One prime reward for improving your skiing or snowboarding is the ability to enjoy a wider variety of terrain. Along those lines, tough ski runs do not all fit into one category. Part 1 explored steep chutes, mandatory air and even runs with the best bragging-rights reputations. Once again, the trails in part 2 below are all different, but they all are tough in their own ways.

Most Challenging Bump Runs

At Telluride Resort in Colorado, the Plunge may have a cameo in a ’90s Visa television commercial, but its neighbor off Chair 9, Kant-Mak-M is even tougher with more than 2,000 vertical feet of double-black bumps. Before moving to Taos, N.M., earlier this year, local skier John “Two Scoops” Cooper would annually make 1,000 laps on Kant-Mak-M. He even turned his personal challenge into a charity fundraiser. Incidentally, the similar moguled challenge of Al’s Run at Taos Ski Valley could be Cooper’s next quest.

Telluride Ski Resort PHOTO CREDIT: Author

Outer Limits at Killington Resort in Vermont stretches for more than 1,000 vertical feet under the Bear Mountain Quad chairlift. The double-black trail hosts the annual Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge competition in the spring.

Most Challenging Glades

As mentioned in Part 1, Alta Ski Area in Utah does not believe in rating trails above a single black diamond that means “most difficult.” Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont definitely does not agree with that logic, because its trail map includes the East’s only triple-black diamond, The Black Hole. While some dismiss the triple-black rating as a marketing gimmick, the glades that make up The Black Hole are indeed steep and tight by any measure.

Smugglers Notch’s Black Hole Sign

New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley is known for being one of the country’s most challenging ski resorts overall. Not surprisingly, glades such as Lorelei Trees and West Blitz Trees are perfect playgrounds for advanced skiers and riders.

The tree skiing at Steamboat is one of the Colorado resort’s best assets. While Shadows and Closets are the best-known glades, the tougher lines in the trees are found in Christmas Tree Bowl and North St. Pats.

Most Challenging Inbounds Terrain Requiring Avy Gear

While Alaska’s Alyeska Resort mentioned in Part 1 calls for avalanche beacons on a few runs, Banff Sunshine Village in Canada goes all the way on Delirium Dive and The Wild West by requiring a full avy safety pack including beacon, shovel and probe (plus a buddy).

Banff Sunshine – Wild West PHOTO CREDIT: Banff

Most Challenging Traverse

How difficult can a trail that’s basically horizontal really be? You might be surprised. Particularly when snow conditions are less than ideal, the High Traverse at Alta Ski Area in Utah can in some ways be technically trickier than the famous runs such as Alf’s High Rustler that are accessed by it. Near the end of it, there are a few turns around obstacles of various sorts into big whoop-de-doos that can be a little scary. While such traverses leading to solely advanced terrain conventionally are marked as black diamonds, “The High T” actually deserves a black diamond designation on its own.

Alta Ski Resort

Newest challenge

Last ski season, Arapahoe Basin in Colorado expanded into The Steep Gullies and part of The Beavers as hike-back terrain. For this season, a chairlift has been added in The Beavers area that consists of 339 skiable acres when fully open. As the “Steep” name suggests, the 129 acres of The Steep Gullies are much more extreme overall and still require a hike of 20-30 minutes back to the Pallavicini Lift.

Arapahoe Basin The Gullies. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Camara

Most Unexpected Challenge

Homewood Mountain Resort may not be the most famous ski area in the Lake Tahoe area, but its views are surprisingly recognizable. Given its scenic location going right down to the lake, generic Tahoe skiing photos are often taken at the ski area on the California side of the lake. The layout is generally mellow for enjoying the amazing views. The one exception is Quail Face. Runs such as Main Cirque, ’55’ Chutes and Wally’s Folly offer steep shots to go with the scenery.


Jackson locals refer to Snow King as “the Town Hill.” With such an innocent nickname, the ski area might seem like just a warm-up spot for visitors to Wyoming before they head over to the big stuff at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. While Jackson Hole has a deserved worldwide rep for challenging skiing, the top half of the much lesser-known Snow King is pretty darn steep in its own right. The double-black Upper Exhibition comes down from the summit in full view of the town below.

Snow King

Sunlight Mountain Resort near Glenwood Springs, Colo., seems at first glance to be a docile, family-friendly resort. However, tucked away on Sunlight’s East Ridge, a slew of double-black testers are worth discovering. Boasting a 52-degree pitch, the Heathen run in particular was even an answer— or technically a question— on Jeopardy. Sunlight hosts an annual Heathen Challenge ski mountaineering race that includes the namesake pitch as long as there is adequate snow on the run. The 2019 edition is scheduled for January 5-6.

