The ski area of Serre Chevalier has everything to seduce every skier and snowboarder. You’ll have to get over the Col du Lautaret, but it’s worth the drive to get to this area with over 250 kilometers of challenging slopes. But not only advanced skiers can find their happiness here on the groomers, off-piste skiers and snowboarders can also indulge themselves here. This extremely snow-sure area has a lot to offer to powder hunters. A summary of the most beautiful off-piste lines in this area where the powder panic has not been so bad so far.
Lots of snow
The Serre Chevalier is a guarantee for snow. Whether the snow approaches the French Alps from the south, west or even north, Serre Chevalier often gets a lot of it. And that snow-eating ‘Föhn’, it barely reaches the snow here. Every year, this area is one of the best in terms of snow amounts. A caveat should be made about this snow certainty. There’s a lot of wind here regularly, so sometimes the powder can quickly turn into hard ‘wind-pack’ and avalanche dangerous ‘windslabs’. If there is a big storm, Puy Saint Vincent, Pelvoux, La Grave or Montgenèvre are better options, which are better protected from the wind. But when the wind calms down, Serre Chevalier offers fantastic off-piste terrain for all levels of ability.
The best part is that this area has a lot of terrain above, but also below the tree line. This makes it good to ride even in bad weather. The larch forests of this part of the Southern Alps are internationally renowned and for good reason. The skiing is great. And in good weather you can make fantastic descents in the high alpine in Serre Chevalier, if the avalanche conditions allow it. Think of large open slopes such as the Montagnolle or beautiful couloirs such as the Couloir de la Grotte.
An overview of the off-piste descent of Serre Chevalier is impossible without the Montagnolle. The Montagnolle is the classic run of this area. Not illogical, because the slope is very easy to reach. Cross the L’Yret lift and duck the rope. The first meters are the steepest, and often bumpy, because of the crowds. After this, the face opens up and everyone can blast down in their own way. Once down, a long boardercross-like traverse follows to get all the way down to Le Mônetier-les-Bains. A serious descent and for a reason.
On the pylons of the L’Yret lift it is already signposted: ‘This is off-piste’. This indicates that the incline under the lift is not patrolled, and ‘at your own risk’. Just the type of slope that freeriders are looking for. This slope called the L’Yret is beautiful, about 35° degrees at its steepest, and extremely easy to get to. The further you traverse to the left, the better chance you have of good untracked snow. But take care, you traverse over rocky terrain at the top. A slip here has dramatic consequences. Don’t underestimate this slope, and only ski where you’re sure you won’t be surprised. This is one of the big open slopes where you can make the quickest and easiest meters. One lift and you’re back on the top.
3. Tête de la Balme
In the past, this sector would have been tracked in no time. Nowadays you can ride fresh powder almost all day. How did that happen? A convenient movement of ski lifts. Because you now have to hike about 10 minutes to get to the ridge of the Tête de la Balme, hardly anyone skis here anymore. And that’s a shame because the skiing is great on the open slopes between the beautiful rock towers. To get to the slope of the Tête de la Balme, take the Vallons chairlift. Hike towards the Tête de la Balme and choose the spot where you want to dive into the face.
4. Couloir de la grotte
The Couloir de la Grotte can be clearly seen from the Vallons chairlift. This couloir is also known by the locals as Couloir du Gazex, because of the Gazex cannon above the couloir. A nice open couloir of about 40° steep brings you into an open slope with some small larch trees. The skiing along the orange limestone cliffs and under the cave is scenically very beautiful, this is perhaps one of the most beautiful runs of Serre Chevalier. To get there, simple, slide from the Tête de Balme along the ridge (on the south side) when the ridge starts to go down you will see the opening of the couloir on the left. Because you ski on slopes facing north and south you have to be more than sure of the avalanche situation.
The Cucumelle is a perfect pyramid. Especially seen from Pelvoux, this peak attracts the eye of every off-piste fanatic. Ironically, the most beautiful descents are not even the descents into the wall of the pyramid itself. If you want to ski the Cucumelle, you have to hike a bit. If you are the first, the hike seems to be never ending. But once at the top you have the choice between several beautiful descents. Steep, almost extreme couloirs, to the classic Cucumelle descent which is not too difficult. When you go up the Cucumelle for the first time, it is advisable for everyone to go out with a guide, there are so many possibilities and so many ‘secret spots’ on this mountain. It is actually an off-piste area in itself.
Between Briançon and Chantemerle lies the proud mountain of the Prorel. This massive mountain peak can be seen from all over the valley. The better off-piste skiers will immediately see lines on this slope. You have to pay something for it, because a hike of 15 minutes is needed to get to the top. But then you’ll have access to five fantastic couloirs and about ten variants. Nice steep terrain without being really extreme. But beware, this mountain is known to be very avalanche dangerous, so only hike up if you are sure of the conditions. To get to the foot of these couloirs, climb straight up the ridge from the Prorel lift. A tough climb that should not be underestimated, especially with snowboard boots this piece of hiking can be dangerous.
An old, slow and trouble-prone T-bar. Yet you see a glint in the eyes of many locals when you talk about the Eychauda lift. This small lift opens an amazing off-piste face. Slopes, couloirs, rock bands, everything for the local ‘riders’. For the less experienced off-piste skiers, the black run is never groomed and that means skiing safely through the powder after a night of snowfall. In short, the Eychaude is a small lift that opens up a world of possibilities. The descent to the bowl that gave ‘Serre Chevalier’ its name is especially worthwhile. Keep an eye on where you ski or board because there are large rock bands that you do not want to fall or jump over.
But these are of course not all off-piste lines in the area. There are hidden gems everywhere. Every skier or boarder can indulge themselves here in the off-piste terrain. More than one reason enough to drive over that annoying col du Lautaret.
A warning is in orde:r who experienced the southern French off-piste once will become addicted very quickly.
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This is a great write up and exactly the info I was looking for! Thank you Rogier!!
Heading to Serre for the first time in February and looking forward to finding these spots!!
Any other freeride tips much appreciated!
Serre Che is a for sure sleeper, underrated which means less pow stress and more good skiing for you. On storm days the larch trees lower down are fantastic. As demonstrated, there’s so much to do at Serre. Monetier Les Bains is a great little town with cool walk down restaurants like https://www.restaurant-legoutdutemps.com/ .
For variety, if you have time, Montgenevre/Claviere is a fun spot too.