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Northern Rockies

There Is Steep Skiing at Vail—Here’s Where to Find It

This classic Rocky Mountain resort might not be known for its knee-knocking terrain, but there’s plenty of it if you know where to look.

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Vail is pretty huge, and despite being a household name that most skiers have visited at least once, it can be hard to figure out. With 5,289 skiable acres sprawled across a five-mile stretch of mountainous real estate in Colorado’s central Rockies, there’s a lot of terrain variety here.

Destination Guide: Where to Eat. Drink, Sleep and Play in Vail

While Vail Mountain isn’t known for its extreme terrain—rightfully so—there is a healthy amount of black- and double-black-diamond runs that will satisfy most expert skiers’ need for steeps. You might be familiar with some of the usual suspects—Riva Ridge, Prima Cornice, Lover’s Leap—so we consulted with Vail regulars and got the skinny on some not-so-obvious trails to seek out next season.

Expert Skiers’ Bucket List: Vail Mountain, Colo.

Ptarmigan Ridge to O.S.

Sun Down Bowl is the first of Vail’s seven Back Bowls that most skiers will encounter, off the backside of the Wildwood Express chair. Sun Down’s terrain includes a good mix of wide-open powder fields, tight trees, wide glades, and even a small cliff band. Seek out the area from Ptarmigan Ridge to O.S.—this east-facing terrain is set below a ridge that loads up with snow from winds gusting from the west.

Rasputin’s Revenge

Siberia Bowl was so named to acknowledge its remoteness and isolated feel. To that point, you don’t want to get stuck out here, so don’t attempt Raputin’s unless there’s enough snow to accommodate the steep pitch of this double-black run, and also know that there are some cliffs to navigate, and you’ll want that soft landing.

Steep and Deep
Mark Morris gets a face full in Steep and Deep. Photo: Jeff Cricco

Shangri-La Glade 

China Bowl is known for its wide-open, see-forever bowl skiing with low-angle glades, which is what makes coming across Shangri-La Glade that much more amazing. This tree run hides pockets of powder days after storms, and the trees are just the right spacing for a challenging and exhilarating ride.

The Pump House, The Narrows, Mudslide, Frontside Chutes

The funny thing about Vail is that some of its toughest, most technical stuff is on the frontside, toward the bottom of the mountain. Don’t even try to seek these out until the middle of the season, and even then, they still might not be open. If they are, you’re committed to navigating a very steep pitch and dense trees—and some downed ones, too—with nowhere to bail. If this sounds like your jam, you can find these off of Gitalong Road from the Mid-Vail lift. If you come to the bottom of Chair 2, though, you’ve gone too far.

Steep and Deep

Blue Sky Basin is better known for its beautiful views and epic trek to get there—it’s the farthest off all of the Back Bowls—than for its extreme terrain, but vert-seekers shouldn’t sleep on Steep and Deep. The entrance offers the steepest pitch in all of Blue Sky, and the rest of the run, while not extreme, funnels into perfectly spaced glades.


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