Most Challenging Entire Ski Area

Mount Bohemia in Michigan could also fit in the above “unexpected” category. The Midwest is simply not the first place you would expect to find a ski area dedicated to advanced skiers and riders. Despite an unimposing vertical drop of 900 feet, Mount Bohemia literally puts “no beginners allowed” on its trail map filled with black and double-black diamond trails. Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the ski area offers a unique experience in a remote locale for anyone with sufficient skills.

What would happen if you stuck just one chairlift in the amazingly challenging backcountry terrain of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains? Silverton Mountain is the result of ski-area founder Aaron Brill doing just that. Most of the season is limited to guided skiing and snowboarding in groups generally around eight people.

Most Challenging Ski Area Section

Part 1 started in Colorado at Crested Butte Mountain Resort with Rambo, North America’s steepest cut run. Appropriately enough, the resort’s North Face bookends this look at tough runs. The North Face has hosted numerous extreme skiing events going back to the American genesis of the competitions in 1992. Given the significant snow coverage needed for the steep, rugged terrain, this part of the ski area tends to open in the latter half of the ski season.

Crested Butte PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kozlowski


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14 responses to “The Toughest Ski Runs in North America – Part Two”

  1. Stephen Kangas says:

    The toughest lift-assisted ski hill in WA state is Alpental, in the central Cascades. Alpentalics have a saying “Ski Alpental, and you’ll ski the world”…if you master everything both inbounds and out the backcountry gates there, you can go anywhere else in the world and survive it. With a 60deg+ inbound run (“Adrenaline”) and an entire upper mountain inbounds with a warning “experts only, no easy way down”, and a death every couple years in the 22 yrs I’ve been going, this is one hard ski hill whether we’re talking deep marine powder, the very tight tree glades in the steeps, open bowls prone to avalanche, steep and straight icey runs (“Gun Barrel” out of bounds and “Schluct” -German for “slick”- in bounds), this is one helluva fun place to ski for those looking for a never-ending challenge to improve your abilities. Alpental is also known for their practice of “under-rating” difficulty, as their single diamond is equivalent to double at most other ski hills, which many interpret as an attempt at avoiding the practice of rating triple diamond by some other resorts. Just ask Glenn Plake and the several younger extremists that have come to Alpental to do some filming. 1984 Olympic Gold medalist Deb Armstrong grew up at Alpental in their racing school, and one of her fav childhood runs is named after her.

  2. Joanne Methot says:

    Do you have rebate for Canada. Mont ste-anne (Québec ) Canada and le massif (Québec )Canada

  3. Eric Wagnon says:

    Just saw your comment. Yep, I’ve heard Alpental is quite challenging. It’s on my to-ski list. I was somewhat close in North Idaho last week, but definitely need to check it out in the future.

  4. Mark says:

    THE CHUTES (all of them!) At mount rose Nevada how many side by side? How steep? How long? IF YOU DON^t know don”t go! RENO TAHOE Rules! HOW MUCH SNOW!

  5. Powderforever says:

    Some other hard traverses include Sunrise Traverse and Bad Attitude Traverse at Whistler Blackcomb.

  6. David says:

    Yes I’ve been to Alpental and I tell ya. They call em the Alps of America due to it’s steepness. Such an awesome addrenalin charged mountain. I’ll go back every year for certain shot 6 is a wild run. Especially first tracks!!!

  7. megamalcs says:

    Le Massif in Quebec has a triple black diamond, so there’s at least one other in the east.

  8. tom says:

    outer limits Killington

  9. Andrew Blake says:

    Corbets coulior and the entire area of Jackson hole is by far the best and most difficult in bounds and back country

  10. Eric Reinhold says:

    Bloody mountain South of Mammoth has a chute 3000 verticals feet

  11. Eric Reinhold says:

    And the Palicades?

  12. Joel Degutis says:

    You should try skiing beartooth basin summer ski area great vertical summer skiing with cornice and rock drops.

  13. John R says:

    No pics for Outer Limits at Killington? If you like 6 foot moguls this is your run! Ski Patrol would have their hands full if you get hurt on this run also.

  14. Das says:

    Loved OL. Been a long time. Skied it once with fresh corduroy and loved the GS turns all the way down.

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