The top 5 terrifying ski runs in Europe

This is a lighthearted look at five of the most extreme and dangerous ski runs in Europe. Many have tried and many have failed. Brave or brainless, depending on which side of the fence you sit, you canʼt deny the nerve and skill of the skiers who attempt to get to the end of these terrifying runs unscathed and still in one piece.

No pasar

Harakiri-Mayrhofen, Austria

With an average incline of 78%, and that’s almost vertical, the Harakiri is the steepest slope in Austria and that’s probably why there are no luxury chalets built here. The slope is legendary, it draws huge flocks of vultures waiting to pick the bones of the pile of deceased skiers at the bottom. A large, bloodthirsty, cheering section of ski enthusiasts (sadists) watch the more extreme skiers tackle the run. Luckily for the participants the run is only 150m long. Many make the journey all the way to the bottom on their derriere, or via a series of high impact tumbles. Named after the Japanese ritual of suicide by samurai, Harakiri is the world’s steepest groomed slope. The machinery used to groom the slope has to be seen to be believed.

La Grave, France

A 40-minute cable car ride to the summit of this 3,000m beast and you’re either relishing returning to the bottom in a fraction of the time or you’re wishing you’d worn your brown salopettes. You’re completely on your own now, no turning back. I hope you payed attention in ski school. There are no designated ski runs, no ski patrol. The insane or more extreme skiers can choose from 2,000m plus of various vertical drops. It’s no accident La Grave is named the grave.A lot of the terrain requires a rope and harness to descend the un-skiable sections. This is serious skiing for serious skiers.

The Lauberhorn-Wengen, Switzerland

With a 2,500m summit, this downhill course, which hosts the famous Lauberhorn race, is the longest in the world at 4.5kms. The run takes pro skiers an average of about two and a half minutes to complete, quicker than it takes most skiers to put their gloves on. Skiers reach 160km per hour, fast enough for G forces to displace cheeks several inches backwards. This monster is the fastest on the World Cup circuit. The course features a number of challenging arrangements, most notably the Hundschopf – a 130-foot jump over a rock nose, which launches skiers into space, most return to earth, some are never seen again. The course offers its most difficult challenge at the end when racers are exhausted. In 1991 Austrian racer Gernot Reinstadler lost a leg when his ski hung up in the protective fencing and ripped it out of the joint. He also lost his life. Not one for the fainthearted. The Gloria Gaynor hit is popular on this run… “first I was afraid, then I was petrified2”.

The Saslong-Val Gardena, Italy

Ever since man first strapped two planks to his feet and threw himself downhill, he’s been looking for longer, steeper, faster. Then some crazy man who was thinking outside the box thought why not bumpier? Hence ‘The Camels’. The Saslong, created in 1970, features a set of three jumps. The most daring skiers try to clear the middle lump by launching off the first and indeed it can be done but alas it can also be undone as many skiers find out to their cost.

The Streif-Kitzbühel, Tyrol, Austria

Take a lift to the summit and as the tension mounts you begin to question the wisdom of what you are about to attempt. Soon enough you’ll find yourself about 1.500m feet in the air, staring in awe at one of the most terrifying downhill runs in the world. The run bills itself as “the world’s most spectacular ski run”. This is probably where the now familiar term was first coined. The Streif’s average gradient is 27% and pro racers can reach 145km per hour. Making matters worse, there’s a sting in the tail, the course ends with the Mausefalle – a final jump that can hurl you close to 100m feet further down the hill, and I do mean hurl. The accident reports for the annual Hahnenkamm Downhill hosted at The Streif makes for pretty grim reading. When they open the course to spectators immediately following the race, the report becomes a horror story. Don’t be a fool; don’t become a chapter in this gruesome novel. You have been warned.

Rebecca Taylor is Director at SkiBoutique.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Solene says:

    You can also add the “Swiss Wall” in Champéry (Portes du Soleil) about a 50 degree slope… Quite scary.

  2. Mark Swan says:

    Sorry to correct you, but the Harakiri is certainly very steep for a pisted run, but not nearly vertical. It’s 37.954 degrees, i.e. the angle whose tangent is 0.78. Continental Europeans measure gradients in %. But, 100% is actually 1 in 1, or 45 degrees. 78 degrees by the way, in European measure would be 470.46% (it’s tangent is 4.7046) !!

  3. Malcolm Loudon says:

    Not sure what the drama is with the Harakiri is – my 13 year old did it with me today by accident. Found our way on it having done another black – “which wasn’t a black” in his words (I would have rated that one a red/black). Anyway went down this random black not noticing the sign realised it was fairly steep and a bit icy in places there were a number of fallers and my kid retrieved a lady’s ski and got it down to her (husband had fallen first and another skier helped him).
    Memo to self – next time will do it on pure piste tight radius skis it was harder work on big all mountain planks. Son had advantage on responsive junior racing skis. I think that the Tiger or Flypaper in Scotland can be more challenging on a good (bad) day. Is the 150m referring to vertical descent – its not long but certainly more than 150 m long – maybe thats just the steepest section thats 150m?

  4. Malcolm Loudon says:

    See above comment.

    I see from reading elsewhere someone made a typo – its 1500m long not 150m that feels more like it. It fits with the fallen skiers being separated from their skis by what I estimate to be 200m – I guess thats how far to expect to travel if you wipe out – more if its really icy!

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