00-20161209 killebrew-canyon

The 10 Steepest Ski Runs in Tahoe

There is one reason why snow warriors flock to Tahoe year after year, and that’s the terrain—there’s nowhere else in the lower 48 that has as many steep ski runs to choose from. Another unique feature of Tahoe is the pretty heavy snow that falls here thanks to the fact that Sierra is in the maritime snow zone and the moisture content is relatively high when the area isn’t facing drought conditions like it has in recent years. This heavy snow sticks to the steep chutes and cliffs, giving this area skiable terrain that you just don’t come by in most of the rest of the country. Wide skis were pioneered by Tahoe legend Shane McConkey, and you are definitely going to want to pull out the 100 mm+ skis for most conditions here.

The chutes and steep runs in this Northern California ski mecca are like nowhere else in the country. Here are 10 of the steepest, scariest, and gnarliest rides in the Lake Tahoe area.

1. The Wall, Kirkwood

If the double black diamonds and skull and crossbones signs along the Wall don’t deter you, watching Kirkwood locals dropping 20 foot cliffs and skiing chutes in this world-renowned spot is either going to make you vomit or get really stoked. The Wall is the iconic ridgeline that Kirkwood is known for.

Kirkwood is a little bit farther away from Lake Tahoe than the majority of resorts in this region, but it stands at about 1,000 feet higher than any other Tahoe ski resort. It’s also located at the end of a box canyon, making ideally situated to accumulate more snow than any of the other resorts nearby. Despite being so close to Tahoe at Kirkwood you’ll often feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Hailed as one of Mother Nature’s greatest terrain parks, The Wall features steep chutes, huge cliffs, and fun gullies, all in one run.

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2. Killebrew Canyon, Heavenly

A photo posted by Bryan Oland (@buk_frtn) on Mar 22, 2016 at 2:44pm PDT

Even locals sometimes overlook the steeper, more remote edges of this resort, which has a reputation as a great place for beginners, not those looking to crush double black diamonds. Luckily for those of us who are in the know, Killebrew Canyon features gnarly cliffs and 45 degree chutes. It requires a bit of an eastern traverse over from the top of Dipper Express lift, ensuring that all except for experts seeking the steepest runs the Heavenly has to offer usually steer clear.

3. Quail Face, Homewood

Known for its epic powder and tree skiing when many other resorts in Tahoe are tracked out, Homewood also boasts an incredible steep section with great cliff-dropping opportunities. The 900 feet of descent on Quail Face is one of the beefiest runs in Tahoe and features several steep drop offs. You’ll have to hike a bit to get to this one, but if you are addicted to the insane terrain Tahoe is known for, this experts only run is going to be well worth it.

4. McConkeys/Eagles Nest, Squaw Valley

One important word of warning about Squaw Valley is that this iconic Olympic ski destination doesn’t use the double black diamond to designate their runs. Instead, look for little lollipop shaped signs that say things like “Expert Only,” “Caution,” or “Cliffs.”

McConkeys is accessed off the KT-22 chair lift and rated at a 68-degree pitch in its steepest section. Originally referred to as Eagle’s Nest, it was renamed for the late Shane McConkey, who was one of the most influential skiers to come through Squaw Valley.

5. Chute 75, Squaw Valley, California

A photo posted by ebdunn (@ebdunn) on Feb 9, 2016 at 4:38pm PST

Stand at the top of the cornice entrance to Chute 75, also accessed via KT-22 at Squaw, and you’ll feel your heartbeat accelerate, your palms go clammy, and your breakfast flip flopping around in your stomach. And that’s just from looking at. The top of the chute drops in at about 45 degrees and edges closer to 50 degrees if you head closer to skiers’ left. Instead of gently running out to something manageable, however, you have to navigate a narrow choke about halfway down the run.

6. Keyhole, Alpine Meadows

Standing at the top of this sharp, 55 degree drop is pretty exhilarating. The snow here is usually amazing even when the rest of the resort isn’t ideal. It’s usually soft and chalky since it’s located in a colder, drier, north facing part of the resort. This ski run requires a short traverse and hike from Summit Chair or from Alpine Bowl Chair to the Upper Saddle area. There are a few rocks and other obstacles on this run that will keep you on your toes, but the expert terrain and opportunity for cliff dropping at Alpine Meadows will be worth it for serious skiers and riders who don’t mind a little boot packing.

