A lot of folks dread the autumn gloom, but not the snow bunny crowd – every onset of gray clouds and plump raindrops brings them closer to open slopes and waist-high powder. In anticipation of the forthcoming ski and snowboard season, we’re taking a look at some of the toughest, most maddening downhill runs in North America.
Alta Zero – Jackson Hole, Wyo.
In 2007, Forbes Traveler surveyed a slew of professional athletes, magazine editors and ski guides to determine the toughest run in North America. Alta Zero won by a landslide. This run – one of the most dangerous in the U.S. – is strictly designated for professionals only. In addition to the thrilling chutes, hardened veterans will enjoy the Cody Bowl and Granite Canyon. Hands down the hardest run at the ‘Best Ski Resort in the United States’.
Couloir Extreme – Whistler-Blackcomb Resort, B.C.
This monster is frequently cited among the most fearsome runs anywhere, let alone North America. But as Extremely Canadian founder Pete Smart notes, the ascent is worth the descent – thanks to 300-degree views of the beautiful Canadian Cascades from the top of the run. “It’s the closest most people will get to standing on a spire,” he writes. Every year, the resort sponsors the Couloir Extreme Race – an event that Descender characterized as “2,500 vertical feet of thigh-burning hell.”
Delirium Dive – Banff, Alb.
The folks at Sunshine Village, Banff National Park’s ski and snowboard resort, advertise Delirium Dive as one of Canada’s “most extreme off-piste ski experiences”. Based on the list of requirements, we’re going to take their word on this; you’ll need to bring a shovel, avalanche transceiver and at least one buddy – as well as sign a waiver – in order to access the lift. There are several ways to negotiate the band of rocks that crowns the run, though extremists are invited to use the series of substantial drops located just below the summit. Even on the clearest days, this run’s status is touch-and-go – and the local ski patrol has been known to close it on very short notice.
McConkey’s – Squaw Valley, Calif.
Formerly christened ‘Eagles’ Nest’, this run was renamed in 2009 after the tragic death of Shane McConkey, an award-winning Canadian skier who used Squaw Valley as his home base (a high-speed chairlift at Utah’s Park City Mountain Resort was also named in his honor). There is no better tribute, since the run is one of Squaw Valley’s most prominent features. Located at the top of the legendary KT-22 lift, the 120-foot vertical run culminates in a thrilling 68.5-degree pitch.
Rambo – Crested Butte, Colo.
At 55 degrees, Rambo is the steepest man-made run in North America. Rambo has earned other distinctions over the years, including a spot on Travel + Leisure’s ‘World’s Scariest Ski Runs’ list – and considering the run only measures 300 meters in length, it must be truly frightening. But if you crave the rush of adrenalin, steer toward the slope’s northern face and the generous bowl that abuts it – the area is peppered with steep drops (as if you needed them).
A-Z Chutes – Big Sky, Montana
Although the A-Z chutes don’t require avie gear, there’s a little post right past the last chute called Castle Rock. This is where Big Sky Patrol controls avalanches. The chutes require a bit of a traverse and some of the chutes are easier than others, but even still, this is one diabolical series of runs. Reason: if you haven’t killed yourself on the A Chute, you’re likely get sucked in Parachute, Biff’s Chute, and eventually, Big and Little Couloir.
By Brad Nehring