There are ski slopes. And then there are ski slopes.
It's pretty incredible, actually: the proclivity for throwing oneself down a mountain with two wooden boards strapped to the feet. Launching off cliffs. Wiggling down chutes barely wide enough to turn in. Arcing across wide open slopes for miles, past staggeringly gorgeous peaks. As with other pastimes, skiing has its own bucket list of not-to-be-missed adventures: mainly in the form of classic slopes. Some are jaw-dropping gorgeous, others will fire up your legs, and a few on this list may very well have you shaking in your boots. Here are our top 10 slopes to ski this season:
1. Vallée Blanche
The 20km off-piste icon of the Alps, Vallée Blanche is best explored with a mountain guide who can cater to the specific interests and ability levels of skiers; that said, if conditions are favourable and skies are clear, most intermediates can enjoy the main route of the run. Make a day of it by stopping at the Requin Hut for lunch and drinks; hop on the train back to Chamonix at the Montenvers station if you're feeling lazy. Advanced backcountry skiers can enjoy the extensive terrain in surrounding area.
2. Birds of Prey
In early December, the Men's FIS World Cup makes its only downhill stop in the U.S. at Beaver Creek for the (in)famous Birds of Prey. It's regarded as one of the most difficult downhill courses in the world, boasting a vertical drop of over 700 metres, and a gradient that drops off at 45 percent in two parts of the course. Needless to say, if knee-chattering steeps are what you're after, brave Birds of Prey. Just don't do it at 129 km per hour.
3. Corbet's Couloir
Corbet's Couloir is Jackson Hole's famous inbounds chute that runs just underneath the tram line near the summit. It's a classic Hollywood line, in that anyone dropping into it will draw the attention of the hundred people riding the tram overhead. The line was named after Barry Corbet, a mountaineer who, in 1960, spotted the narrow line of snow between two cliff faces and proclaimed, "someday, someone will ski that." Today, thrill seekers from all parts of the globe test their skills (and their guts) by dropping into the narrow couloir, which often demands a mandatory air and widens out into the powder perfect snow of Tensleep Bowl.
4. Hidden Valley
Hidden Valley boasts its own adventure in the Dolomites. A 20 minute bus ride from the centre of Cortina drops you at this 2,752 metre peak, which cruises on wide open groomed terrain past the Dolomite wall and into the valley below. The expansiveness of the space, which is entirely above tree line, is breathtaking. If you please, stop at the Scottoni Rigugio and restaurant on the way down for lunch, or simply pause there and gaze up at the piste you just skied. Cruise past the frozen waterfall and into the valley floor, where a horseman waits to tow up to 50 skiers at a time back towards Amendtarola.
Big bumps and never-ending vertical make Gunbarrel the most notorious mogul run on the continent, and a destination for skiers interested in testing their skills and stamina with the best of the best. It's where professional ski instructors train their elite and iconic skiers flock for the annual Gunbarrel 25, which challenges skiers to lap the run 25 times in one day.
Understated and uncrowded, Whitefish lies off the beaten path of Rocky Mountain resorts. But with charming remoteness and unparalleled views of Glacier National Park, it makes this list. Inspiration is the run of choice, with its 700 metre drop from summit to base and consistent views of GNP and the Flathead Range. The slope is perfect for intermediates who want a long run and access to the higher part of the resort.
7. Horstman Glacier
When summer hits Whistler Blackcomb, skiers head up to Horstman Glacier. Throughout July, ski racers and freestyle athletes train in many of the "lanes", which are blocked off by ropes. But the expansive glacier is open to the public, and offers the best summer skiing opportunity in North America. Ride three lifts over blooming wildflowers and black bear habitat to the T-bar accessed snowfield, which boasts steep expert slopes and terrain parks. A recent press release by the resort acknowledges concern over the recession of the glacier, and plans to implement snowmaking in the near future. Our advice? Go now.
This 1,430 metre vertical drop that cruises for 11 kilometres down the Italian Alps is a family favourite for its length and moderate level. The slope begins with a steep descent, then transitions into a mellow, winding run and ends with another descent and passage through pine forest. It's a classic European piste that offers adventure and variety, as well as panoramic views of several named peaks. Access Ventina from the Italian or Swiss side of the resort.
2,000 vertical feet of high degree steeps and gnarly glades make Goat a go-to for advanced skiers seeking a challenge in the East. We're not quite sure how much fun you'll have popping off the bumps and darting through the trees while keeping your cool on the double fall line, but you'll certainly wobble into aprés with tuckered out legs and bragging rights. Wait until mid-season when coverage is solid, or take this ride on your rock skis.
10. Long Shot
One of the few hike-to-ski intermediate runs around, Long Shot offers skiers an off-the-beaten-path slope of natural beauty. The nearly 1,000 metre drop, which rolls on for 8 km from top to bottom, is most easily skied when groomed, so check the daily grooming map before going. Open spaces dotted with trees begin a short hike from the top of Elk Camp lift and extend to the Two Creeks base, where skiers can can sip well-earned craft beer.