For most people the thought of descending a near vertical drop, thousands of feet above sea level is enough to turn their legs to jelly, but for a select few it brings a rush of excitement that is hard to match. However, for all its thrills this extreme terrain carries just as many risks, and therefore both skiers and snowboarders require a high quality of equipment, perfect conditions and a high level of skill and concentration. If you can handle the terrain the rewards are boundless, a once in a lifetime experience, a brilliant sense of accomplishment and an abundance of breathtaking views that you'll never forget.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA
Not for the faint hearted, Jackson Hole makes up part of the Rendezvous Mountain at the Alta Chutes resort, located in Wyoming, USA. Most expert skiers come here to face the legendary Corbett's Couloir, where skiers endure a near vertical drop of over 20 feet. That being said there are also a wide variety of other near vertical, ungroomed runs here for experts to ride.
The resort also offers a "3 day steep and deep camp" package, which is designed to teach and prepare skiers and snowboarders for the steepest and toughest terrain in the area. The instructors here are world class, each having survived the toughest selection process of any ski school in North America.
Located in the resort of Verbier, Switzerland, Tortin is a terrorizing descent of over 150 metres. The run becomes easier to ski towards its base, however getting to this point requires expert precision and courage to even attempt, while successfully avoiding the many large bumps of snow-covered rock that litter the terrain. It is these rocks that make a fall here extremely risky.
To reach the start of the Tortin run, you must ride the Lac des Vaux lift to the Col de Chassoure stop off point. Once you are off the lift the brink of Tortin is before you. Take comfort in the knowledge that should you change your mind at this point, you can take the alternative red run back down the mountain.
Verbier boasts some of the best ski schools in Europe, and many provide tours of the most demanding slopes in the area, including Tortin. This region is also host to a number of extreme ski competitions, and many consider it to be the birth place of extreme skiing.
St Anton, Austria
The perfect challenge for the thrill seeking skier, St Anton is a resort situated in the Arlberg region of Austria. Here, the mountain is riddled with steep drops and boulder-ridden terrain. Due to this destination's popularity with expert skiers and snowboarders, it is advisable to get up and onto the mountain as early as possible to beat the crowds. One benefit of skiing here is the high likelihood of snowfall, which means that the many bumps of the descent are generally nicely covered in thick powder. However, the openness of the terrain offers little or no protection from bad weather.
Hiring a guide to show you the best off-piste routes around the mountain is extremely advisable here, and for some areas of the mountain this is mandatory.
Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
Home to the some of the longest vertical ski terrain in the world, this serious contender offers experts a wide variety of challenging runs, some of the most impressive being Whistler's bowl and the extremely risky Whistler's Couloir, on which skiers earn bragging rights by covering two staircase drops before making it safely to the end of the run.
Take the Peak chair lift up the mountain to ski Whistler's bowl and from here you can choose from a range of routes leading off in different directions, either on or off piste. Alternatively, you can access the Sapphire, Diamond and Garnet Bowls from the Glacier chair lift. One of the benefits of skiing in this area is that there are a high number of challenging routes that are accessible straight off the ski lifts, meaning that skiers needn't spend time hiking uphill to attempt the legendary slopes.
Enquire at the ski school in Blackcomb to arrange a two day guided tour of the best slopes with a qualified instructor. The resort of Blackcomb also boasts a triple black diamond terrain park, which requires a licence with a photograph to gain access. If you feel you qualify, you can apply for a license at the bottom of the park slope.
Vallee Blanche, France
Chamonix' most famous ski run, Vallee Blanche is an off-piste route that covers an incredible 2700 metres of vertical descent. Despite this the run is open to courageous intermediate skiers if conditions will permit it. This is possible because of the choices of several routes that run through Vallee Blanche, some of which are far more challenging than others. Experts can ski this terrain without the help of a guide if they choose the tamer course, whereas less capable skiers should join a guided tour of the legendary run. This being said, even if you are of expert ability but are not familiar with Vallee Blanche, you will still benefit from having a guide, who will lead you down the most challenging route.