9 of the Most Dangerous Ski Runs in the World

by Simon Knott | Posted On: April 8th, 2022
Blackcomb mountain

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Skiers from around the world have always been attracted to the more dangerous and challenging ski runs. For some, it’s a rite of passage and for others, it’s another run to tick off. But what makes a dangerous ski run? And where are the most dangerous?

Trying to find the most dangerous ski runs in the world is a difficult task because each skier will categorize the same run according to their own ability. However, there is a collection of runs that have a selection of common features, which require a particular skill. These features include gradient, awkward starts from cornices or cliffs, narrow sections, obstacles, and dense forest.

Why Do Skiers Like Dangerous Ski Runs?

Skiing is a complicated sport that requires a high level of knowledge, the ability to put that knowledge into practical skills, physical strength, agility, and considerable courage.

It’s a natural human characteristic to want to learn and conquer different activities. The more demanding they are to achieve the greater the reward. Some personalities are particularly drawn to this risk/reward mentality and consequently, they are always seeking out greater challenges.

Ski resort designers understand this appeal and they are always on the lookout for a new twist on a dangerous ski run, which can add considerable acclaim to the resort.

skiing

What Makes A Dangerous Ski Run?

The danger of a ski run is often partly defined by its steepness. The Harakiri run in Austria is the steepest groomed run in the world, with an incline of 78%. Thankfully most black runs start from a casual incline of 40% and upwards.

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Usually, one of the biggest challenges of black runs lies in restricting your speed, so you can keep control of your skis. Most skiers adopt a technique of making short clean turns, which enables good control of speed and a less stressful descent. When starting the turn the skis are carried across the fall line as quickly as possible to limit acceleration.

As a further challenge, these more difficult runs will also be icy and rutted in places, which requires exceptional edge control to negotiate.

The shape of the run is usually thrown into the mix to create a further contest with narrow chutes (couloirs) and outcrops of rock. Other natural hazards include gusty high winds and avalanches.

What are the main Hazards of Skiing on dangerous Runs?

  • Losing control of speed and unable to regain control
  • Falling and causing fractures, dislocations, and twisted joints
  • Colliding with rocks, trees, and other hazards
  • Being in collision with another skier
  • Avalanches
  • A sudden change of weather

Where Are The Most Dangerous Ski Runs?

1. Corbet’s Couloir, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Corbet’s Couloir is an expert run at Jackson Hole Resort in Teton Village, Wyoming. It was a mountain guide, Barry Corbet, who put his name to the couloir. He was the first one to notice the narrow fold of snow, which looks like an upside-down funnel.

The run is steep and only 3 m wide at the top and the different snowfall each season alters the level of difficulty each year. The width at the top is academic because to enter the couloir you’re going to have to drop pretty much vertically off the top cornice for about 4 m. Once you have taken the plunge the couloir widens out to very steep powder.

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2. Delirium Dive, Sunshine Village, Banff, Canada

If you are not just content with one steep run, then try out Delirium Dive, which is known as ‘The Dive’ to locals. First opened in 1999 it is a massive free park full of steep terrain for experts only.

Visitors are expected to take avalanche kits and hazards such as rocks, cliffs, and other dangers are not marked. Spread over more than 600 acres there is a good variety of very challenging runs.

3. Great Scott, Snowbird, Utah

High up on Snowbird’s Cirque, the Great Scott run offers plenty of steep and intimidating terrain. To approach the start, you need to cross the cornice or sidestep over the rocky outcrop. It may not be the longest or steepest run, but this is more than made up for with plenty of rocks to be negotiated.

This face of the mountain tends to catch the sun, which can really help the descent. Windblown snow from the top of the mountain tends to funnel into Great Scott, softening any falls.

4. Black Hole, Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont

Smugglers’ Notch or The Smuggs as locals have it, resides in the deeply forested terrain of Vermont in New England. This north-eastern outpost is home to the Black Hole, one of the five triple black diamond runs in northeast America.

Rated as an expert only run the top section is a baptism of fire, descending 600 ft (180 m) at a gradient of65-70%, before easing off into moguls, snow-covered woodland, and glades.

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5. Christmas Chute, Girdwood, Alaska

Traveling east from Anchorage you will come to the rural town of Girdwood and the mountain resort of Alyeska, which is home to a collection of chutes (couloirs) including the Christmas Chute.

To let you know you have arrived, there is a marked entrance gate you must pass through before you start down the 1500 ft (457 m) chute. It starts at 40 ft wide (12 m) and narrows down to 15 ft (4.5 m) with rocky outcrops on either side. The run continues down into the forest on the north face of the mountain.

Europe

6. Harakiri, Austria

Mayrhofen is a ski town in the Austrian state of Tirol and piste number 34 has the dubious name of Harakiri, cheerfully named after the ritual Japanese suicide by the sword. That says it all! With a legendary gradient of 78% and plenty of ice, it is accepted worldwide as the most difficult and dangerous run.

The difficulty of the run is compounded by several facts. As it is north facing it’s in the shade a lot of the time, while artificial snow and the tracks of other skiers leave the surface particularly icy.

7. Grand Couloir, Courchevel, France

The Three Valleys is one of the largest skiing regions in France. Courchevel one of the most upmarket resorts has become a popular haunt of Russian oligarchs. If they tire of money, they are well placed to try out the Grand Couloir, one of the most difficult runs in the region.

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It starts at 10,960 ft (3,340 m) and you must inch your way along a steep, narrow ridge before taking the plunge into the chute (couloir). Although only 692 m long you will descend 350 m and must negotiate a short section at a gradient of 85%. From the previous history, the grand couloir has been the subject of its own accident prevention project.

8. Le Tunnel, Alpe d’Huez, France

Starting out at over 10,950 ft (3,330 m) Le Tunnel is the real deal, a tunnel bored out of the mountain top 200 m in length. You emerge to some expansive views across the mountains and down into the resort of Alpe d’Huez. That’s the good news!

From then on, you’ll be descending one of the steepest mogul fields. The angle of the mountain means the slope only gets sun in the late afternoon, which means there is plenty of time for the moguls to grow during the day. The conditions can change rapidly, so always check local news before heading to Le Tunnel.

9. The Streif – Kitzbühel, Austria

The Streif or Stripe has found its way into the hearts of Kitzbühel’s locals since its opening in 1937. It is used as a World Cup downhill ski run on the Hahnenkamm mountain. It is 10,866 ft (3,312 m) long with some very difficult, technical features and a gradient to make your eyes water at 85%, over a short section.

Different sections have been named, such as Mausefalle (mousetrap), Steilhang (steep-slope), and Hausbergkante (mountain edge). These are all classed as exceptionally difficult ski runs, which are reserved for experts only.

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Don’t be put off! Skiing isn’t that dangerous if you take precautions. In fact, you are much more likely to get injured during the drive to the resort than you are on the runs.

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