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Lots of top-10 lists for the most difficult ski runs have been tried. Many of the same runs do tend to make the lists, but like beauty, challenge is often in the eye of the beholder. Pitch, obstacles and snow conditions all combine to create the technical demands of a slope. Especially for skiers and riders above a certain skill level, conditions can matter more than a seemingly more obvious factor such as steepness. Let’s face it: a steep chute with 18 inches of lovely fresh powder may not be as scary as dodging the masses on an icy catwalk at the end of the day.

Steepest Run

Even though it’s just one factor, steepness is still the first thing that comes to mind related to a challenging ski run. At a pitch of 55 degrees for about 300 yards, Rambo at Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado is generally cited as the steepest cut ski run in North America. Steeper inbounds pitches do exist in plenty of other natural nooks and crannies, but Rambo is considered the steepest slope where the ski area actually cut trees to create a ski trail there on purpose.

Rambo at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Segal

Most Challenging Chutes Requiring a Hike

The Baldy Chutes at Alta Ski Area in Utah are rated just a single black diamond on the trail map. However, keep in mind that Alta does not mark any trail as double-black on the map. Their logic reasons that nothing can be even more difficult than “most difficult.” Requiring about a 30-minute hike, Main Chute would be rated double-black anywhere else, but it is by far the easiest option relatively speaking. Little Chute and Dog Leg are the much more technical lines down with very high consequences for a fall.

Alta Ski Area – Main Chute PHOTO CREDIT: Alta Ski Area

The Lake Chutes at Breckenridge Resort in Colorado are as high in elevation as they are difficult. Reaching them requires a hike even after riding the Imperial Express SuperChair, North America’s highest chairlift that tops out at 12,840 feet. Any expert skier or rider who scoffs at Breckenridge’s typically tame terrain overall might have a change of heart after a visit to chutes such as 9 Lives and Wacky’s.

Also in Summit County, Colorado, another breath-draining hike at high-altitude may found at Arapahoe Basin right on the Continental Divide. The East Wall serves up a spectacular smorgasbord of lines for experts. The North Pole hiking gate accesses the ridge line or Willie’s Wide Staircase gate leads to a straight-up bootpack for more choices farther down the wall.

Best Spot to Show Off Big Air

The Palisades at Squaw Valley in California would also fit in the hike-to-chutes category, but this challenge has an extra cachet. The ski-movie stars who have called this Lake Tahoe resort home make its “Squallywood” nickname appropriate. At a resort filled with difficult descents, the Palisades at the top of Squaw Peak make up the most iconic locale for extreme skiing. With names such as National, Extra, Main and Chimney, these chutes are in plain view of the mere mortals spectating in amazement from below on much easier terrain.

Squaw Valley Palisades

As a side note, the Lake Tahoe region actually has another Palisades that may not have the Squallywood hype, but the Sugar Bowl version does have some stunning spines and cliff bands. Sugar Bowl’s own ski-movie star and resort ambassador Daron Rahlves reveals Tahoe’s relatively unknown Palisades in this video below.

Best inbounds challenge in the 49th state

Footage of backcountry heli-skiing in Alaska is a staple of ski movies. However, Alyeska Resort has several Alaskan inbounds runs that are ski movie worthy minus the cost of a helicopter. The double-black Christmas Chute is quite accessible just off the top of the Glacier Bowl Express chairlift. Its neighbor, New Year’s Chute, requires just a very short hike past the Christmas Chute gate. The Moneys, Money 1 and Money 2, entail much more hiking effort on past the New Year’s gate. The Alyeska Ski Patrol requires avalanche beacons in the Moneys.

Christmas Chute at Alyeska Resort
PHOTO CREDIT: Ralph Kristopher

Most Famous Challenge

Most Jackson Hole locals do not even consider Corbet’s Couloir the most difficult challenge at their Wyoming resort. That honor would probably go to the insane, but rarely open, S&S Couloir. Nonetheless, Corbet’s has cornered the market on mainstream bragging rights. While dropping into Corbet’s certainly does take guts, its notoriety definitely adds to its value. Sure, a random very steep line through tight trees might have actually required more technical skill, but the tourists down at the Mangy Moose might buy you an apres-ski drink after hearing you conquered Corbet’s.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jackson Hole

Most challenging green (now blue) run

Trail maps generally include a disclaimer that run difficulty designations are relative only to that particular ski area. Snowbird in Utah tends to be a very challenging mountain overall, so it’s no surprise that Big Emma would create a trail rating relativity dilemma. Until recent years, the top part of Big Emma was rated as a green. The entry off the catwalk could be quite intimidating for beginners. Imagine “dropping in” for a green run. Upper Big Emma is now more sensibly rated as blue. Snowbird also bumped up to blue several formerly green runs in Mineral Basin that were steep enough to develop somewhat serious bumps.

Stay tuned next week as we drop Part Two!

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Sub-Categories Guides / liftopia / Ski & Snowboard

7 responses to “The Toughest Ski Runs in North America – Part One”

  1. W says:

    Seems to be a heavily west coast rated blog. People always forget about the bitter cold, icy east

  2. Joe Iwanski says:

    Article brought back memory from over 25 years ago when I almost killed myself on Rambo at CB trying to tuck the lower part a tad too early…lesson learned!

  3. Justin Pratt says:

    How about a northeast most difficult runs?

  4. Mark Bliss says:

    Not sure why Big Sky Montana didn’t make the list?

  5. Diana says:

    Hey guys. What about Silverton Mountain??

  6. Janet says:

    CB Rambo – good call. Big Sky MT for sure, but they like to keep that a secret.

  7. Chris Bazer says:

    Goat at Stowe definitely deserves mention. Probably toughest in the East.

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