If you’re looking to plan a trip to the world’s best black diamond/other extreme runs and resorts, we’ve got all the information you need to know.
As one of the most popular and oldest winter sports, skiing has been a favorite wintertime activity for people around the globe since the mid-1800s. According to National Geographic, the beginning of the sport dates back nearly 500 years to China. Extreme skiing is a more recent phenomenon.
Called the “Godfather of Extreme Skiing” by Smithsonian magazine, Yuichiro Miura skied down Mt. Everest in 1970, a feat that some believe started this advanced form of skiing that acts like a sport of its own. Held from 1991 to 2000 and believed to have sparked the idea for the X Games, the World Extreme Skiing Championships fueled the growth of the sport and made it the thriving recreational activity that it is today.
If you’re an extreme skier yourself and are looking to plan your next adventure, here are some safety tips as well as three of the best places in the world to go.
Tips for Extreme Skiers
(From breckenridge.com and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Know the Rules. Be aware of the safety guidelines of the specific mountain that you’re on in order to prevent harm.
- Experts Only. Black diamond and other extreme runs often include cliffs, rocks, very steep slopes and other dangers, so you shouldn’t ski them unless you’re an expert.
- Make a Plan. Know the exact run that you want to ski and do research beforehand so you understand the terrain and its possible difficulties and hazards.
- Look Both Ways. Inspect the slope before you head down, including the area to the right and left of it. Terrain can vary throughout the day as snow shifts or piles up, so even if you’ve been on it before, remember that it might not feel the same the second time around.
- Pay Attention. Be cautious of other skiers around you, as well as possible snowmobiles and snowcats.
- Be Prepared for High Altitude. Some skiers are more used to high altitudes than others, so if you’re visiting a place that’s higher up than you’ve been before, be aware of the signs of altitude sickness. These symptoms include headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, sleep troubles, coughing and difficulty breathing. If symptoms persist, seek medical attention.
- Buddy System = Lifeline. Always ski with a partner, especially on extreme runs. The possibility of injury or worse is too high and if something were to happen to you, they’ll be there to get help.
- Proper Equipment is Key. Extreme skiers, especially those in areas off the beaten path, should ski with a GPS and transponders that will allow rescue workers to find them in the event of an avalanche (the leading cause of death for skiers). Helmets are also a good idea because many extreme runs contain rocks, packed ice and stumps that can cause serious head injuries,
- Dress for the Weather. Other than the standard hat, scarf, gloves, etc., skiers should make sure that the outer layer of their coat is tightly woven or even wind resistant in order to reduce body-heat loss caused by chill wind. Also keep in mind that wool, silk and polypropylene inner layers keep in more body heat than cotton.
- Know the Signs of Hypothermia. When you’re out in the cold for too long, your body uses up all your stored energy and this can result in hypothermia. Symptoms include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness, and if your body temperature is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s an emergency and you need to seek medical attention right away.
So you’ve got your gear, your buddy and you know all the safety precautions. Now, what slopes should you hit on your big extreme ski getaway?
Grand Couloir, Courchevel (Saint-Bon Tarentaise, France)
Why You Should Try It: Arguably the Alps’ most well-known on-piste couloir, Grand Couloir is so extreme that some skiers can’t even make it to the run itself. According to Travel + Leisure, daredevils take the Saulire Télépherique cable car to the top of the couloir, then must face a 200-meter-long ridge that’s dangerously narrow and often coated in a sheet of ice once they’re off the lift. Both sides of the ridge offer rocky edges and steep drop-offs, and once you’re past that, you must master the steeply angled chute and the choppy bump field that follows. There are two other couloirs in Courchevel, but this is the only one that’s marked on the piste map.
Why You Should Stick Around: Courchevel is part of the Les Trois Vallées (“The Three Valleys”), which is the largest connected ski area on the planet. The area includes four satellite villages, but is most known for what used to be called Courchevel 1850 for its altitude in meters. The resort village has since been re-named to simply Courchevel, and with famous visitors such as Prince William and Kate Middleton, it’s no surprise that this group of luxurious chalets was given a more identifiable name. The village consists of 11 five-star hotels, two of the most popular being Alpes Hôtel du Pralong with its Turkish baths and direct access to the slopes and Hôtel La Sivolière situated atop the slopes themselves.
