Our contributors have shared their take on the biggest, the baddest, the steepest, the gnarliest, the no-fall zone, the super technical, the heaviest exposure, the stomach-in-your-mouth, the leg shaking, hand clenching runs within the ropes in North America. Take a deep breath and remember, don’t hesitate.
*Resort names in blue link to the related Avant Ski Resort Guide.
1. Best For: Lines on Lines on Lines The Challenger Ridge at Big Sky is the gateway to arguably the biggest and baddest inbound skiing in America! The ridge gives you access to big, technical lines on both sides leading into both the Moonlight and Big Sky sides of the mountain. From the A-Z chutes at the beginning of the ridge to Three Forks at the top of the ridge you will have no shortage of line choices.
Do not take the hike or the skiing accessed by it lightly. The hike is rocky and exposed as you work your way along a narrow ridge line. Every run off of the Challenger Ridge is rated as a double or triple black diamond so there is no shame in hiking back down the ridge. Because of the severity of the terrain and the variety of terrain options it’s a good idea to scout what you want to ski from below before making the journey.
Access: Take the Challenger Chair to the top and you will see the gate to the ridge. Look for and adhere to Patrol signage on what runs are open and closed. Three Forks is one of the highest lines on the ridge and requires an hour plus bootpack from the top of the Challenger chair. What the hike lacks in vertical gain, it makes up for with treacherousness. It’s a no fall zone hike. The bootpack hugs jagged rocks on the left. To the right, it’s a 1,000+ feet drop down to the bottom of the Headwaters. We recommend bringing a backpack to carry your skis/board, so you can have both hands free. Avy gear and a partner recommended. Ski/ride it one at a time.
We would be remiss not to also mention the Big Couloir at Big Sky. This list has its fair share of couloirs, but only one has earned the moniker, "The Big". Unique for its length and sustained pitch — a 1,400 vertical foot couloir right down the middle of the east face of Lone Peak with a sustained 50 degree pitch. Try not to fall, if you do, you’re likely going all the way down. The entrance is guarded by a cornice of varying size, depending on snowfall and recent winds. Pro tip - the easiest entrance is on the skier’s left of the cornice.
Access: Skiers must sign up for a time slot at the ski patrol office at the top of the Lone Peak Tram. To enter, you must have a partner and avy gear (beacon, probe, shovel). Ski patrol lets two skiers down every fifteen minutes. Ski or ride it one at a time.
2. Best For: Adrenaline Rush
The famous Corbet's Couloir at Jackson Hole is the site of film shoots and the annual Kings & Queens of Corbet's competition. It’s all about the entrance. The pros and locals make it look easy, but stand on top of the cornice at the entrance and your stomach will turn, your legs will become Jell-O. On powder days, people will jump the cornice. However, most mortals on most days use the entrance on the skier’s left of the cornice, though it isn’t really any less scary.
Push off of the top of the cornice and you're headed directly at a rock wall. Slash a turn to the right to avoid splatting like Wily Coyote and you’ll shoot out into the couloir at top speed. Then to avoid hugging the opposite wall, you’ll need to bang a GS turn to the left to get you going down the fall line and then you’re at the mercy of the snow conditions. Careful to manage your speed, otherwise they’ll scrape you up in Tensleep Bowl hundreds of feet below. After the entrance, the run is steep, but not super steep. Enjoy skiing through hundred foot rock walls.
Access: Take the Tram. Exit hard left and follow the ridge down Rendezvous Mountain until you see the entrance through the ropes on your left.
Corbet’s Couloir has a gnarly neighbor just down the ridge – S&S Couloir. While not as famous, S&S is even more intimidating. The entrance usually requires a 20 plus foot drop depending on the snowpack. To get to S&S go to Corbet’s and keep going down the ridge. Look out for the notch in the ridge on the left. Note - S&S is so extreme that skiers/riders need to sign a waiver from Jackson Hole Ski Patrol to enter.
