We all aspire to ski down a mountain, leaping over rocks and creating many a flurry of snow in our wake, preferably in slow motion so everyone can admire our prowess. Never mind that you’re only on the nursery slopes and aren’t allowed on a drag lift yet. One day you will get there, and when you do you will be pleased to know that there are some terrifying runs out there just waiting for you. Here is Europe Mountain’s choice of the top 6 hardest runs in the French Alps.
Face de Bellevarde, Val d’Isere
The Face de Bellevard, or ‘le Face’ as it is chummily called by those whose thighs it has destroyed, is deceptive. It is fairly steep but not sheer, and it is for the overwhelming majority wide and open. But it is long. It runs for 2905m, with a vertical drop of 972m, and was famously used in the 1992 Olympics for the men’s downhill race. It can also get quite technical, especially once the snow has been swished around a bit: expect moguls, ice sheets and rocks poking through the piste to sneak up on you. There’s no real way to get out of this one once you’ve begun, too, so be aware of that when you take the gondola up to the top of the Rocher de Bellevard. On the other hand, if you’re prepared to take your time, it’s a black run that even intermediates can have a go at. For an inspirational look at how to do it, check out.
Le Tunnel, L’Alpe d’Huez
L’Alpe d’Huez is most famous for its 16km Sarenne run, the longest black run in Europe. Instead, however, we’re going to talk about Le Tunnel. Accessed from the same cable car which runs to the 3330m high peak of Pic Blanc, Le Tunnel begins with a sharp turn onto a narrow run which leads to the tunnel itself – a horizontal passage cut through the rock face running for 60m which can be quite creepy. It’s only when you emerge from the tunnel, blinking in the light, to see – GAH! What is that?! Oh, that practically vertical slope with bumps like small mountains over there is the one you’re about the go down. And you don’t want to slip: it’s all too easy to find yourself tumbling down the slope, unable to stop. To watch people inching their way and slipping and sliding like helpless idiots on this run over the most horrific moguls you’ve ever seen, go here:
Pas de Chèvre, Argentière
We’re sneaking off-piste here, but the ominously named Pas de Chèvre (Goats’ Pass) is more or less an established run, famous for its passage through a steep and narrow couloir which plummets down thousands of metres below. It’s all rather terrifying and not for the unskilled, but there’s tons of lovely powder to carve up and it’s certainly stunning. Bring a guide or go with someone who knows what they’re doing – this is not a place to get injured. For great shots of the Pas de Chèvre and all its powder, check out
Flying Kilometre, Les Arcs
If you’ve been to Les Arcs, you will have seen it from one lift or another: the advanced skiers’ speed skiing downhill run. And with its start-off gradient of 76% on the face of the Aguille Rouge, it looks terrifying. It’s a permanent run upon which the world championship speed skiing competition takes place, and professionals frequently hit speeds of upwards of 180kph, with a record of 250kph. You have to pay for this one – about €12.50 which covers your equipment – so if you’re feeling brave as two short planks or extremely skilled, go ahead. If you can cope with the Eighties-style soundtrack, get a look at what you’d be dealing with here:
La Grave’s Off-Piste Skiing
Just a bit of a cheat: way upwards of Les Deux Alpes, you’ll find La Grave, a tiny resort which is almost entirely off-piste skiing. If you’re not staying there, you can’t always reach it, with the lifts heading that way often closed due to excess snow or safety reasons. But if you are staying there, it’s a haven for extreme skiers and those who love the off-piste. Hire a professional to go with you (try www.snowlegend.com) – getting lost is all too easy, and there is no avalanche control up there. For a great example of what you can expect from La Grave, watch:
Vallée Blanche from Aguille du Midi, Chamonix
One of the most famous off-piste runs in the world and on many an experienced skier’s wish-list, the Vallée Blanche is accessible from the top of the Aguille Du Midi mountain, the cable car to the summit of which is the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world. It rises from 1035m all the way up to 3842m, at which point you’ll find a viewing platform, a cafe and (just to be prosaic in the face of all this mountainous majesty) a gift shop.
The run itself is, for the most part, not too bad – but it starts off with a short trek down a mountain ridge with horrendously long, steep drops either side. Luckily, there are ropeways, and you’re roped up to your guide and each other, but you need a serious head for heights. After that, your guide can make it as hard as you like – ice caves, ice climbing, crevasses, couloirs – depends how fit you are. Either way, bear in mind that there’s going to be a vertical descent of 2800m, and its a long way. Stamina is the key, but the views and lovely powder snow are worth it – check out the video below for proof:
Just so you know what it would be like without the ropes at the beginning, check out this video http://vimeo.com/34555644 and see if you get butterflies.