North America’s Most Challenging Ski Mountains

The road less traveled is a road that every adventurer craves. The thrill of the unknown (or places others don’t usually go) makes for an exciting story. Predictable trails have their appeal, but the biggest snow buffs are often looking for truly challenging ski mountains.

There’s nothing greater than the rush of the wind on your face and the powder spraying around as you make quick turns, one after the other. But what if the trails were steeper? Or more rugged? Or almost painstakingly tricky to traverse because of how deep the powder is? Some ski mountains offer a good mix of terrain for all levels, while others might have more difficult runs that strike a sense of awe in anyone who talks about it.

Raising the bar: Here are six of the most challenging ski mountains in North America.

And if you’re the type who wants to push the envelope on what you’re capable of, then you’ll most likely want to try these ski mountains. While these challenging mountains are epically breathtaking and inspiring, we can’t say they are for the faint of heart. So hold on to your ski poles and helmets because it will be a crazy ride.

In no particular order, here are six of North America’s most challenging ski mountains:

1. Big Sky Resort, Montana

The term “rise and grind” was probably started because of Big Sky Resort. We all know it wasn’t, but it would make sense because of how much skiable acreage there is. You’ll want to wake up early to get through it all. And let’s not forget about how much effort that means you’ll have to put in to make it through the day.

Extreme terrain is what this resort is all about, and why it can leave people feeling worn out after only a few hours on the trails. Lone Mountain, the singular peak at the heart of Big Sky, is a mighty peak with chutes and lines that are perfect for heart-pumping adventures.

You have many options to choose from to make the most of your visit. The A-Z Chutes, Headwaters Ridge, and Liberty Bowl will ease your hunger for a mountain challenge. But more are waiting for you, considering that the resort has mostly advanced trails (42%). Expert trails only make up 18% of the overall terrain, but don’t be fooled by the number. Because within that space lies some truly gnarly runs that will either make or break you.

2. Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine

The name sounds sweet, but Sugarloaf offers guests some unforgiving terrain. With almost half of its runs (43%) in the advanced category, you’re in for a wild time. Make no mistake because you’ll find real challenges to confront. Challenges that lead to trails are both gnarly and unruly. And don’t miss out on ones like Misery Whip, a no-nonsense, natural run down a no-exit T-bar line.

Sugarloaf also features plenty of sidecountry for skiers and snowboarders to traverse, a treat and the perfect opportunity to find hidden stashes everywhere. Like backcountry, sidecountry is just as fantastic, remote, and full of untouched terrain.

Mount Burnt and Brackett Basin offer uncommon (in a good way) experiences people don’t typically come across. The resort provides cat rides to both areas, but there is a limited amount per day. It’s best to book in advance to get in on the action. Snag a spot while you’re there or before you arrive because it fills up quickly. And it’s easy to see why this resort is so popular among advanced skiers because it takes the overall experience to a new level.

3. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming

Even if you are unfamiliar with the area, you’ve probably heard of Jackson Hole’s reputation. It’s a secluded but ultimately incredible ski resort that shouldn’t be slept on in any way. The terrain pushes your skiing abilities to the limit and beyond.

Hailing one of the steepest inbound runs in North America, Jackson Hole offers up dizzying trails for advanced and expert skiers. One such run is Corbets Coulior, a legendary run that’ll knock the wind right out of you (if you let it!).

This nearly vertical run insists (read offers no other option) that skiers begin their trek with a drop of 20 feet. Skiers should be on high alert and watch out for rocks in the run-out. There isn’t much room for error, so caution is advised. If this doesn’t sound like something you want to be a part of, you can watch others attempt this legendary run from the tram.

4. Mount Baker, Washington

Do you want optimal snowfall quantity? Then Mt. Baker will be right up your alley. Known for having the deepest snow base in North America, this resort will have you feeling like the king or queen of the world. Average snowfall is more than 660 inches, with most trails being for intermediate skiers and above.

Their mountain management policy is reasonably strict because it clarifies that each person is responsible for their actions. The policy expects all skiers to proceed cautiously on the slopes. It also doesn’t make light of how challenging the terrain is either. They mention that guests’ safety is not guaranteed due to the “rugged, ever-changing and at times severe mountain environment.”

After being thoroughly warned about the dangers of the mountain, it’s safe to say you should use your best judgment when navigating the inbounds. Try not to show off your skills too much because others might not find it as exciting.

When you’re looking to push yourself further, try these less-traveled trails and terrain.

5. Red Mountain Resort, BC, Canada

When it comes to Canada, the first thing you hear about is the incredible expanse of wilderness and the treks people go on while there. The next thing will be about their epic ski resorts. And what their terrain holds for snow enthusiasts looking to push themselves physically. Red Mountain Resort is one of those locations (to be sure) because of their insane backcountry and unkempt runs.

For instance, guests can pay ten dollars (yes, that’s right) to take a Snowcat trip toward Mt. Kirkup. The peak otherwise can’t be reached because a chairlift service is unavailable. You can score some of the best first tracks while exploring 200 acres of tree skiing.

But don’t be fooled by the calming nature of the pure white snow or the perfectly spaced trees because it’s still a pretty intense journey back down to the base, even for advanced skiers. You can try out your luck on the ungroomed runs and rolling advanced terrain. We think the experience will fulfill your adrenaline junky needs and leave you feeling exhilarated even after you’re done.

6. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, BC, Canada

Once upon a time, snow adventurers would have no option but to take a helicopter to access the area at Kicking Horse. Now, it’s a little easier to get there, but the trails remain some of the most rugged in Canada. Sixty percent of their terrain is for advanced or expert skiers, and they genuinely mean expert. The incredible expanse of their four bowls containing 90 chutes will make your jaw drop and can all be seen from the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant (which sits at 7,700 feet).

If you’re craving to hit the backcountry while there, you can try to conquer it too. And request to be flown there by helicopter just like in the old days. Their knowledgeable trainers are also there to assist you in taking on the demanding trails in Kicking Horse. How do they manage the terrain? They’ll be there to give you the lowdown so you can feel even more confident on the snow.