They’re what you get when you make decisions. And the results could go either way, good or bad, shear bliss or total mayhem.
Any time you step into your bindings the consequence game begins, and as you move up the ability ladder, the consequences get increasingly more dire.
Consider big mountain terrain: Here you’ll find gnarly runs that, with one miscue, could result in a literal slide for life. But if you send it? Sweetness!
And how does one define gnarly? This is a combination of pitch and exposure. Throw in some pillows (a.ka., snow-covered boulders), tree tops, cliff bands and other impediments to smooth downward travel and you amp up the pucker value.
The following is a list of 10 of the gnarliest runs in North America. Results may vary.
From the top of the Edelweiss chair at Alpental in the Washington Cascades, a short hike above a cliff band brings you to one of two ways though, Adrenalin. It’s super steep, and if you hang a right after dropping in you’ll find terrain that includes several good-sized drops (10 to 30 feet) before hitting the run-out.
Having to sign a ski patrol waiver and be in possession of avi gear is one indication you’re in for some scary fun at Big Sky resort in Montana. Big Couloir is “the reference point if you want a challenge; it’s heads-up aggressive,” says one admirer. There’s a super-constricted entrance before hitting the sustained 50-degree pitch over its 1,400 vertical feet.
You could have a merry time in this leg-burner at Alyeska resort outside Anchorage. Christmas Chute, constrained by rock walls on either side that are about 40 feet wide narrowing to 15 at its throat, has a 45- to 50-degree pitch over its 1,500 feet of vertical.
Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire is perhaps the most consistently steep resort in New England, and DJ’s Tramline is the biggest test there. It is steep, rocky, narrow and tree-lined with no exit ramps.
At the of the HighTraverse at Alta resort in Utah, you’ll find Eagle’s Nest, a steep shot of about 42 degrees and 1,000 feet of vertical places between a wall of trees. “If you don’t know where you’re going,” says one admirer, “you’re going for a ride.”
This line at Utah’s Solitude resort is more about the approach: A hands-and-feet climb of several hundred feet up a knife-edge ridge with nothing but air on either side amps up the pucker factor on this one. But at the top you’ve got a plethora of narrow chutes to descend on the right-hand side or the powder fields of Silver Fork Canyon on your left.
Nose to Fingers
Squaw Valley in California is a well-known playground for big-mountain skiers and boarders and there might be more challenging terrain there, but sending the exposed Nose to Fingers route on KT-22 has the added bonus of performing in front of a potentially large audience of those riding the lift right above you and the gathered masses at the Olympic base lodge below.
Just about everyone knows about the famed and intimidating Corbett’s Couloir at Jackson Hole in Wyoming, but just a little bit further on is S&S. This seldom ridden chute, which has its own special ski patrol waiver to sign, has a drop-in that can reach 40 feet to a double fall line. Miss the landing and you’ll most likely get a face-full of rock wall.
Toward the bottom of the North Face area of Colorado’s Crested Butte lies this short and nasty run. It may have only a couple hundred feet of vertical, but it is steep, with tight trees, 5- to 10-foot drops and small landings.
On Blackcomb Mountain at Whistler in British Columbia lies this steep boot-pack hike to a sketchy traverse that leads to the delightful Ruby and Diamond Bowls, with their cliffs, chutes, unseen obstacles and myriad technical mazes.
Editors Note: A big shout out to Chris Cloyd, Steve Benesi, Dan Egan, Dex Mills, Shawn Stinson and Steve Threndyle for helping compile this list.