There’s no shortage of adventure and extreme antics in the sport of skiing. From death-defying competitions like the Freeride World Tour to stomach-dropping segments filmed on knife-tipped peaks by cinematographers hanging out of helicopters, skiing is jam-packed with bravado, daring, guts, and ego.
Accordingly, so are the pages (and web pages) of SKI Magazine. Over the years, we’ve sent writers on dream (or nightmare, depending on your skiing ability) assignments to the far reaches of the ski universe to huck themselves down mountainsides—or report on other people doing such things.
Here are 5 of our favorite long-form adventure reads. Settle in and let us help you extend the season just a bit longer.
1. Inside the Deadliest Race on Snow
The Derby de la Meije has been a mainstay at the French ski resort of La Grave for the last 30-some years. The goal: Ski the nearly 5,000 vertical feet from the top of Meije to the base the fastest. There’s no route—do however you like, just don’t die. We sent writer Matt Coté to experience the insanity for himself. (He didn’t race; we like him too much for that.)
“Part of the race’s lore is its lawlessness. Though, there are some rules. Couloirs like the Trifides—which are 1,300-vertical-feet long and have a 50-degree pitch, and some people used to straightline back in the day—are now banned, because someone died during training once. (Lång remembers a telemarker who also delaminated his skis from tip to tail from the violent throw of gravity at the bottom.) Otherwise, the entire mountain is yours to find the fastest way down. Racers drop in heats of 10, with 30 seconds between them. It will take about two hours for all competitors to leave the start gate. It will take longer than that for some to finish their runs. The fastest, though, will do it in about six minutes.”
2. This is What Happens When an Old Dude Enters the East’s Toughest Bump Competition
Writer Joe Cutts is always game for a challenge. So when we asked him to compete in Killington’s Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge for a story, the native Vermonter didn’t even flinch. As it turns out, his fake-it-till-you-make facade worked out for him in the end.
“There’ll be a photograph of my second air—John convinces a guy standing by the side of the course with a fancy camera to email it to him. I plan to go huge, knowing John is standing there, but a tiny bobble on the last bump before the approach throws me off balance. The resulting image is equal parts hilarious and pathetic: my windmilling arms spread to almost full wingspan, knees pointed left (I was going for a mule kick), head drooping to the right, misery etched on my face. It reminds me of something. Wait, I’ve got it: I look exactly like an early Donatello crucifix. ‘Christ of The Red Helmet.’ And I am risen… all of about 24 inches off the deck.”
3. The Death-Defying World of Ski Joring and Why It Just Might be the Most Dangerous Sport on Skis
Ski-joring, or getting pulled behind a horse on skis while trying to grab rings, hit kickers, and not die, is quite honestly, bananas. And while it’s not something we cover regularly (or ever, really) in SKI, writer Devon O’Neil’s frank and honest story offers an interesting perspective on this unique activity and the people who embrace it.
“If you are not on top of your game, you could end up like Jerry Kissell five years ago, the last time he ran the Open course. ‘I went off a jump, slid across the finish line on my head, got flipped from there, bounced off the asphalt, hit the sidewalk, and bang, right into a fire hydrant, out cold,’ Kissell said. ‘It turned out I broke my collarbone in two places and my top two ribs, but at the time, I had another run to take. So I took it.’”
4. This is How You Get Extreme in Taos, N.M.
Former Skiing Magazine editor Kimberly Beekman has been on dozens of assignments for SKI and has traveled to Iceland, Norway, Chile, and beyond to get us the story. This one only required her to drive some five hours from her home in Denver to Taos, where she would compete in a Freeride World Tour qualifier event, but it would provide her with some of the scariest moments she’s had in a while. We’re glad she survived to tell the tale, and give us all a good laugh.
“Now, however, standing atop this godforsaken pile of jagged rocks that are waiting to tear my legs from their cozy hip sockets, I have reverted to my awkward seventh-grade self, shuffling through the crowd sideways in too-big flats. In this moment, the only thing I am sure about is that I should never have let her talk me into this.”
5. Ski Touring in Avalanche Terrain Can Really Bring Your Life Into Focus
Another former Skiing Magazine editor, Kevin Luby, shares the epiphany he came to during this weeklong trip to a remote hut in the unpredictable, yet exhilarating, terrain in B.C.’s Valkyr Range. Amazing adventures sometimes come with a price tag—and we don’t mean the kind associated with money.
“’Alright I’m gonna put a cut in,’ I say as I fumble with my radio, ski gear, and some newly developed nerves. With my immediate ski partners tucked into trees above me, I drop in, knifing a clean left turn on the crest of the outcropping. Snow peels away from my bases as cracks shoot horizontally in both directions across the small snow-covered rock band. I watch as the fracture envelops the snowfield below me and a mass of avalanche debris gains speed down the slide path, the tops of small exposed trees rattling violently as the snow lumbers by.”