Killer Slopes: North America’s Most Extreme Trails
Chris Dahl-Bredine/Taos Ski Valley
Everyone knows it, even if no one’s says it: avid skiers and boarders are all a little crazy. Just ask anyone who’s never been skiing or riding. The concept of scaling a mountain only to fly down as fast as possible with one or two flimsy boards strapped to your feet is at least a little bit nuts. But once you’ve done it, the feeling is incredible and that’s what brings us back each time.
The risk of pushing your limits brings an intense rush, and danger is always a rather silent element. It is up to the individual to be aware of the risks, stay within his or her skill level and know when to take that walk of shame away from the edge.
While we can’t tell you which trails you can handle, we can certainly tell you which trails you should
avoid at all costs aspire to conquer. We’ve outlined 15 of the most treacherous, deadly and downright sinister slopes on the continent—and they are exactly as epic as you’d imagine.
The criteria for judgment included factors such as pitch of the slope (in degrees), vertical drops, obstacles (type and frequency), grooming, reputation and current events. This list is not scientific, nor is it dependent on the numbers of injuries or deaths (uniform mortality information is not always reported or entirely accurate).
Resorts and ski areas are not monitored by the government and are not obligated to report mortality or injury statistics to the public. The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), a trade association for ski area owners and operators, maintains its own statistics, which leave out an unknown number of deaths such as those in the backcountry. Johns Hopkins University estimates that there are roughly 600 thousand reported ski or snowboarding injuries every year.
But statistics don’t stop athletes from doing what they love. Expert skiers, skilled boarders and the crazy challenging trails they love are still going strong. So talk yourself up, don’t look down and get ready for our list of killer slopes.
#15 Al's Run—Taos Ski Valley, NM
“Al’s Run” is named for a Taos instructor who skied with an oxygen tank after suffering a heart attack— which is what you might be doing after this run. If you can’t handle leg-pulverizing moguls the size of small cars, this run just isn’t for you. The trail stands at a whopping 1,800 vertical feet long and is directly below a chairlift. This run’s going to take your breath away.
#14 Great Scott—Snowbird, Utah
The fear-factor here isn’t entirely in the pitch, a sharp 40 degrees. It’s not in the length, a quick 1,000 feet downhill. It’s in what you don’t see until it’s too late. Great Scott is littered with rocks, many of which are hidden beneath massive amounts of fluffy Utah powder. The real thrill is when these rocks give you air you had no idea was coming. Throw a few other obstacles in there and it makes for one heck of a thrill ride.
Although not on the same trail, professional free skier Jamie Pierre was killed in an avalanche in Snowbird’s South Chute. The resort had not yet opened for the season, so no measures had been taken to protect against avalanches. Pierre died of trauma after rolling 800 feet over rocks and debris.