North America's Toughest Ski Runs

A long time ago, as a burgeoning ski bum in the early 1990s, I kept a scribbled list in a notebook of some of North America’s most difficult double-diamond runs, from archetypes like Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole, to Snowbird’s Great Scott in Utah, and the Palisades at Squaw Valley, Calif.

My goal was simple: to travel the continent and ski them all.

And I did.


Only later did I discover that this was nothing unique.

Most every expert skier and snowboarder has a list — physically scrawled out, or ethereally in the back of the mind — of certain double-diamond runs that matter. I heard stories of people traveling around the world to ski a single guarded pitch.


In a recent story for Forbes Traveler, I polled ski guides, industry executives, ski magazine editors and a few professionals who make a living skiing the steeps in front of a camera.

They each picked a run or two from their personal lists, including rarely open avalanche chutes of the West, alpine bowls and classic New England bump runs.


In total, my interviewees included: Mike Hattrup, a former member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team and extreme-ski film star; Marc Peruzzi, editor-in-chief of Skiing magazine; Gregory Ditrinco, executive editor of Ski magazine; Marcus Peterson, general manager at ski-implements company Ortovox USA; Chad Jackson, marketing director and videographer with ski-film company Teton Gravity Research; Mark Newcomb, a guide with Exum Mountain Guides in Jackson, Wyo.; and world-renowned backcountry/expeditionary skiers Andrew McLean, Eric Pehota, Hilaree O’Neill, and Naheed Henderson.

Here are their top picks:


1. Alta Zero — Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyo.
Among Jackson Hole’s pantheon of double-diamond ski runs, Alta Zero continually came up with the polled skiers as the Wyoming resort’s best steep shot.

2. Two Smokes — Silverton Mountain, Colo.
This super-steep, doglegged chute pinches down to less than 6 feet wide at one point.

3. Climax — Whistler Blackcomb Resort, British Colombia
In the alpine cirque just below Blackcomb Peak, several precipitous chutes flank a feature called Chainsaw Ridge. The most difficult chute, according to Eric Pehota, a professional skier, is Climax.

4. Keyhole — Alpine Meadows, Calif.
Moguls, cliffs and exposed rocks on a near-vertical plane of snow makes Keyhole among the toughest runs in the Lake Tahoe region.

5. Corbet’s Couloir — Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyo.
Probably the most well-known double-diamond run in the world, Corbet’s Couloir starts with a mandatory air-in, which means you must jump off a large cornice just to get on the run below.

6. Avalanche Bowl to Zoom — Loveland Ski Area, Colo.
This is one of the steepest runs in Colorado, said Chad Jackson, a videographer with ski-film company Teton Gravity Research.

continued on next page. . .

Posted by Sam - 10/11/2008 05:19 PM

No.1 Wild West at Sunshine (especially Rock Pocket)
No.2 Delirium Dive at Sunshine
No.3 Palisades at Squaw (only if you take the tough routes, such as the Chimney. Otherwise, it shouldn’t even be on the list)
No.4 Eagles Nest at Squaw
No.5 2 Smokes at Silverton
No.6 Castro’s at Big Sky (MUCH harder then the Big Couloir)
No.7 Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson (not really particularly difficult, just need to have the guts to start the run)
No.8 Hawaii 5-1 at Whistler
No.9 The Fingers at Squaw
No.10 Exhibition at Whistler

Posted by cory - 12/14/2009 09:30 AM

1.Big Couloir at Big Sky Montana

Image Here

2.Brain Damage on the KING

Crystal Mt Washington.

Posted by jim - 01/26/2010 10:39 PM

screw you has any body been to mt. rose the hardest run is cardiac ridge double black and it looks as hard as jacksons hole but on this you have to make many turns with rocks trees and drop offs

Posted by pkn124 - 03/23/2010 05:38 PM

rambo: Crested Butte, Colorado

Posted by Bob - 04/19/2010 02:16 PM

Silver city at sunshine village.

Posted by fred - 08/15/2010 09:12 PM

Carnell’s Couloir at Kirkwood

Posted by mark - 10/24/2010 06:13 PM

Headwall, tuckermans as well as smaller shoots to the right of left gully

Posted by Liz - 01/01/2011 04:57 PM

The North Face at Alyeska resort Alaska

Posted by Chris - 03/08/2011 04:56 PM

Why is no one mentioning the black hole triple black in Smugglers Vermont? It is as steep as all of the trails mentioned…with trees on it!! Although I havent skid in that many places, the black hole was tough

Posted by mike - 02/14/2012 02:13 PM

Personal Favorites, not just steeps.

10. The Beaver Pond/Andre’s at Jay Peak
9. The Highway/Natural Slides on Whiteface’s backcountry
8. Crowheart/Pathfinder at Jackson Hole
7. Upper/Lower Glade at Mad River Glen
6. Timbuktu at Jay Peak
5. The Slides/10th Mtn/Cloudsplitter Glades at Whiteface (when there’s snow every 6 years…)
4. Deliverance at Jay Peak
3. Alta One in Alta Chutes at Jackson Hole
2. Everglade at Jay
1. Adirondack Slides in Backcountry (gothics, marcy, colden, giant…)

Posted by Mike - 03/15/2012 10:24 PM

Headwaters Moonlight Basin

Posted by Tyler - 06/23/2012 02:43 AM

hardest run in North America is…

For Pete’s Sake – Palisades, Squaw Valley. Named for Pete Bowers the only man to ever ski it.

Posted by Joel Serra - 11/22/2012 10:44 PM

This is all opinion, so no one should be offended, but… Any list of toughtest 10 that doesn’t mention Taos, NM is flawed. Try 45* with chokes less than 200cm wide – Turbinator, Sauza, Cuervo, Fabian and many more that don’t appear on the trail maps. I’ve skied many of the runs on this list – some don’t even rate double diamond. How can anyone rate Outer Limits above Paradise (Mad River)?

Posted by Roger Ahlgren - 01/26/2013 10:18 PM

Tuckermans Ravine on Mt. Washington, NH Headwall has the USA record in the past of the 56 degree lip record in the 1950s for 28 feet.
I was raised with Brooks Dodge, Olympian, in those days…People who didn’t know how to CLIMB to good Snow skiing are BAR TALKING. Squaw Valley Katie was OK but the downhill off Squaw Peak barely made the GRADE….PS Aspen had a chutte called Elevator Shaft? That was OK. I was a member of 3 USEASA ski teams in the late 60’s….Dream on or Get on…I’m 72

Posted by Paul Mi - 04/21/2013 08:40 PM

The Headwaters at Moonlight Basin Ski Area on Lone Mountain, Montana. The most challenging group of chutes in North America.

Posted by CW - 01/19/2014 03:11 PM

I could easily name 10 runs right off the bat at Taos Ski Valley that are steeper and far more technical than that Alta Zero run at Jackson.

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