1. Delirium Dive at Sunshine Village
Frequently cited as one of the world’s most scary ski runs, Delirium Dive has something of a cult following among both local riders and those visiting Sunshine Village from afar. At the top of the Continental Divide Chair lies a gate which can only be opened with an avalanche transceiver, with Ski Patrol carefully watching to ensure those embarking on the short hike to the summit of Lookout Mountain are also equipped with a shovel, probe and a willing partner. These strict requirements are not for show, with Delirium Dive providing an immense and complex cirque of steeps, cliffs and chutes for Sunshine’s dedicated Snow Safety experts to control. At it’s easiest the Dive provides willing participants with a nervous walk down some steep stairs where they must negotiate a wind scoured and rocky ridge line to gain access to powder filled 45 degree chutes. For the more adventurous the possibilities are vast: jumping off the top cliffs and cornices to gain entry, “billy-goating” through rocks and cliffs to link heavily exposed 50 degree slopes, and hucking off frozen waterfalls and pillow drops. The one thing that keeps people coming back though is the snow, with the wind often tripling or quadrupling the depth of fresh snow found elsewhere in the resort. There’s a reason why powder hungry skiers and boarders are always asking Sunshine’s Ski Patrol “When’s the Dive opening?”.
2. The North American Chair at Mt Norquay
For die-hard locals, the first opening of Mt Norquay’s ‘Big Chair’ is one of the highlighted days on their winter season calendar. Officially called the North American, this chair is one of the continent’s oldest, and accesses Mt Norquay’s biggest and steepest terrain. On powder days this means steep, fall-line skiing with stashes of fresh snow to be found in the trees once the main pitches have been skied out. The real test piece for expert skiers and riders comes after the snow has fallen, however, on Norquay’s notorious Lone Pine. This steep and unrelenting pitch is frequently populated by large and unforgiving moguls and proves to be a leg burner for even the fittest and most proficient riders. As the old saying goes: “it’s not that you can’t ski moguls, it’s that you can’t ski and the moguls just prove it”. For decades this adage was borne out by Norquay’s infamous Mountain Smoker competition – a battle between the Bow Valley’s best to clock the most laps of Lone Pine in a three hour period. Although this competition has proven too tough for today’s skiers, those willing to truly challenge their abilities should head up to Big Chair and test themselves against the winners of years past.
3. ER 3 at The Lake Louise Ski Resort
The Lake Louise Ski Resort’s back bowls are renowned as an expert skier’s paradise. The expanse of challenging terrain is so vast that it is difficult to narrow it down to an area, let alone a run. Eagle Ridge forms a large part of this, with ER Chutes 1 through 7 providing an assortment of steep alpine bowls which are peppered with cliffs, chutes, natural airs and rock rides. The variety of expert terrain means organizers of The Lake Louise Ski Resort’s annual Big Mountain Challenge are spoilt for choice when selecting their competition venues, with ER3, ER5 and ER7 commonly providing the testing grounds for some of the best freeriders around. A local’s favourite, ER3 offers everything that expert riders could wish for: steep shots, wind loaded pockets, and iconic cliff drops like the aptly named Eagle Air. With terrain like this to train on it's little wonder that the Rocky Mountain Freeriders base themselves on the slopes of The Lake Louise Ski Resort. This legendary local freeskiing club has a reputation for churning out skiers who navigate the gnarliest terrain with the greatest style and ease. When you see one of them boosting huge airs or spinning and flipping off the cliffs of ER3, you know the terrain at "The Lake" has prepared them well.
4. The Wild West at Sunshine Village
Formerly a permanent closure, The Sunshine Village Ski Patrol added to their restricted freeride terrain by opening The Wild West in 2003. The vast majority of skiers heading up Sunshine’s Gondola wouldn’t recognize the series of ridged cliff bands on their left as skiable terrain but for those in the know (and with avalanche gear and a partner), there are four unique lines threading through the cliffs which expert riders can test themselves against. With each of the four lines named after some of Banff National Park’s legendary pioneers, these are not for the faint of heart. Wheeler’s is the least intimidating: a steep, powder-filled bowl with a few ice waterfalls and rocky chokes thrown in for good measure. Next is a steep, rock-walled couloir named after Wild Bill Peyto. Engler’s ends with a rock-filled crux which committed skiers and boarders must huck in order to exit the chute and access the pow and pillows below. The gnarliest line in the West is Luxton’s, with only a few bold enough to enter its confines. Little more than a sliver of snow in between cliff walls narrower than your average pair of skis, the only way down is a mandatory straightline which feels very much like being fired from a cannon at the rocks and trees below. Good luck!
5. Whitehorn II at The Lake Louise Ski Resort
Whitehorn II is another testament to Ski Patrol & Snow Safety’s vision, skill and determination in getting formerly closed terrain open to the public at The Lake Louise Ski Resort. Accessed from Lake Louise's Summit Platter, this expansive array of steep gullies and spines is a truly stunning sight for expert skiers and boarders. Labelled A through I from looker's left to right, on a good day the gullies and fans are known to provide some of the deepest and most glorious powder turns to be found in the Rockies - the sort of turns that are etched on your memory for years to come. For those after some additional adrenaline, the rocky spines that separate the gullies offer much added spice. Here only technically accomplished skiers and boarders flourish as they navigate the labyrinth of rocks and cliffs which interrupt steep pockets of snow. With such terrain becoming the bread and butter of local riders, it's no surprise that some of the world's finest big mountain skiers grew up honing their skills here. And while you can now see local legends like Chris Rubens and Eric Hjorleifson on big screens at ski movie premieres, the next generation are already clocking face shots and airtime as they run laps down Whitehorn.