7. Captivator, Mount Rose

When Mount Rose opened the previously closed Chutes to the public a few years back, adrenaline junkies rejoiced. With a vertical drop of 1,500 feet on the northeast side of Lake Tahoe, the snow here is some of the best in the area. This super steep bowl features 17 designated runs and nine of these are double black diamonds, but the line that reigns supreme over them all is Captivator. Not only one of the steepest ski runs to choose from, it’s also the longest. To access it, take the El Cap gate and at the top, angle right into the only entrance. The level, right run is rated more than 45 degrees.

8. The Plunge, Northstar

Popular among skiers and riders who love the trees, Northstar has a lot to offer for those who know where to look. If you are on the search for steep runs at Northstar, head away from the intermediate skiing mecca that is Mid Mountain and access Sawtooth Ridge, where you’ll find several long, fun runs. The Plunge is the steepest.

9. The Palisades, Sugar Bowl

Sugar Bowl generally gets the most snow among the resorts scattered around the North Tahoe/Truckee area. It averages about 500 inches of annual snowfall, making it one of the best places in California for fresh tracks. The snow blows right into the Palisades, cushioning these severely steep chutes.

10. Oops & Poops, Kirkwood

Another spot not to miss at Kirkwood is a powder chute called Chamonix. From Chair 6, hit the rocky, 40-degree drop on skier’s left. You’ll then make a hard right through a keyhole into Oops & Poops, a steep, 10-foot-wide, and often overlooked corridor.

Featured image provided by Ryan Grimm

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    1. Hell anything at mammoth smokes Tahoe !! Much longer and much more exposed terrain
      Avy chutes , dragons back and tail , the wazoo anything across the top from huevos , mjb’s , down to star chute , even hemlocks on the backside trumps Tahoes best!!!

        1. You guys left out the Top of the World lines- including the nice little warm up drop off Balls!

      1. Ummmmmm no it doesn’t. Not even close. If it did there would be a lot more skiiers and boarders that lived in Mammoth and not in Tahoe. It’s a great mountain but it’s just a mountain it doesn’t have Tahoe bc terrain. Keep in mind this list isnt including all the epic BC you can find in Tahoe

        1. You have no clue, we used to rip that shit on a pair of 223s back in the day not 115 at the waist.

      2. I haven’t skied Mammoth but I would love to. I don’t get the concept of bashing Tahoe because you like Mammoth. It doesn’t fit in with the ski culture I know.

  1. Hangman’s, Paranoid 3, Dave’s, Climax, Star Chute. Mammoth simply has the largest concentration of badass runs in the country. And the view from 11,053 is awesome and beautiful. Mammoth is my heart forever!

  2. Um hmmm. And when you run out of lift access and back country ideas at Mammoth, a hike up to the Sherwin Ridge will give you puffy pants.

    1. If you want puffy pants, go hike Bloody Couloir and drop in at skier’s left of the rock divider- that wil give you puffy pants and saggy drawers looking down the entrance!

  3. When I was skiing Kirkwood daily, Oops and Poops was known as “Once Is”, as in “Once is enough”

  4. Maybe 10 steepest in tahoe area – leaving mammoth out makes this another tahoe story, not a california story

  5. Squaw has a lot more than Chute 75. The Fingers on KT, also, Mosley’s… There’s a LOT of fun stuff on Siverado, the Slot on Headwall is fun and most of anything on Olympic Lady too. Mammoth is an awesome hill, but it’s not Tahoe.

  6. I’ve skied Tahoe and Mammoth a lot over many years starting in the 1970’s. That includes dropping Keyhole on tele skis, laps on Headwall at Kirkwood and the Palisades at Sugarbowl, hiking laps at Alpine. Mammoth is better. Higher altitude. Better snow. More steep chutes across the entire top of the mountain. Better views. More heart stopper runs (Hangman’s Hollow anyone? Phillippes? Star Chute?). If it were located at Tahoe somewhere, every other mountain in the area would be second tier.

