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Top 10: Off-Piste

Adventure
posted: 08/11/2003

The downside of skiing the backcountry boils down to access. Three hours of uphill sweating for 10 minutes of downhill exhilaration is just bad math. Fortunately, you can cheat. Ride the right lifts, and through a combo of easy traverses and short hikes you can bag a lot of fresh tracks. If you're going OB, it's smart to bring a beacon, probe, shovel, and a partner -- and if you don't know what to do with those, it's even smarter to hire a local guide.

1. JACKSON HOLE, Wyoming
Jackson is the Holy Grail of off-piste action. From the resort's southern boundary, you can access a couple thousand acres in Rock Springs Canyon, on Cody Peak, and in Green River Canyon. Flanking Jackson's northern boundary are the cliffs, chutes, and steeps of Granite Canyon; ski to the Cirque Traverse, then boot up Pepi's Bench to the Headwall.
888-DEEP-SNOW; www.jacksonhole.com

2. WHISTLER/BLACKCOMB, British Columbia
West and Bagel Bowls, off Whistler's Peak chair, have inbounds skiing with an OB flavor. Or follow the ridgeline southeast to reach sweet, medium-angle glades off Piccolo and Flute Summits. At Blackcomb, a short hike up Spanky's Ladder from the Showcase T-bar leads to inbound prizes like Garnet and Ruby Bowls. The true backcountry also beckons -- ski and hike around Spearhead Peak for drops off Corona Bowl or Phalanx Ridge.
800-766-0449; www.whistlerblackcomb.com

3. ALTA, Utah
When the Baldy Chutes are open, ride the Sugarloaf chair, make the 30-minute hike up Baldy, and lap the suckers -- inbound skiing never felt so out-of-bounds. Ride the Supreme chair for access to the OB nirvana of Wolverine Cirque. Its gauntlet of moderately sane to completely insane chutes is a 45-minute hike on the ridgeline above Catherine's Pass.
801-359-1078; www.alta.com

4. FERNIE, British Columbia
With its primarily maritime climate, Fernie frequently avoids the temperature-gradient, unstable snows that plague the Canadian Rockies. Reach some of the best lines by traversing Cedar Bowl to Snake Ridge (steep, inbound glades and bowls) or by crossing Snake for the 2,000-foot plunge down Fish Bowl (OB). A short hike and a moderate glide bring you to the Haul Back lift.
250-423-4655; www.skifernie.com

5. ASPEN HIGHLANDS, Colorado
Purists head to Highland Bowl, inbounds but backcountry in feel. A free snowcat ride brings you to the first of five access gates; you can hike for up to 45 minutes from there. Whether it's the altitude (12,000-plus feet) or the pitch (48 degrees in places), the terrain will take your breath away. A trail map to the area, obtainable only at a shelter near the first gate, will help you plot your descent.
800-525-6200; www.aspensnowmass.com

6. ARAPAHOE BASIN, Colorado
From the top of the new triple chair, hike up the ridge for a precipitous drop down North Pole. Or ski the long East Wall Traverse, from which snowy stairways lead to Willie's Wide, Corner Chute, and Tree Chutes. All the OB lines start at the backcountry gate atop the Norway lift. Stick close to the ridgeline of the Basin's boundary to drop into the Beavers or Steep Gullies -- ornery lines that thread chutes and cliff bands down to Highway 6.
888-ARAPAHOE; www.arapahoebasin.com

7. ALPINE MEADOWS, California
Few areas rival Alpine's ability to have soft powder on northern aspects and, simultaneously, creamed corn on southern ones. From the Alpine Bowl chair, hang a left, traverse the ridge, and hit the steeps of High Yellow Face, High Yellow Gully, and Sherwood Cliffs, which even in spring hold winter snow. Find powder in the a.m. by traversing past Estelle Bowl to the Buttress. Late-day corn awaits on the Lower 40 Face, off the Scott chair.
800-441-4423; www.skialpine.com

8. SUGAR BOWL, California
It's one of the country's oldest ski resorts -- and still feels that way, thanks to a bounty of ungroomed slopes andd devoted skiers who come to earn their turns. Start by traversing and hiking from the Crow's Nest chair to the inbound steeps and glades of Crow's Face and Strawberry Fields. When those have expired, drop off the back side of Mount Lincoln down PR (go with someone in the know, or you'll end up too low in Cold Canyon).
530-426-9000; www.sugarbowl.com

9. SNOWBIRD, Utah
Inbounds, Thunder Bowl and Baby Thunder (off Gad II chair) and Mineral Basin's Book End's Traverse to Flora Cliffs are top picks. Snowbird's best (and true) OB, however, is the beautiful descent down White Pine Canyon. You'll need a transceiver, shovel, and partner to get past the patrol; then, it's a 30- to 40-minute hike to the drop-in point. A few thousand feet lower, hit Little Cottonwood Road near the White Pine trailhead and stick out a thumb.
800-453-3000; www.snowbird.com

10. BIG MOUNTAIN, Montana
Most of the U.S. Telemark Team winters at Big Mountain. A favorite backcountry spot is the ridge capping Canyon Creek. Hike 10 to 20 minutes along it near Bigfoot T-Bar, then drop into one of a hundred-some shots down north-facing glades, tree runs, and chutes. At the bottom, walk (or hitch a snowmobile ride) to the top of Canyon Creek before gliding to the base of the Big Creek Express.
800-858-5439; www.bigmtn.com

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