3. Best For: Classic Peak with Classic Lines
If you’ve skied at Alta or Snowbird you’ve seen Mt. Baldy. This 11,000 foot mountain separates the two resorts and offers some of the most iconic lines in the Wasatch range. You’ll be hard pressed to find more picture perfect lines than the Main and Little Chutes on the North Face of Baldy. Main Chute is a 44 degree hallway of rock that cuts straight through the heart of the mountain. It’s tight and committing. Once you drop into the chute the only way out lies at the exit almost 1,000 feet below. If you hit this when it’s good you’ll never forget it.
To the skiers right, just above Main Chute lies the entrance to Little Chute and the Dog Leg. Start with the Main Chute before you decide to step up to the rockier, tighter, more exposed Little Chute.
Access: From Alta, take the Sugarloaf Chair. The gate to Mt. Baldy is a couple hundred yards to the right of the Sugarloaf summit next to the entrance to Snowbird. From there you’ve got to earn it with a hike that can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes depending on your pace.
From Snowbird, access the summit by hiking from the High Baldy Traverse. The chutes will drop you in the Alta Ski Area Boundary so if you want to return to Snowbird, take the shuttle at the bottom or snag the Blackjack Traverse.
4. Best For: Quick Rush, Short & Steep There is nothing flat about Kiwi Flats at Mammoth Mountain. This steep, crooked couloir is guarded by a short cornice and full commitment is required. After you drop the cornice, you must turn left to avoid rocks. Then bank a gradual right so you don’t slam into a rock wall. There’s a cliff at the bottom; make sure to stay right to ski around it. Locals make this look easy with one smooth turn before straight lining it out into the bowl below. It goes quickly with only ~500 feet before you’re in the bowl. Don’t fall on the entrance or above the cliff.
Access: Traverse the ridge past the Paranoid Flats, all the way past P3 and you’ll come to the top of a cornice above this crooked chute.
5. Best For: Big Air The Palisades are a granite cliff band at the summit of Olympic Valley. Take your pick from a selection of shoots, single airs, and double airs. Land and blast off into the bowl below. There are six main lines: Chimney Sweep, Schmidiots, Main Chute, The Tube, Extra Chute, and National Chute. National Chute is a good run for first timers – steep, but plenty wide. Another good starter is Main Chute: 50+ degrees of pitch, but no exposure over cliffs or rocks. Locals will step back from the ridge, skate for speed, and shoot over the edge, hucking backflips, frontflips, spread eagles and landing into straight lines. At Squaw, it didn’t happen if nobody was there to watch. An amphitheater of air. An arena of awesome.
Access: Exit Siberia Express left and bootpack up the ridge to the top of the cliffs. ~20 minute bootpack.
6. Best For: Views & Vertical
Palmyra Peak at Telluride is not for the faint of heart. The top of Palmyra Peak can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours to climb, but runs like Senior’s and Roy-Boy make the suffering worthwhile, for those willing. You’ll summit a 13,320 foot peak and get about 2,000 feet of steep vertical skiing. If two hours of hiking sounds over the top, don't worry, Telluride has no shortage of extreme terrain. The Black Iron Bowl is another great area. On the way to the summit of Palmyra Peak you’ll also hike right past runs like Mountain Quail and the Dihedral Face.
Access: Take the Prospect Lift (lift 12) to the top and take a left. Your hike to any of the terrain mentioned above starts there.
7. Best For: Narrow with a View Brain Damage is the main chute on Crystal’s Silver King Mountain. On clear days, you can see Mt. Rainier in the background. Enjoy the view as you prepare to negotiate the small cornice at the top. Brain Damage is ~44 degrees up top and its narrow. Don’t fall at the top or you’ll go for an 800 vertical foot ride and careen over some rocks. If you’re feeling it, huck these rocks before it opens up at the bottom.
Access: Take a well established traverse/bootpack from the top of Chair 6 lift to the summit of Silver King.