Ski season is upon us, and mountain resorts across the country are preparing for an influx of daredevils and thrill-seekers.
The most difficult runs in the U.S. serve up 50-degree pitches, drop-offs upwards of 30 feet, and frozen waterfalls buried under powder. Navigating them requires mental stamina and fast footwork.
Our friends at Liftopia helped us find the trails that have even the most expert skiers shaking in their boots.
The Ride: Corbet's Couloir starts with a massive drop off a snow-covered cleft in the rock face, so you're free-falling two to nine meters, depending on the snow. If you stick the landing on the 50-degree slope, you must immediately throw all your weight forward and make a right-hand swerve to avoid smashing into a Precambrian rock.
The Couloir's upside down funnel shape opens into a super powdery 200-meter run.
Pro Tip: Some skiers panic down the chute and try to stop after landing, which is unwise at 40mph. Jackson Hole's ski coaches say, 'Don't stop, stand up and ski!'
The Ride: Squaw Valley's unofficial morning ritual is the Fingers Race, where skiers show up at the KT 22 lift at an ungodly hour and elbow their way in line to be the first to bomb the 2,000-foot vertical.
They charge from the Nose down the Fingers in mass chaos, one person after the next at 40mph. The two iconic lines on the Fingers -- Main Air and Middle Knuckle -- offer 40-foot flights and blind 60-degree pitches, respectively. The whole base of the mountain looks at the Fingers, so expect an audience.
Pro Tip: Avoid the center of the run, where transitions get swept away and snow sluffs expose hidden rocks.
The Ride: This steep, sheltered run is a labyrinth of dense glades and open headwalls. It starts with a plunge off an eight-foot cliff, then morphs into a windy, super-steep trough lined with six-foot frozen waterfalls, big soft moguls, and side gullies with monstrous pockets of powder.
There's a 38-degree pitch in there that will keep you on your toes.
Pro Tip: It's easy to lose people in the trees, so try to stay cognisant of your group's whereabouts at all times. Ski blogger Troy Hawks says, 'This is a classic line in every sense. If you ski in the West and think the trees there are tight, welcome to Paradise. Here there are two options. Turn now, or bust.'
The Ride: Mammoth Mountain is known for its hurricane-force winds, which blow buttery snow over the top ridgeline so almost every run lays fresh tracks. On the downside, the Paranoid Flats -- a series of four, double black diamond runs -- are susceptible to avalanches and visibility issues.
If you're willing to take on the whiplash, try P4. It offers amazing views of the Minarets as you cruise down the steeps.
Pro Tip: Beware of patches where the wind strips away snow. The locals can advise where to avoid.
The Ride: A top item on expert skiers' bucket lists is Pipeline, which is only open a few days out of the year. Its 11,000-foot summit is gnarly to access by hike -- most seasons you have to rappel from a rope down to the entrance while wearing ski boots and carrying skis. Plus, you're required to sign a waiver before entry.
The pass is narrow, about 15 to 20 feet wide, and the ride is pockmarked by loose rocks at the top. It's a straight line until the apron opens up.
Pro Tip: Be prepared for backcountry and avalanche conditions. Always carry (and know how to use) the right safety gear: a beacon, shovel, and probe.
Once you commit, there's no going back on the white-knuckle ride along its rugged curves. Thankfully, Rambo is just 300 meters long.
Pro Tip: Adrenaline junkies craving steep drops should steer toward the slope's northern face and the generous bowl that butts up against it.
The Ride: Natural waterfalls, cliff drops, glades, and a series of steep, narrow chutes await you at the Slides, located on the Olympic Mountain of the 1980 Winter Games.
Formed by avalanches and landslides hundreds of years ago, this expert-only terrain offers the highest vertical drop in the Northeast -- three times as high as the top of the Empire State Building. Unlike most other double black diamonds on the East Coast, the Slides do not have any man-made snow or grooming.
Pro Tip: Take your time. There are frozen waterfalls beneath the snow about halfway down the trail, and safe navigation around them is critical.
The Ride: The S1 run on Aspen Mountain, which is known for being almost entirely vertical, is one of the 'dumps' -- a series of runs down former mine debris that create narrow, plummeting descents through the trees.
Generally filled with man-eating moguls and bordered closely by groves of Aspen trees, S1 drops 540 feet over its 900-foot length with pitches as steep as 42 degrees.
Pro Tip: The intimidating top section requires a bit of air time before entering.
The Ride: Less than a decade ago, the near-vertical terrain at the base of Heather Canyon was considered too dangerous to ride. Just a few years ago, this remote section of glades became the S&R Cliffs, where rock outcroppings create needle-thin chutes and insane cliff drops upwards of 30 feet.
The run ends with a long, flat ski on the trail back to the chair, which can be especially challenging for boarders.
Pro Tip: The wet, 'cascade concrete' powder holds well on the ground, but is difficult to ski until it's packed by other skiers' runs.
The Ride: Sugarloaf has between 80 to 100 acres of treeless snowfields at the summit, where experts can experience open-bowl skiing. White Nitro is New England's steepest lift-serviced trail. At a 43-degree pitch, it feels like the mountain is falling out from underneath you.
Pro Tip: The run gets more challenging as the day progresses because the sun hides behind the mountain, freezing the snow until it's diamond-hard. Hit the slopes early.
The Ride: Gunbarrel sits at a 31-degree pitch and consists of 1,600 vertical feet of straight fall-line moguls down The Face, the moutainside above the base lodge.
The run is known for the annual Gunbarrel 25 where skiers aged seven to 70 compete to be the first to ski down Gunbarrel 25 times. The 40,000 foot challenge must be completed in six hours.
Pro Tip: Gunbarrel is arguably the world's best known bumps run, according to 'Powder: The Greatest Ski Runs on the Planet' author Patrick Thorne. 'Gunbarrel is so addictive to its fans it has spawned its own 'user group' dubbed the Face Rats who do little but ski the run over and over, sometimes clocking up as many as 50 descents -- more than 100,000 vertical feet of bumps - in a day.'
The Ride: the Goat ski run at Stowe earned its reputation with its 40-degree pitches and double fall line down and exceptionally long 2,000 vertical feet.
The challenging trail is filled with ledges, boulders, frozen water, and moguls, so make sure to stay alert.
Pro tip: Seasoned skiers warn that Goat is one of the steepest in the east. '(Goat) in places is no more than four or five bumps wide. There are no pretenders happily smiling at the bottom of Goat, only happy survivors.'
The Ride: Named after the famed Canadian-born skier Shane McConkey, this run has pitches up to 60-degrees steep. Ski blogger Patrick Thorne says, 'A 15 minute hike follows (the chairlift ride), turn left from the top of the chair and remember to give the McConkey memorial sculpture a pat for luck and due respect, as you pass.'
Pro Tip: 'There are different lines down the Center Route, one of the steepest lift-served routes in the world, and generally considered the most challenging. You're visible from the chairlift so be prepared for applause, or cat calls, depending on your performance,' according to Thorne.
The Ride: To put it simply, DJ's Tramline was never meant to be skied. It was built in 1938 for a tramline to bring people up the mountain. After the tram's closing in 1980 Cannon Mountain made the snowy stretch a ski run.
Sitting at a 34-degree pitch, the run is rarely open because without the perfect snow conditions the run is very dangerous.
Pro Tip: 'If you're lucky (or crazy) drop in when you can, just make sure you don't mind skiing a trail that dictates your every move -- and provides few options out. Once you're in, you're committed,' says ski blogger Gina Begin.
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