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While Colorado's ski resorts boast oodles of awesome terrain, they're a little short on seriously steep inbounds runs: those spine-tingling drop-offs and slopes that brush your hip when you turn, and elicit a deep sigh of relief once you conquer them. But this hardcore terrain is out there, just waiting to be shredded by the most fearless souls on skis and snowboards; you just have to know where to look. Inspired by fellow hard-charging powderhounds, we set out to find the steepest shots in the state.
Before you read further, a heads-up: No doubt this list is prone to subjective scrutiny. Measuring steepness isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. It can refer to maximum grade or average grade. Cliffs can skew ratings. And a slope’s angle can change over the course of the season as cornices build up, or snow fills in and softens the grade.
For our purposes, runs on this list had to flirt with 50 degrees, based on our own clinometer measurements in the field as well as resorts’ claims. We don’t count cliffs or mandatory air, focusing instead on runs where skis or snowboards can remain in contact with the snow. Yet without question, you’ll find plenty of cornices and cliff jumps in this challenging terrain.
Be prepared to earn some turns as many of these runs require hiking. And be prepared to test your mettle on all of them.
The whole of Highland Bowl is a mother lode of steep, noteworthy enough that the Aspen Highlands trail map list the pitch of every run, a range of 38 to 48 degrees. The only catch (and rite of passage) is the hike—30-40 minutes up to the top of the bowl at 12,392 feet. A free snowcat ride shaves off the first stretch, bringing you within drooling distance of the steepest of the steep. Resist the temptation to drop in early since you run the risk of sun-baked snow on the south-facing slopes, aptly named the Hot Y’s.
Grunting up the edge of the bowl, you pass the Y’s (south-facing) and B’s (in the middle) before reaching the G’s (north-facing), named after yellow, blue, and green ski wax that corresponds to the temperature of the snow. Save the Y’s for spring. Hands down, the best snow all season is off the top, in the G’s. Views from the summit will keep you entertained until you’re ready to rip.
Arapahoe Basin ’s Pallavicini Lift serves some of the steepest terrain in Colorado’s central mountains, with Gauthier clocking in as the most extreme pitch, at about 46 degrees. Locally known as the 5th Alley, Gauthier dives down a gulley at the far west boundary of the ski area. It’s short and narrow, with rock outcroppings to keep you on your toes.
To get there, get off the Pali lift and traverse down the snow fence along Pali Cornice all the way skier’s left, past 2nd and 3rd alleys. Head down 4th Alley and make a few turns. You’ll see the sign for Gauthier on the left. One at a time in the narrow chute works best.
Crazy Ivan 2, one of the butt-puckering runs in Breckenridge ’s Lake Chutes area, isn’t marked on the trail map, which adds to its allure. Be prepared to launch off a cornice onto a 49-degree slope, making tight turns between rock outcroppings before the run flattens out.
To get there, take the Imperial Express Superchair, then hike 15 minutes up the boot pack to the summit of Peak 8, which is a hair under 13,000 feet. Click into your skis or snowboard and follow the ridgeline down past 9 Lives.
Crazy Ivan 2 is just to the right of Zoot Chute as you look at the trail map (use the above photo as your guide). Once at the top, you’ll have to follow your nose since there are no trail signs; just look for the steepest line. For help finding it, stop at the Ski Patrol shack at the top of the Imperial chair and ask them to point it out.
Senior’s is a hair-raising couloir that drops off the summit of Telluride ’s high point, 13,320-foot Palmyra Peak. This is big mountain terrain like you rarely find inbounds in Colorado, and nothing about it is suitable for the meek. The hike alone filters out anyone who might waffle. It’s two hours up a boot pack that can feel precipitously steep. On top, rest on the small summit and ponder the only way down—a jittery shot between rocks, on a slope that measures 52 degrees.
To get there, take Chair 12 (Prospect Express), exit left, and take off your skis. Lashing them to a backpack is your best bet for the trek up. Bring water and snacks since you’re doing a huge hike, at very high altitude, before you even start to ride. It can be tempting to peel off early into Black Iron Bowl, but you won’t earn full bragging rights unless you reach the peak.
