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Are you a skier on a mission for a great black run?

Written by Fiona February 03 2012

What is your skiing “type”? Are you happiest on long and flattering blue and red runs, whiling your days away enjoying the scenery and staying within your comfort zone? Are you a journey skier? The kind who spends delightfully long and frequently adventurous days discovering new ski runs and interconnecting

Black run madness

Black run madness

valleys while making lots of café stops en route. Or are you an on-a-mission-for-the scarier-the-better ski run? Will you only feel satisfied when you have skied every red and black run in your resort, and then some?

Skiing: What he likes/What I like!

With a ski holiday on the horizon, the G-Force and I were discussing what we might enjoy the most during our week away. While I concluded that I’m more of a comfort zone journey snowboarder, the G-Force seems to lean more to the on-a-mission skiing. Maybe it’s a bloke thing. No doubt I’ll find myself following him down some seriously scary routes in the Three Valleys later this month, but I’m hoping he’ll also be content to enjoy a few gentler days with me.

What’s with the ski run colour grading?

Green is for easy

Blue is for easy-to-intermediate

Red is for intermediate to advanced

Black is for advanced to expert.

But now the traditional black gradings of Europe and double-black-diamonds of north America do not necessarily indicate the most difficult terrain. These days you’ll also find yellow or red-diamonds are the new black. For legal reasons, too, some resorts have reclassified some of their toughest pistes as unpatrolled and ungroomed ”ski itineraries”, therefore absolving themselves of skier safety.

Still, black, or black style, are what many skiers and snowboarders aspire to. Whichever ski resorts you’re looking at visiting, blacks are one of the widest categories and runs range from slightly trickier to the real nerve janglers that are for the serious skier only. Here is a guide to great black runs in Scotland, Europe, America and Canada that won’t disappoint. (The G-Force will be taking notes so that we head to these resorts on future trips!)

Tignes, France

Many of the most infamous black ski runs are France. The large resort of Tignes has the distinction of having five great black runs all to itself. The famous Le Vallon de la Sache black run falls 1400m from Le Fornet to Les Brevières. There are conflicting descriptions of its length, ranging from 10km to 19km, but whatever the distance  this is a scary black run. The moguls start near the top and carry on for a long way. By the end of the run, you’re at a fairly low altitude but here icy pistes often add to the woes of the moguls.

Val D'Isere skiing

Val D'Isere

Val D’Isere, France

Val D’Isere is an amazing ski region – and where you’ll find Face de Bellevarde. This run is as icy and hard-packed as you can get, and only edges and wits that are razor sharp will get you to the bottom in one piece.

Alpe d’Huez, France

Home to the longest black run in Europe, the Sarenne, gives skiers 16km of an adrenaline rush. The run was built as the men’s downhill course for the 1992 Winter Olympics and was used as a race track at the 2009 Alpine World Championships. That’s serious black run stuff!

St Anton, Austria

The Schindlerkar Steilhang is rated a  red diamond and broken red line.Endurance rather than the angle of descent is the tricky factor here. The bumpy run just seems to go on forever. This is a classic and superb fun for experienced skiers.

Jackson Hole skiing

Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole, USA

Here you’ll find Alta chutes, considered by many to be the biggest and best black run of them all. Don’t let its gentle start fool you. The three runs that combine to make this one biggie are all rated black, and as you descend it becomes more difficult and demanding.

Breckenridge, Colorado

Some 55% of the terrain at Breckenridge, Colorado, is classified black diamond. The area is made up of four resorts, of which three have an abundance of black-rated runs. The one they all want to conquer is the Imperial Bowl, with its double diamond rating. The thin air and bone-chilling winds make it the ultimate challenge for many.

Zermatt, Switzerland

Officially rated a yellow, the Triftji starts with a very difficult approach path, on which you must slide-slip or snowplough. Once on the face, a good bump technique is essential if you are to get down without exhausting yourself for the rest of the day… or even the week!

Glencoe, Scotland

Last but by no means least is the Fly Paper black run at Scotland’s original, and some claim, most exciting, ski resort. Set high up in the outstanding natural beauty of Rannoch Moor with stunning views of the iconic Buchaille Eitive Mhor. (Perhaps you think I’m a little biased, but I love Scotland’s landscape!) The Fly Paper run is the black run that every thrill-seeker aims for.


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