The 10 Scariest Ski Slopes in the World

Skiers who live for the snow rush will find heart-pounding thrills in Whistler Blackcomb, Jackson Hole and even Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia.

But beware: These slopes are experts-only, so ski at your own risk.

December 16, 2019
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Do You Dare?

One of winter's upsides is the ability to hit the slopes. For many, that means heading to the local ski resort and enjoying the greens, blues or blacks. For a smaller segment of the population, that means traveling further abroad to experience the steepest verticals, the biggest drops and the most challenging terrain and conditions. Read on to learn about the scariest and most extreme on- and off-piste slopes around the world.

Jackson Hole, WY: Corbet’s Couloir

Jackson Hole legend has it that in 1960 mountaineer Barry Corbet noticed this couloir (a steep, narrow gorge), and said, “Someday someone will ski that.” Today many someones ski Corbet’s Couloir, of which the scariest part (of many) is the initial 20-foot drop. This involves (ideally) catching air followed by quick thinking to avoid smacking into narrow cliff walls. Many tumble down this initial stretch. You also need ideal snow conditions to attempt this without seriously injuring yourself. Unlike some extreme runs that aren’t officially listed on trail maps, you can find Corbet’s Couloir in the Double Black section. Scope it out while catching the tram to the top, then take advantage of Corbet’s Cabin for a pre-run pitstop.

Squaw Valley, CA: The Fingers

There’s no Photoshop trickery here; the Fingers in Lake Tahoe's Squaw Valley really are that vertical. It’s also another run that requires a leap of faith thanks to 50-foot drops on the way down. Expert skiers can study the options while catching the KT-22 lift up, although the hardcore queue up well before the lift opens at 9 a.m. in order to stake out their preferred line, dubbed “The Fingers Race.” Choose your own adventure from numerous steep, rocky chutes and then spend the next 2,000 feet trying not to wipe out.

La Grave, France

Let’s just say the entire La Grave ski resort is terrifying. Don't expect to find official runs, signs, ski patrol, roped-off sections or ski-in, ski-out anything. This is where extreme skiers come to experience backcountry terrain that’s home to glaciers, chutes and plenty of steeps — a gondola drops riders off at 7,000 feet. From there it’s up to you (and ideally a guide) to determine the best way down. Want to hike and then rappel down a cliff to reach a prime section? That can be done. Whichever path you pursue, odds are that you’ll barely see another soul while doing so. Just be on the alert for avalanches.

How to Survive an Avalanche

Portillo, Chile: Super C

The Super C is a bucket-list backcountry couloir, just above Ski Portillo resort, that is just as hard to reach as it is to ski. The adventure starts with a five-person lift that essentially pulls skiers up a slope. (It’s not uncommon to slide back down after letting go.) From there it’s an arduous two-hour bootpack hike (with your skis on your back) to the start, but you get to enjoy close-ups of Aconcagua — the highest mountain in the Western and Southern Hemispheres — along the way. Getting down from 13,000 feet involves dropping into the Super C, then expertly handling sheer rock walls, steeps and tight turns. But you can’t beat the views or the ability to ski back to the hotel.

Banff, Canada: Delirium Dive

Delirium Dive in Banff's Sunshine Village technically isn’t backcountry, but as close as you’ll get on an official run. As such, skiers are required to bring a guide or partner, along with avalanche gear (shovel, probe and avalanche transceiver). In fact, there’s a gate leading to the run that won’t open unless it detects your transceiver signal. Once cleared, choose your entry: The “easier” option involves descending steep stairs to Dive Proper. The scarier option entails finding the steeper Bre-X ridge entrance. Either way, it’s a 2,000-foot descent to the bottom, with plenty of cliffs, chutes and steeps to instill thrills (or chills).

Mount Yotei, Japan

Mount Yotei is visible from the popular Niseko Ski Resort that borders it. At 6,200 feet it contains the longest vertical descent in Hokkaido; just as challenging is the trek to the top, taking between six to eight hours. Bad weather is common, as is the threat of avalanches, requiring avalanche gear. (Needless to say, you’ll also need a guide.) Once at the summit it’s possible to ski the deep powder inside the crater, but the scary part involves a 50-degree slope and an icy path down. The powder path is more inviting, but also more avalanche-prone. And due to the aforementioned bad weather, only 20 percent of those attempting Mount Yotei are able to summit it and ski down.

Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia is a mostly mountainous region, but lacking a strong ski infrastructure. Yet that doesn’t mean the country is lacking when it comes to scary slopes. On its Yurt-Based Ski and Splitboard Tours, 40 Tribes Backcountry takes advanced and expert skiers to backcountry terrain that contains steep couloirs, and requires skinning mountains, a method of walking up on skis, in order to reach them. (The highest elevations hit almost 12,000 feet.) Staying in yurts and using outhouses adds to the adventure, as does the ever-present threat of avalanches.

Selkirk and Monashee Mountains, Canada

If you want to push your backcountry limits, CMH Heli-Skiing can go as scary as you want, whether that involves heart-racing cliff drops or white-knuckled steep descents in British Columbia’s Selkirk and Monashee Mountains. The Monashees are better known for steep slopes and tree runs, while the Selkirks are home to incredibly long runs. With the company’s Steep Shots and Pillow Drops, seasoned guides have access to more than three-million backcountry acres to meet extreme-seeking needs.

Chugach Mountains, AK

Alaska’s Chugach Mountains are home to some of the steepest terrain in the world, making it another great place for backcountry heli-skiing. Alaskan heli-skiing started at Tsaina Lodge in 1989 in the Valdez range, and this is where Valdez Heli-Ski Guides is based. The Valdez area is known for steep starts, long runs, deep powder and rocky spines. Helicopters bring small groups up to 5,000 feet, and Valdez Heli-Ski Guides has permit access to 10,000 square miles of skiable terrain in the Chugach Mountains. So if you want to ski more than 6,000 vertical feet in a go, that can be done.

Whistler Blackcomb, Canada: Couloir Extreme

To give you an idea of the Couloir Extreme’s scariness found in Whistler Blackcomb, Ski Magazine included it in top 10 steepest ski runs. That means zooming down about 2,500 feet of verticalness that hovers around 42 degrees for most of the way. Oh, and it’s often icy. Those who need more to get the adrenaline pumping can skip the main entrance, accessed from the 7th Heaven Express lift, and look for the higher entry point. Perhaps the only thing scarier? Getting down as fast as possible while participating in the Saudan Couloir Race Extreme, last held in April 2019.

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