Skiing may be considered a dangerous sport, but extreme skiing takes it up a level when it comes to pumping adrenaline. Extreme skiing, also known as “big mountain skiing” or “free skiing“, is performed on long, steep slopes that are usually from 45 to 60 or more degrees in the mountains. This means they are graded at 100% to 170%. Started by the French in the 1970s, one of the first extreme skiers was the Swiss Sylvain Saudan, famous in the 1960s for having invented the “windshield wiper” and for making the first descents of slopes in the Swiss, French and Italian Alps, previously considered impossible.
The ultimate in extreme skiing is to ski on a 60-degree slope on fresh powder snow which has never been skied on before you, dropping huge falls, struggling to slow yourself down after landing, flying on the snow through unfamiliar terrain.
How it started
Extreme skiers began simply because some advanced skiers were looking for a place to ski away from crowded sites and off-piste trails did not offer enough. The skiing started with mountaineering and the extreme skiing as defined today. This has since led to new extreme sports as help from aeroplanes and helicopters created heliskiing which made accessible a vast number of new slopes. Some of these slopes end with a cliff, so skiers took advantage of this and which lead to the development of ski-base, to stretch human limits even further.
Extreme skiing is exceptionally dangerous, as is shown by the death toll of some of the most brilliant skiers the world has seen. The danger from the steep slopes, the unknown terrain, avalanches, high falls and deep snow potentially concealing huge rocks. You can’t start Extreme skiing “slow” or “give it a try”, you’ve got to become a pro before you go there.
To get started in extreme skiing takes years of preparation. First, you have to learn to ski, starting with the basics and improving your level slowly but surely. With this will come the confidence to carve and stem down the slopes. Along with the technical skills will come the ability to lose fear when it comes to speed. Whilst it takes a long time to become an extreme skier, there is a lot of fun to be had whilst advancing. Having practised on rate trails at ski sites there will come a time when you can safely ski off-piste trails. After enough training, with good physical strength and an understanding of how to balance the challenge with safety, it is open to you to try your first extreme ski adventure.
Evolution of extreme skiing
Whilst extreme skiing refers specifically to steep-hill skiing, the sport continues to evolve to take on newer and bigger challenges, which include the use of wingsuits to find untouched slopes. These runs will always require lightning-fast decisions throughout the course, so you don’t crash into a tree or rock.
Famous extreme skiers
The godfather of steep skiing which he pioneered. He opened the Alaskan backcountry through his company, Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, and has his name to 300 first descents. Coombs in credited for having changed the technique for how to safely ski big mountains. Also, a guide, he died in a fall in La Grave, France, in 2006, trying to help another skier.
Brash and showy, he’s one of the best big-mountain skiers ever seen. Thanks to his big hair (mohawk) and a big mouth, in the 1980s he made extreme skiing much more widely known. Plake’s favourite place to ski is in Chamonix, France and the rest of the time he promotes skiing at smaller resorts.
Shane McConkey was not just a great skier, but he pushed ski design and was one of the inventors of rockered skis. When he died in a ski-BASE jump in 2009, skiing lost both an innovator and an entertainer.
The face of modern big-mountain skiing. He was one of the first people to throw tricks in the backcountry, and his backflips can be seen in more than 40 movies. Still skiing into his 40s, he has been someone always keen to encourage others.