  7. Maximum pitch of steeps at Tahoe compares favorably to Mammoth, in my opinion. What’s makes the difference at Mammoth is the sustained pitch. Paranoid Flats is my favorite. It just goes on and on at a great pitch, with buffed Winter snow all season due to the aspect.

  8. What sets Mammoth apart for me from the other great areas is the massive ridge accessed by arguably the best single chair in America, #23. Set up a burger shack and porta- potty at the loading station and I’d stay there all day. The snow holds late in the year for July turns. I’ve skied boot deep or corn to die for in May. I’ve had (have) passes there and K-Wood which is my second love. Easy going, non pretentious expert hill which runs around #3 in North America for snowfall. 2011 Mammoth was buried with 680″, K-Wood had mid 8O0’s. Wanna learn to ski pow…hit the Wood. Skied for 45 seasons and at age 65 I gotta say, I’d no sooner ski one run all day than one resort. But if forced to ski only one resort and one region I’d have to say Mr McCoy was (is) a genius in picking this hill as was God when he made the incomparable Eastern Sierra.

  9. Ex racer here. Mammoth has my fave steeps in CA. Don’t forget Avi Chutes off chair 22. Big Sky MT IMHO has the best easy acces (boot pack) steeps – A to Z Chutes.

  10. That’s not a picture of Chute 75 in the article, that’s a picture to the skiers right side of Rock Garden.

  11. Hiked and skied the wall at Kirkwood long before there was a chairlift don’t stop there go a little higher and ski hourglass which they have closed
    Hike up the palisades at Squaw between head wall and Siberia bowl you have national chute main chute extra chute and the tube
    Steeper than all the ones mentioned

  12. Squaw, forgot the light towers, the slot, sun bowl, national chute, main chute, rock garden, alternate chute, dead tree chute, just to name a few…

    1. … and the epic “Sylvester Chute” underneath the Tram at Squaw! I saw Rick ski that back in the ’70’s, I’m still puckered!

  13. The photo of “Chute 75” is actually Rock Garden. Also the photo of “The Wall” is taken on the other side of Thunder Saddle, no where near the Wall.

  14. Tahoe is good , Mammoth is better , Jackson Hole is best for steep & deep ….. Best steep & deep tree skiing Heavenly Valley Nevada side all the way down to Carson Valley epic on a powder day.

  15. Big Sky sucks, everything you’ve heard about it is not true. A-Z’s are overrated, Big C is kid’s stuff, anyone can ski the Gullies. Dictators, the Wave, Vuarnet and Rockville are no big deal. North Summit exit chutes easier than they look. Headwaters are hardly worth the hike. Stay in California, please. Nothing to see here.

    1. All of Montana sucks. It is cold, when it snows, it just blows to Wyoming, you have to hike to anything good…

  16. God Damn can half of you read? The title of the article says TAHOE. GTF over it. Mammoth is not in Tahoe. There is enough steeps everywhere so stop bitching and go ride some!

  17. Star chute for sure. Went down that head first back in the early 80’s. Remember that to this day. Not as bad as a pre release at the top of Keyhole in Alpine. Bounced off the rocks at the bootleg left and lived to tell the story.

  18. It all depends on the conditions. Double black diamond slopes are a different challenge when they have different amounts of snow. They are a different challenge with Blue Ice. Then they are another challenge with Moguls.
    I have skied everything in Pennsylvania, Taos, Ski Toured in Austria, skid at Zao and Ishiuchi in Japan, in Tahoe done Squaw, Boreal, Soda Springs and Kirkwood. Chute 75 is great when iced over, The Wall is great with Moguls, Siberia Tower goes from good to simple depending on how much snow is on it. The Pallasades at Sugar Bowl is great when it has just enough snow to open with all of it’s steepness. Pick a great double diamond slope wherever you go and find a way to make it more challenging!

  19. These rankings seem to incorporate factors other than the actual degree of steepness, which would be reasonable if that’s the case, but it would be nice to bust out the clinometer and cite precise numbers too.

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