Phillipa Holmes-Hoare knows a thing or two about pushing her limits. A skier (and later, snowboarder) since the age of 11, she came second in the notoriously fast and dangerous Courchevel Derby back in 1999, and in 2007 took part in the Scope Ski Challenge – skiing 150,000 vertical feet in six days. Now she’s General Manager of ski accommodation specialist Powderbeds, and spends most of her skiing time trying to keep up with her fearless five year old.
Here, to stoke the fires of your wintersports ambition, she picks ten mountain challenges that will scare you silly.
1. Ride the bobsleigh in La Plagne
After all, you’re sitting behind a professional pilot in a proper, four-person sled – and for the first few seconds it seems like you’re barely moving. Maybe, you hope, this is just going to be noisier version of tobogganing.
But then gravity tightens its grip. One moment, your sled is rumbling slowly over the ice. The next, it’s roaring, and the giant hand of g-force is thrusting you down into your seat as you thunder round the first turn. It’s such a sudden and violent transition that your mind goes blank for second or two. After that, all you can think of is keeping your head down. The walls of track seem terrifyingly close to the side of your crash helmet.
Top speed is around 75mph, and the run lasts barely a minute. And then, as you cross the finish line, and start to slow, the adrenaline catches up with you, and kicks you all the way to Easter. Suddenly, you’re as high as a kite, and grinning like a hyena.
2. Ski the Face in Val d’Isère
But ask an intermediate for their opinion, after they’ve been coaxed/tricked into skiing it with their mates, and you’ll get a different answer. Easy enough at first, this Olympic descent seems to get bored of zig-zagging half-way down the Rocher de Bellevarde, and legs it back to the resort without a single further turn. The sense of steepness is all-consuming. Lean out just a little and it feels like it’s going to grab hold of you – and not let go until you crash into the lift station at the bottom of the slope. No wonder some people take their skis off and slide down on their bum: and not always on purpose.
3. Order the spare ribs at the Cap Horn in Courchevel
It’s a lovely day in in the French resort of Courchevel. The sun’s out. You’re bombing about on its broad, ego-boosting pistes and, as lunchtime approaches, you’re beginning to feel a bit, well, cocky. “This skiing business is a piece of cake,” you say to yourself. “How can I make my day more thrilling?”
I’ll tell you how. Take your ski buddies for lunch on the sundeck of the Cap Horn restaurant, at the heart of the resort’s very upmarket social scene. This is the place to see and be seen, provided you’re seen spending freely. Order some King Crab for starters, and follow with Wagyu spare ribs. Of course, you’ll also need some champagne to kick off the meal, and few bottles of red for the meat. Now get your credit card out, and steady yourself for the bill. Last season, the ribs alone cost €395 for two.
4. Jump into Corbet’s Couloir
It’s all very straightforward. You ride the tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, follow the skiers’ tracks down the front side of the peak, and pull up above a deep notch in the cliffs. This is Corbet’s Couloir – probably the most famous in-bounds ski run in North America.
Then you have to jump. How far you drop depends on how hard it’s been snowing. It could be a couple of metres, it could nine or ten. But either way, you’ve got to jump to your left, rotate in mid air, and land facing right – so you avoid the cliff wall that’s just by your left shoulder.
Up here, the slope is at a 50-degree angle, and your acceleration will be instantaneous. But that’s good, because the speed will help you make the all-important left turn that’ll straighten up your line. Lower, down, deep powder awaits. But not before you’ve avoided the second cliff wall, on your right.
What could possibly go wrong?
5. Fly down the Cresta Run at 128km/h
This one’s a bit fiddly to organise. To try the Cresta Run in St Moritz, you need to become a temporary member of the Saint Moritz Tobogganing Club, and pay CHF600 for a beginner’s induction. But it’s well worth the hassle. After all, where else can you spend the day bombing head-first down a natural ice skeleton track at 128km/h, lying on a glorified tea tray – and then tuck into supper in a Michelin-starred restaurant? Though you might prefer to lie down in a darkened room when it’s over. Or the back of an ambulance.
6. Zip wire across the top of Val Thorens
How trusting are you? That’s the question you need to ask yourself before you strap into your harness and dangle off La Tyrolienne. The 1300m zip wire whizzes at 100km/h from the top of the Bouchet chairlift above Orelle (at 3,230m), to the Thorens Funitel at 3,000m, above Val Thorens. The drop is a heart-stopping 250m. If you think you’re going to fret about the reliability of the equipment it may not be for you. After all, 1 minute 45 seconds is a long time to imagine what it would be like if the straps of your harness began to tear…
But if you’re not one of life’s worriers, strap in. For a few blissful moments, at what feels like the top of the Alps, you’ll think you’re an eagle.
7. Book a freestyle lesson in Les Deux Alpes
The night beforehand, your mind will revisit every Youtube wipeout you’ve ever seen. It’ll tell you – repeatedly – that freestyle skiing is for rubber-jointed Californians with adrenal glands where their brains should be. What the hell are you doing trying to join them?
But then, when you meet your freestyle skiing instructor at Freestyle Land in Les Deux Alpes, you’ll realise you’re not going to be throwing yourself off huge Slopestyle kickers like the stars of the Winter Olympics. You’ll be on the Easy Line of diddy little jumps.
What’s more, you won’t even be launching yourself off those – at least, not to start with. First, your instructor will teach you the principles of the perfect ‘pop’ – how to take off and land with your weight centred over your skis. Only once you’ve the hang of that will you get airborne. But as soon as you do, you’ll understand why it’s so addictive.
8. Go tandem paragliding in Les Arcs
It’s all very safe. You’ve got an experienced paraglider strapped to your back, and above you a socking great parachute. But the moment you take off, and your skis lose contact with the snow, the alarm bells will start ringing. Hang on minute, your instincts say, as they wake up. You’re a human. You’re not designed for flight. What’s the big idea?
A couple of seconds later they’ll start shrieking – as the slopes of Les Arcs fall away and the most mind-boggling stretch of emptiness opens up beneath your feet. It’s best not to look down: concentrate instead on the snow-drenched peaks around you, and the endless canopy of blue above. And don’t forget to kiss Mother Earth when you land at the end of your flight – even if she is a bit chilly.
9. Ski the Mont Fort moguls in Verbier
Fancy yourself as a mogul skier? Then catch a lift to the top of Verbier’s ski area, several days after a snowfall, and ski the north face of Mont Fort. It’s high, it’s steep, and once several hundred skiers have been down, the moguls are the size of minis. If you fall, it’s a very long way to slide – as this skier found out.
10. Order a round of drinks at the Ronnie in Méribel
It’s been a brilliant day on the mountain in Méribel. On occasion, you’ve scared yourself silly. But you’ve also laughed so hard you thought your hair would curl. Now it’s time to celebrate. But when you get to the famous Rond Point– aka the Ronnie – at the top of town, the bar is absolutely rammed. How do you get in an order of drinks?
Simple: you bodysurf to reach the barman, and hope that nobody drops you.
Of course, there are many other ways to scare yourself silly in a ski resort. If you’ve got any stories, why not share them in the comments box below?