmore Alps on Norway’s west coast. Unlike the Wapta Traverse, the Haute Route Hjørundfjorden won’t exactly test your skills as a survivalist in the wild. Seeing as there is no backcountry hut system, skiers typically hop from village to village—some have no roads and a quaint population of just five people—and stay in hotels with hot showers and central heating along the way.

But even so, seven days of skiing the backcountry isn’t quite entry-level, either. Here along Norway’s wildest fjord, you’ll find daily ascents of up to 1,300 meters. Named after and inspired by the famous Haute Route in the Alps, the Hjørundfjorden also offers sweeping alpine views of the sharp peaks above, as well as a bird’s eye view of the famous 22-mile-long fjord below.

Wapta Traverse
  1. The traverses are long, but so are the descents on the Wapta Traverse. Photo Credit: Yamnuska Mountain Adventures
  1. Skiable mountains rising from the ocean on Norway’s Haute Route Hjørundfjorden. Photo Credit: Headnorth Adventures
iconic Haute Route
  1. On the iconic Haute Route there are no bad views. Photo Credit David Ryder