White knuckle rides: 8 memorable ski runs

Some like to hurtle, screaming, down a black mogul field; others prefer skidding down a frozen waterfall into a deserted powder bowl. Kate Green asks dedicated skiers about their most memorable runs.

Jeremy Rollason, Head of Savills’ Alpine team

The Piste de l’Ours in Switzerland’s Four Valleys has hosted 28 World Cup downhill races since 1981 and my brother and I decided to race to the bottom. In normal use, it’s classified ‘merely’ as a red run, but this doesn’t take into account blind crests, treacherous trees and a 51º gradient. For fun, we set a stopwatch at the top and set off in tuck position, trying to avoid ski schools and other hazards.

By halfway, your thighs are burning and you’re out of breath and out of control, but we made it without incident, high-fived and checked the time: three minutes. Wow: that must be a near record—except that, in 1998, Hermann Maier set the downhill record here: 93 seconds.

Ross Murray, CLA President

The Aletsch Glacier in the Bernese Oberland—after you’ve climbed the Mönch first—beats most resorts for challenge. It’s Europe’s largest glaciated area with not a lift in sight and is scarred with crevasses, one of which I fell into—luckily, we were roped together. The following day, having lost one of the party to altitude sickness, we were forced to put on skins and ski back up to the Jungfraujoch Ice Station through a blizzard, where we missed the last train to Grindelwald and had to spend the night in the station. It was an epic adventure!

Luke Morgan, Strutt & Parker’s country-house department

Mont Pouri, next to Tignes, is awesome. You have to ‘skin’ up the Glacier du Grand Col, abseil down a very steep face and do a long walk up to the top—the only peak that looks higher is Mont Blanc. Then, it’s an exhilarating run down to the village of Les Lanches, for a celebratory pint and the bus.

The best day was when my brother, Ran, and I climbed up the Aiguille Rouge (in Les Arcs) and came down the wrong couloir. It got narrower and narrower and we had to negotiate a frozen waterfall before it opened out into an incredible powder field. We flew down to be greeted by a French group, unimpressed that we were les Anglais.

Tom Parker Bowles, food writer

Tortan in Verbier has to be my favourite: steep and glorious. Wolfgang in Klosters also has a thrillingly steep bit—and the most wonderful restaurant at the bottom.

Mary King, six-time Olympic eventer

My favourite is Triftji in Zermatt, a black mogul field with a chairlift up the middle from which, when I was a chalet girl (years ago!), we used to watch hard-core skiers hot-dogging down the bumps and try in vain to emulate them.

My scariest moment was years later, in Sainte Foy, when my eight-year-old son, Freddie, was determined to conquer a black run on his snowboard. He fell at the top and tumbled, screaming, to the bottom, as I watched helplessly. I skied as fast as I could to the sobbing bundle (I was relieved he was making a noise), but, at the mention of a hot chocolate, he was up and off again.

Twin brothers David and Rowan Paterson, headmaster of Woodcote House and executive director of The Ultimate Travel Company

La Pyramide in Vaujany is unbeatable. Climb to the top of Pic Blanc—worth it for breathtaking views as you drop 6,500ft into La Vilette below—then, skins on, trek towards Pic Bayle before turning west to the Col de la Pyramide. Reserve judgment until you’re past the first couloir—a near-vertical drop, but there is a rope—and it’s flattened out a bit. A classic off-piste, but worth completing before spring, when it can become busy and bashed.

Oliver Preston, cartoonist

The Tiger Run on the Wasserngrat, Gstaad, is short but sharp, with the best view of the village and the legendary Gstaad Palace Hotel— pure heaven! When I was a child, the moguls were formidable, jolting my knees, but the bumps have been flattened—Swiss health and safety, no doubt.

It’s a run you really shouldn’t fall on, so you need to execute short, goat-like turns to avoid the ignominious, somersaulting slide to the bottom, observed by skiers travelling up the chairlift to the Eagle Ski Club beside you.

Rupert Uloth, Country Life Travel Editor

The Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, where we spent nearly a week camping in mountain huts, was unforgettable for the variety of conditions, the sense of achievement and the bonding of the group, but my scariest run is the descent into the virgin snow of the Vellière bowl at La Plagne. It starts with a heart-stopping traverse over a vertiginous ridge with sheer drops either side and seems a million miles from a busy family resort.