Better the devil you know.
From the double diamond blacks of North America to those nasty french couloirs, here’s our list of the scariest ski runs in the world. We also get the views of the team here at packed on their most terrifying ordeals. Novice skiers need not read on.
Summit altitude: 2,000m
Max gradient: 78°
Crassly named after the Japanese samurai’s ritual suicide (😳), Mayrhofen’s Harakiri is the steepest groomed piste in Austria. It touches a staggering 78 degrees at one point. To be avoided on icy days.
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Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA
Summit altitude: 3,185m
Max gradient: almost vertical
A North American legend and one that sits on the bucket list of most lunatic skiers. You’d think Corbet was the Candide Thovex of his time, the first man to send-it off the great couloir. In actual fact, way back in 1960, he was up the mountain that became known as Jackson Hole and merely pointed out that “someday someone will ski that”. Legend.
Summit altitude: 3,185m
Max gradient: 35°
The first of the french nasties, this is an un-groomed piste off the top of Saulire ski lift. Flanked by a couple of even nastier ones, the Grand Couloir qualifies as an official piste largely because it’s so accessible and therefore warrants monitoring (for casualties, people).
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Summit altitude: 1,665m
Max gradient: 27°
This beastly number on Mount Hahnenkamm features on the downhill circuit and the professional nutters say it’s one of the toughest. It was first raced down in 1937 and won by Thaddäus Schwabl who must feel particularly aggrieved at Mr Corbet.
Summit altitude: 2,151m
Max gradient: 40°
More commonly known as the Swiss Wall, La Chavanatte is a mogully monster that only reveals its true nature when you’re about 100m down and very much committed. “Lean forward, bend ze knees” come the panicked shouts of the ski instructor who over-estimated your mettle. Gotta love skiing in France!
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Banff Sunshine, Canada
Summit altitude: 2,634m
Max gradient: 27°
You need to mean it if you want to ski it. Seriously - the lift operators won’t let you up unless you’re packing your own avalanche receivers and all that jazz. That’s me out. If you really do mean to ski it though, you’ve got a tricky drop at the top into a wide-open bowl primed for powder days.
Summit altitude: 2,908m
Max gradient: 71°
OK, 71° is taking some licence. Generally, it’s nowhere near that but this most famous of steeps is particularly dangerous given how busy it gets. Another on the downhill circuit, it can get pretty icy and if you fall, you’re tumbling all the way in full view of the Val D-set.
Les Deux Alpes, France
Summit altitude: 3,200m
Max gradient: 45°
Aptly named La Grave sits behind Les Deux Alpes in France and enjoys something of a cult status among french steeps. Utterly un-groomed and terrifying, this broad bowl allows you to choose your route. So choose carefully.
What does the team-packed think?
Team member: Jasper
Scariest run: Noire du Lachat, Le Grand Bornand
I’ve done most of my skiing in Le Grand Bornand, a small French resort with a big heart! More of a village than a ski resort, when the snow is good she’s a beauty. There are only 3 black runs to go at but they all make the knees go weak and chief among these is Noire du Lachat.
Known locally as the steepest black in Europe (could just be what I grew up telling people), there’s a nasty drop in at the top, it’s covered in moguls and it seems to go on forever.
Team member: Tom
Level: Reckless, intermediate
Scariest run: La Combe du Vallon, Red run (Méribel-Mottaret)
On my third day learning to ski, at the top of La Combe du Vallon red run between Val Thorens and Meribel, my binding came completely apart from one of my rental skis - it was a long and pretty frightening 3km red run down to the nearest hire shop in Mottaret!
Team member: Ed
Level: All the gear, some idea
Scariest run: Pierre Lory
I was off-piste with a group I'd only just met (including Tom) so didn’t really know how good the group was or what was planned.
At the top we clambered over a bright orange fence warning about avalanches (slightly concerning) and I heard the shout "Everyone switch on their avalanche beacons" (much more concerning). I was very underprepared - none of the avalanche gear one should have!
The run itself was incredible - I made sure I had the right kit when I went back!
Team member: Charlie
Level: best (only) boarder in the office
Scariest run: Kandahar, St Anton
The Kandahar run is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In the morning, it seems like a pretty standard black run... but when Happy Valley is closed (like it was my entire 17/18 season) it’s the only run connecting the Galzig area with the Nasserein and unsuspecting skiers who didn’t know this, often end up at the top of the run with no escape but down. By early afternoon, Kandahar is a minefield of knee-high moguls, double-ejects and yard-sales. There were helicopter rescues pretty much once a week that winter, but I’d still go back in a heartbeat.
Team member: Jenny
Persuasion: Skier (kind of)
Level: Purely here for the après
Scariest run: Any...
I'll raise my gloved hands: I haven't been skiing since school (don't worry, I'm not going to be the one booking your trip). But I certainly still felt like I was winking at death sometimes. I think my scariest moment was when I took a wrong turn onto a far too difficult slope, regretted everything and tried to walk back up it. It was a bit like watching someone try to walk up a descending escalator.