Crested Butte has no shortage of steeps, with 542 acres of “Extreme Limits”—inbounds, double-black diamond terrain that will make you feel like you’re in a Teton Gravity Research film. It’s no wonder extreme skiing competitions take place here. Run laps on the High Lift and North Face T-bars, feeding your hunger for adrenaline with runs like Headwall, Teocalli, Spellbound, and Phoenix Bowl.
But it's Rambo, which tickles both sides of 50 degrees, that gives Crested Butte its claim to the steepest cut ski run in North America. The advantage of Rambo is that it’s a sustained pitch, unlike some of these other runs that level out after a few turns. Test your endurance by hitting The Glades on the way.
For a relatively small ski area, Wolf Creek has an impressive helping of extreme, including a run aptly named 52° Trees, tucked in the Waterfall Area. Use it as the capper for an epic descent that starts from the top of Alberta Peak, accessible via an easy skate/hike from the top of Treasure Lift. Drop down the face, then into one of the Peak Chutes (we measured #11 at 46 degrees) before cutting left to the Waterfall 4C entrance to get to 52° Trees.
For an easier-to-find alternative, head to the Knife Ridge Chutes, which you can scope to the left from the Alberta Lift. From below, it’s tough to pick out a doable line. But don’t be deterred. Climb the boot pack from the top of the lift and skirt the edge of the knife-like rock outcropping, finishing with a short section of metal stairs. Once on the ridge, you have your pick of lines. Big Cornice measures 49 degrees. Expect a few boney jump turns before hitting a buttery bottom section that collects snow from above.
It’s tough to nail down precisely which part of Silverton Mountain is the steepest, because the whole place is really effing gnarly. Runs plunge down either side of a sharp ridge and include big-mountain couloirs, narrow gulleys, and high-angle trees. Some runs even start with rappels. Don’t worry about finding your way around—for most of the season, guides are required. (Trust us, this is a good thing.)
The pace at Silverton is too fast to pause with a clinometer, so if you’re up for the challenge, just go judge for yourself. Tiger Claw, a narrow couloir that plummets off the west face of the ridge, is a good choice for rattling the nerves. You’ll grunt 30 minutes up a lung-busting boot pack to get to the Claw, which requires a delicate entry through a rock band into a wind-affected chute. Pick your path around the rock outcropping that splits the 50-degree gulley in half.
The most challenging terrain at Monarch is in Mirkwood, accessed via a 15-minute hike up from the top of the Breezeway Lift. Just when the slog stops being fun, the 11,952-foot summit appears. Runs down from here are universally steep, with the added challenge of tight trees. Mexico isn’t on the trail map—it’s just to the right of East Trees. Access it by heading skier’s right from the summit and traversing past Staircase. Stay on the lookout for cliff bands and other potential hucks that sneak up on you.
Staircase, East Trees, and Mexico all hover in the mid- to upper 40-degree range. Finding someone to guide you is handy, since it’s tough to navigate on your own through the trees.
Loveland can appear a tad tame as you drive past it on I-70, but don’t be fooled. Hidden out of sight is a decent serving of extreme terrain, most off Chair 9, which tops out on the Continental Divide at 12,700 feet. Wild Child is arguably the steepest run, surpassing 50 degrees. Peering over the edge can be nerve-wracking, particularly if you’re perched on top of the mega-cornice that builds up above the right side. If you’re not prepared to launch, head skier’s left to the entrance that doesn’t require air. The run is short and sweet, mellowing out as it descends.
To get to Wild Child, get off Chair 9 to the left and traverse skier’s right to the south. When you reach Super Bowl, take off your skis or board and hike about 10 minutes to the top of Wild Child. This slight schlep deters the masses, so the snow out here stays soft longer. If you want to snoop out other steep options at Loveland, try Over the Rainbow, Super Nova, and Velvet Hammer.
Written by Avery Stonich
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