Jackson Hole needs no introduction to the expert set. If only for Corbet’s Couloir, a world-famous chute that begins with a 30-foot drop, Jackson Hole’s reputation would be cemented. But it’s also got cliffy double black diamonds galore and backcountry gates opening up to terrain that makes bowl lovers salivate.
Crested Butte is the kind of place you might want to go if jumping off cliffs sounds like a fun way to spend your vacation. Home to the Extreme Freeskiing Championships, Crested Butte has some of the most difficult inbounds terrain in the country. The steeps of the Banana Funnel are steep, and CB’s collection of alpine bowls and glades—one is called Body Bag—make it a test-your-mettle destination.
Whistler is so huge it’d be surprising if there weren’t a solid spread of expert terrain. The resort doesn’t disappoint, with runs like Couloir Extreme and Spanky’s Ladder on Blackcomb Mountain, and and plenty of bowl and glade action on both peaks. And if inbounds isn’t enough, guides are available for Whistler’s endless big-mountain backcountry.
Double-black steeps like The Cirque dominate the upper terrain at Snowbird, making it an expert draw among the region’s many resorts. (It’s neighbor Alta isn’t too shabby either.) And thanks to the area’s plentiful snow—around 500 inches annually—there’s almost always enough to keep the extreme stuff skiable.
Squaw Valley is one of extreme skiing and snowboarding’s unofficial homes. Trail maps don’t make a distinction between advanced and expert here, maybe because a good portion of the expert terrain is unmarked. Scout your own line over cornice and cliff and commune with some of the greats who call SV their home turf.
In the not-too-distant past you had to take a helicopter to access the area now known as Kicking Horse in British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains. Fully 60 percent of its runs are advanced or expert—and by expert, Kicking Horse means expert. Four massive bowls containing 90 chutes dominate the resort’s terrain, and if you so desire, Kicking Horse can still hook you up with a helicopter for a taste of its back backcountry.
Can a single run make a family resort an extreme destination? An adrenaline connoisseur may pass over the Northeast altogether, but the folks at Smuggs are doing their best to make you think twice about that plane ticket to Colorado. New England’s only triple black diamond run is here, a 1,600-foot trail called the Black Hole that falls at a grade of over 65 percent for its first 600 feet. Tight trees, cliffs and bumps make this super-steep section extra frightening for those without the necessary steely confidence.
No need to venture out of bounds at this Colorado mining town-turned-destination resort. Make out your last will and testament, then hike up Palmyra Peak for your choice of extreme drops into Palmyra Basin, or plummet down Gold Hill Chutes or Black Iron Bowl. The trail map gods at Telluride make a distinction between merely “expert” double black diamonds and “extreme” terrain, and they mean it.
Extreme terrain falls in every direction from the top of Lone Mountain, the singular peak at the heart of Big Sky. Take the Lone Peak Tram to the summit and choose your own adventure: bomb down the world-famous Big Couloir, take your chances on the A-Z Chutes or plunge down your pick of insane fall lines at The Headwaters.
The three mountains of Sunshine Village in Banff National Park have some truly scary off-piste terrain. When ski patrol allows, a freeride zone known as Delirium Dive opens—but only to those with avalanche gear and a buddy. The drop averages a perilous 40 degrees for 2,000 vertical feet of cornice-and-cliff glee. Another experts-only freeride area, The Wild West, gives Delirium a run for its money and is also subject to the same backcountry rules.
“All thrills no frills,” say the folks at Silverton. Although this bonus pick didn’t make our overall top 50—probably because it doesn’t qualify as an actual resort—no list of extreme downhill destinations would be complete without this expert-only mountain. There are no groomed runs at Silverton and there's no easy way down—the “easiest” run has a grade of 35 degrees. To ride its one lift you need to sign a waiver and have your avalanche gear in tow. Once at the top you may as well be in the backcountry, with 1,819 acres of snow fields at your disposal. Hike to the summit, choose your own line, and try to survive. Guides are required January through March.