Delirium Dive, Sunshine Village (Banff, Canada)
Why You Should Try it:Delirium Dive is located on Goat’s Eye Mountain in the Canadian Rockies and is arguably the most difficult run in the area (it’s often a toss-up between “the Dive” and Wild West, a similar off-piste run). According to Lindsay Gallagher, Sunshine Village media & marketing assistant, skiing here has the potential of being dangerous enough that everyone is required to carry an avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe and travel with a partner. The run is part of the 25% of the mountain that’s considered expert terrain, and to keep it that way there is nowhere to rent the required safety equipment nearby, limiting it to experts who bring their own. Named one of the top off-piste destinations in the world, skiers braving Delirium Dive can’t see the bottom when they first start. At around 50 degrees, Travel + Leisure calls its pitch “ludicrous,” so before you try it, consider taking a private lesson from Sunshine Village’s ski school specific to the run.
“This ski run gives expert skiers and riders an opportunity to push themselves and try something new,” Gallagher said. “The bragging rights don’t hurt either.”
Why You Should Stick Around: Sunshine Village sits in the middle of Banff National Park, along the continental divide in an area that, according to Gallagher, gets a great deal of “Champagne powder” every winter that covers its three skiable mountains. Here, it’s possible to ski in two provinces at once-Alberta and British Columbia. With over 3,300 acres of skiable terrain, 107 named runs, 12 lifts, a high-speed gondola and a 12-acre terrain park with over 50 features, it makes sense why they average 500,000 skier visits per year. Gallagher says the village is unique because it relies solely on all-natural snow using a technique called snow farming to move snow around the mountain. Skiers looking for lodging that will offer them direct access to the slopes stay at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, Banff’s only ski-in, ski-out lodge. This luxurious eco-boutique hotel offers first-class dining, the area’s biggest hot tub and a West Wing with rooms boasting jet tubs and heated floors.
“Sunshine Village is accessible only by gondola—guests park at the base of the resort and take a scenic 20-minute trip up the gondola to the village,” Gallagher said. “We are the only gondola-access resort in the Canadian Rockies.”
To Learn More, Visit: http://www.skibanff.com/
The Palisades, Squaw Valley (Olympic Valley, California)
Why You Should Try It: “The Palisades isn’t an area of the mountain where the lift drops you off,” Squaw Valley spokesperson Tegan Firth Kopilenko said. “It takes a little more work to get there.”
According to Kopilenko, difficult access, narrow chutes and steep drop-offs make the Palisades Squaw Valley’s most extreme skiing area. Actually a series of four different runs, the Palisades is a black diamond area of the mountain that includes the National, Extra, Main and Chimney runs. Part of what some call “Squallywood,” this area is populated by skiers and snowboarders alike who come here to show off and be seen. Kopilenko agrees with the CNN article that says watching the expert skiers tackle the Palisades is almost as exciting as conquering them yourself. If you want to kick back and get a front row seat for the action, Kopilenko recommends watching from the valley’s Gold Coast mid-mountain area with its multiple restaurants and the world’s first ski-in, ski-out Starbucks.
Why You Should Stick Around: “What’s great about Squaw Valley is that there is a variety of terrain,” Kopilenko said. “There’s something for everyone.”
According to Kopilenko, while Squaw Valley offers the exhilarating experience of the Palisades, it also features North America’s best top-of-the-mountain beginner area, and a good chunk of the rest of the mountain is devoted to intermediate level runs. Ranked #6 pipe and #10 resort by Transworld SNOWboarding magazine in 2013, the area attracts winter sports enthusiasts of all kinds with its five terrain parks, Olympic Ice Pavilion and 400 acres of cross-country ski trails. Kopilenko says it’s the perfect ski getaway destination for groups consisting of varied ability levels, and those who would rather take advantage of the area’s multiple off-slope attractions. These include the Olympic Museum, High Camp Pool, Sky Jump bungee-trampoline, dog sledding tours and aerial tram rides. Kopilenko says staying at The Village at Squaw Valley is desirable for its multitude of hot tubs, ski lockers and vast array of dining options.
To Learn More, Visit: http://squaw.com/
Whether you’re looking for runs with dangerously steep pitches, rocky drop-offs or that are just plain terrifying, these three won’t disappoint. And with a multitude of comfortable lodging options, and important safety tips under your belt, you’re ready to brave some of the world’s most extreme slopes.
By Niki Kottmann