Sainte Foy Off-Piste & Backcountry - The Highlights
Sainte Foy has some superb off-piste and backcountry snowboarding and skiing. However, not all of it is obvious and it often requires some local knowledge to get the best out of it. We've listed some of our favourite lines here.
Shaper's is the easiest of the 3 officially-designated off-piste areas and also usually the first to be officially open after a fresh snow-fall. Riding straight down the marker poles is a decent enough run, with some small jumps to play on, a steep finish and a natural half-pipe nearby, however if you enter Shaper's from a bit further back up the hill on the Plan des Veaux piste, you can ride down through a steep area with some short (but gnarly) chutes and rock drops.
Morion is the official off-piste area directly below the top of the Aiguille chair. It is very steep and a good place to try your hand at steep skiing or snowboarding. Be warned though, this area can be very exposed to the wind, making for scoured and icy areas at the top if the wind is blowing from the resort side or serious avalanche danger if the wind is blowing from the other side. Take heed of the ski patrol warnings. The markers down Morion show probably the two best lines. Watch out for rocks if you venture away from the poles. Morion and Shaper's can be strung together to create a long off-piste run on a powder day, but be quick if you want freshies!
Crystal Dark is the third and final of the official off-piste areas. It is accessed by turning off the Aiguille piste just after the big hairpin. From there, a long traverse (heelside if you're regular!) leads to a long steep run down onto the Creux de Formeian piste. Crystal is a good run in itself, but also leads to the superb backcountry area known as "Far Crystal". Just keep on traversing! Be warned, Far Crystal may feel close to the resort, but it is well outside the patrolled area. Avalanche risk is always present and there are cliffs hidden in the trees. Equally there's the "Near Crystal" bowl directly under the Aiguille chairlift. This looks enticing as it's often untracked but must be approached very carefully as the bowl ends in a cliff, with only a limited number of safe routes out.
The area below the Marquise chair has some good freeriding opportunities. Below the top of the chair is a series of fairly steep bowls and gullies. Pick your line carefully while you're on the chair to avoid getting stuck in a flat bowl and watch out for rocks. Heading right off the piste just after the long, flat section takes you into the trees. It's possible to ride the trees all the way to the bottom of the chair if you pick your line carefully. Be careful not to over-shoot and miss the chair, but if you do it's fairly easy to ride all the way back to the resort (if you have a pocket chainsaw for when you inevitably end up in a thicket...)
Coming off the Marquise chair to the left (instead of down the piste to the right), then making a fairly short traverse leads to the Col Granier area. There is an obvious run heading along the ridge then back onto the piste at the big corner just after the long, flat section. This can be clearly seen from the chair and is popular, but shouldn't be undertaken lightly - heed ski patrol warnings! Continuing the initial traverse all the way round (or hiking up and over) leads to the Col Granier run proper. This is a long backcountry run eventually finishing in the village of La Masure, from where it's possible to get a free bus back to the resort.
The Monal is a historic village, now protected from any potential development (after being saved from a plan by the French electricity company to build a dam and flood the whole valley). It can be reached from the top of the Aiguille lift by a long off-piste run which is fairly gentle and a good introduction to off-piste skiing. It has a great "out-there" feel without being too intimidating. For snowboarders, the classic run is a little flat unless you know exactly where you're going but there are other variations accessible by hiking the ridge which offer longer, steeper runs. While the Monal run is fairly easy skiing, it is well away from any ski-patrolled area and there is the possibility of avalanche from some of the steep slopes over-looking the route.
The North Face of le Fogliettaz
The north face of the Fogliettaz is the jewel in the crown of Sainte Foy off-piste routes. Access is by turning left at the top of the Aiguille chair then making a short traverse along the ridge before hiking to the highest point. The hike is exposed on one side in a few places and takes 40-60mins. The North Face itself is not visible until reaching the top of the hike and it's a real treat. The entrance is steep (anything from 40 to 50°+ depending on where you drop in) and the run offers over 1500m of vertical. The snow stays good here for days and days due to the lack of sunlight and the huge size of the face combined with the quiet nature of Sainte Foy and the strenuous hike required means that there's always fresh tracks to be found.
Le Petit Col, L'Epaule, Le Croix
The little col, the shoulder and the cross are all runs which can be accessed from various points along the hike to the top of the Fogliettaz, all running down the steep face back to the pistes. All of these runs are steep and potentially exposed. Correct route-finding is important to avoid an un-anticipated long drop! The cross offers four steep couloirs, 2 of which have drops in them, all leading to sublime pitches on the steep, open slopes above the Grand Soliet and Plan des Veaux runs. No further warning should be necessary - don't go here unless you know what you're doing. The furthest away cross couloirs can also be accessed from the summit of Fogliettaz.
This information is provided for interest only. The White Room takes no responsibility for the accuracy of the content nor any loss or injury resulting from the use of this information. We strongly recommend that you should only ride off-piste in the company of a professional guide or suitably qualified instructor.