Bored of blues? Relishing reds? It's time to step it up a gear. But are you brave enough for our top five hardest black runs in Europe? Ski on - if you dare.
From the aptly nicknamed Swiss Wall to Europe’s longest pisted drop, and from tricky couloirs to Austria’s steepest run (which is, incidentally, named after ritual samurai suicide), we bring you the most testing black runs you can find on the continent.
Obviously the conditions make a huge difference – these are all easiest to pick off in fresh snow and become terrifying mogully ice fields after long periods of clear skies. But conditions aside, these runs carry weighty reputations and should only be attempted by those with the skills to match their confidence. Those trying to impress their friends after a mere week of lessons should turn back now.
1. La Chavanette, AKA the 'Swiss Wall', Avoriaz, France
Willing daredevils should begin this infamous piste (vital stats: 1km; 331m vertical drop) by standing on the Swiss-French border above Avoriaz in the Portes du Soleil ski area, then take a deep breath and plunge down the Swiss side towards the town of Les Crosets. It's so steep you can't see the full horror ahead from here! The fun begins with 50m of narrow 40-degree pass, in which you'll encounter moguls the size of minis due to skiers taking heavy turns. After this hairy start no one would blame you for escaping to a wider area, but the bravest can continue between two rocky outcrops, 10m apart at their narrowest, on terrain much like a very mogulled half pipe. Lovely!
The Portes du Soleil is one of the biggest ski areas in the world. If the Swiss Wall sounds like a doddle, why not spend a day taking on a circuit you can do through most of the Swiss and some of the French resorts (Chatel, Morgins, Champoussin, Les Crosets, Champery, Avoriaz, Chatel). It takes in the Swiss Wall and you can do it all without taking your skis off, apart from a short walk in Morgins.
2. The Champagne Run, Alpe d’Huez, France
Alpe d’Huez’s testpiece for the fearless is the longest continuously pisted vertical descent in the world. The 2,200m ski down from the Pic Blanc is a thigh-burning test of endurance that's referred to as the ‘champagne run’ by locals – if you can do it without stopping you deserve a bit of fizz. (No one seems to know where surviving heroes can get one for free, though). It takes about 45 minutes to get from the village of Vaujany up to the top of Pic Blanc at 3300m by lift. From the top, you descend on a brilliant mix of blacks and reds, including the famous Le Tunnel run. It takes about half an hour if you can do it without stopping, but be prepared for very steep mogul fields high up and heavy snow on the lower slopes.
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3. Harakiri, Mayrhofen, Austria
Famously the steepest piste in Austria, Harakiri at Mayrhofen (an hour from Innsbruck), has an average gradient of 78% (around 38 degrees). It's short and sharp (1500m long; vertical drop of 375m) and, fittingly, the name is slang in Japanese for ritual suicide by samurai! Actually, though, the biggest danger isn't yourself, it's other skiers falling on you, and the fact that's it's hard to stop if you do fall. The slope is north-facing, often hard-packed and icy, but quite wide so you can take it steady and pick your line. You can try the slightly easier Devil’s Run first to check your skiing is up to it.
4. Grand Couloir, Courchevel, France
It's not often a couloir makes its way onto a piste map. But the worst bit about this run, it’s unanimously agreed, is the path to get to it. If you're ready, follow a narrow, undulating gutter carved by the passage of other skiers, which is very tricky to snow plough or parallel ski, and has big drops either side into more testing couloirs. The entry to Grand Couloir is around 35 degrees and fairly narrow, but then flattens out to a steepish 30 degrees. You can check out the conditions from the piste below it, but it can look very different when you're standing at the top up close to the moguls!
5. Tortin, Verbier, Switzerland
If you're hungry for more excitement, may we remind you that black is no longer the benchmark of piste skiing. Some resorts have reclassified a few of their most demanding runs as unpatrolled, ungroomed 'ski itineraries', leaving you with responsibility for your own safety from avalanches or falls. Verbier has a selection of these, and Tortin is one of the most famous. Take the Lac des Vaux 3 chairlift to the Col de Chassoure to get there, and if you don't like the look of it, there's time to remember a lunch date and turn back down the friendly red run to Lac des Vaux! Tortin is often icy. It starts with a bumpy traverse, then pick your moment to turn down onto a wide, steep slope, usually littered with huge moguls.
Ticked any of these? Let us know @team_BMC
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