Here we gooooooooooooooooooooo! (Cue airhorn blast).
Colorado brothers and sisters, it’s time to start suiting up, saving up, and mentally preparing for snow season. Even if you’re not one for the skis or board, as someone who lives in the Centennial State, it’s hard not to feel pumped about winter. It’s as much a part of our culture as microbrews and jam bands, and with it comes a certain warm and fuzzy togetherness around our shared appreciation of mountain life.
But as you exhale that saccharine sentiment, you’re probably stricken with the reminder that ski season is really, really expensive. While it’s a far cry from anything one would consider “cheap,” the Epic Pass is certainly the most convenient and economically sensible solution for anyone eager to get the most out of the Colorado winter season—as long as you’re getting the most out of it by hitting the mountain as often as possible.
But that can be a lot of work—or more accurately, that can require a lot of time off from work—so we’re here to recommend some goals for you right now by highlighting some of the most extreme routes across the Epic Pass network. You may not be at double-black-diamond level yet, but with enough hard work this year, you can get there (and meanwhile make your Epic Pass worth every cent you spent).
THE WINDOWS - KEYSTONE
Keystone is renowned for its family-friendliness, meaning you likely won’t see the same level of death-defying runs as some of the other spots on this list. However, Keystone still has plenty of challenging runs that will thoroughly test your fresh “pow” maneuvering. The Windows is less about the cliff sides and steep incline, and more about the asinine amount of trees that you have to weave around to find your way down. Take a few wrong turns, and well, you’ll have to find a nice place to lay your nest because you officially live there now.
RIDGE - VAIL
The main feature of Riva Ridge is that it’s just insanely long. You descend about 3,000 feet over the course of four miles, mixing some distinctly steep slopes with some pretty unsettling bumps. For advanced skiers (which you’d better be if you’re considering any of these routes) Riva Ridge isn’t particularly unnerving in terms of difficulty level (black and blue), but it requires a level of tenaciousness that few routes ask for. Plus, since it’s at Vail, you’re also going to have to dodge Luis Vuitton handbags and off-season croquet sets lodged in the snow, adding a level of unpredictable obstacles that some will find pleasantly challenging (just as others see a consistent reminder of America’s growing wealth gap). On Riva Ridge, existential slaloms abound.
BIRDS OF PREY - BEAVER CREEK
Birds of Prey was actually designed for the 1999 World Championships, which means two things: It’s probably a more stable course than most on this list, and it’s specifically suited for people who can do one of the most dangerous sports in the world at its highest level of competition. Technically, you can take your time and slowly work your way to the bottom, but that’s not exactly what it was designed for, because it descends 2,470 feet in about 90 seconds. We like to think of Birds of Prey like the Monaco F1 Grand Prix: While you can certainly carve your way down this route with your feet on the brakes, so to speak, you’re really supposed to do it like a pro. But if you aren’t a pro, maybe just don’t do it because it’s completely insane.
CRAZY IVAN 2 - BRECKENRIDGE
Now we’re starting to get into that special class of runs where you kind of have to be “in the know” to pull it off. Crazy Ivan 2, for instance, isn’t historically marked on the trail map, probably because people aren’t really supposed to jump off this extremely steep (49-degree) monstrosity. From videos we’ve seen online, it’s definitely intimidating, but it’s also inviting in that there’s not a lot of foliage or other obstructions as you’re en route back to a normal, sane person’s ski agenda. It’s really just a matter of defying God’s will and taking that initial leap into the first few turns. (That said, we don’t know much about Crazy Ivan, but he’s probably dead.)
GAUTHIER - ARAPAHOE BASIN
In many ways, Gauthier is your run-of-the-mill, “tell my mother I love her” double black diamond. It’s horrifying, obviously, but is it any scarier than the other trails on this list? Not necessarily. What makes Gauthier special, though, is its lift to the top. Pallavicini, or Pali, is one of the most iconic double lifts in the country. It’s got that nostalgic, weathered charm that makes you go, “Oh, did that just crack? This thing is safe, right?” Which is exactly the smooth sense of insecurity you want as you approach some of the steepest slopes in the Epic Pass network.
RAMBO - CRESTED BUTTE
If you’re actually into the double black diamond scene, you’re probably not surprised that Crested Butte concludes this list. Almost all of Crested Butte is peppered with “extreme terrain” routes that each have their own unique means of inflicting extreme pain and fear into even the most advanced skiers. However, the steepest and most extreme is easily Rambo. The run only measures about 300 yards total, but at a constant and sustained 55-degree pitch (which is just stoopid in our humble opinion)It’s a no-fall zone for the entirety of the trip, which is obviously why people choose to even attempt this absurd accomplishment. Most folks couldn’t hike it, let alone ski it, but if you’re a member of the species with an inclination toward self-destruction, have at it.
BONUS: BODY BAG - CRESTED BUTTE
Yeah, OK, sure. Good luck with that. See ya never, Mr. (or Ms.) Knievel.