Extreme skiing in the Alps

At the western and eastern extremities if the European Alps there are two little known ski areas that offer some of the toughest extreme skiing in the entire Alps.

La Grave is the well established extreme ski Mecca of the western Alps. The village is rustic and charming, the lift system pretty basic and tourist beds very limited, yet for those looking to test themselves in tough conditions then it has to be La Grave. With some 500 or so residents it is easy to drive straight through the resort. Life there is however - alongside the market stalls is a small car park with beat-up cars and skiers carrying powder planks the short distance to the lift. The lift accesses the mighty rock and ice face that offers extreme routes of over 2km vertical below the almost 4km high La Meije peak. Bordering the Les 2 Alpes glacier skiing area, La Grave could not be more different. It has just a handful of lifts, a token marked ski area, few facilities and few crowds. Those that are on this face are either very good or very much out of their depth. This is very much guide-only territory, the area took the life of the free-ride, extreme off-piste legend Doug Coombs in 2006. The area certainly doesn't have the label of Chamonix but for those in the know then this is as tough as it gets in the western Alps. For those looking for tough stuff in the eastern Alps, then the Krippenstein ski region in the far east of the Austrian Alps has a similar profile to La Grave. The 'Krip' as it is known locally borders the Dachstein Glacier, it has just a few lifts and one piste of note. It is the launch pad for ski tours into the Dachstein backcountry, is a high altitude training base for the Austrian army and has possibly the best off-piste area in the entire region. The area has a legendary snow record and a steep face of off-piste terrain that includes tree skiing, cliffs and huge powder bowls. Again guides are for all other than highly experienced locals or those with generous life-insurance policies - when I last skied this area, a visitor (sans / ohne ski guide) took the wrong line and met their end heading off one of the many massive cliffs. Very sad but entirely avoidable - the Krippenstein is no La Plagne and guides are non-optional. Between these extremities of the western and eastern Alps there are numerous spots to test the very best skiers and snowboarders, but for me, 2 of the best are located on the fringes of this epic range. Get local guides, the right equipment and hit these areas at the right time and the skiing and snowboarding can be as challenging and rewarding as you will find in the Alps. Just don't underestimate them.

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