Looking for a challenge but not yet ready to head off into backcountry trails? Do you feel that some of the so-called black runs on offer at ski resorts are really light grey or even slightly pink? Read on as we work out where in Europe to really have your skills put to the test.
One form of challenge is surely any piste that just goes on and on and on till your legs turn to jelly. Two resorts lay claim to having the longest black run in the world: Alpe d'Huez near Grenoble and Les Arcs in the Tarantaise (nearest airport Chambery).
The Sarenne in Alpe D'Heuz is a lovely 16 km run. It starts at Pic Blanc, 3,330m above sea level. The first, fairly short part is on a mildly demanding piste, and then the track disappears away from lifts, over the back of the mountain into an undeveloped valley before returning on a long scenic path to the main resort (1860m). The run is worth doing simply for the length and for the sense of being well away from the crowds, but we would hesitate to label it challenging overall. The other problem with is that snow conditions often close the run off. A shame to go all that way and not be able to access the best run of the resort all week, although Alpe D'Heuz does have plenty of fairly interesting skiing, and is a good all round family resort. Aim for mid season for the best chance of skiing the Sarenne.
Les Arcs' claim for the record book starts at 3226m Aiguille Rouge ending in Villaroger at 1200m, and although only 7 km, it has a longer vertical descent than the Sarenne, and is certainly more challenging. The top half is steep and exposed, and can develop some pretty intense moguls. Snow cover usually lasts fairly well, and even when thaw has set in, you can still ski the top half of the run and feel you've worked hard. And of course Les Arcs is now linked to La Plagne to form the immense Paradiski area with plenty of other challenging skiing, including the 70o flying K, where competitors reach speeds of up to 250 km per hour. You can book a timed trial on this slope, conditions permitting. Our suggestion is to stay in Arc 2000 if you want the quickest access to the most challenging skiing the area has to offer, and to catch any virgin powder. The most challenging piste in Europe is probably the Wall in Avoriaz underneath the Chavanette chair. Though short, the top in particular is intense, and just standing looking down the 55 degree slope, trying to see the lee of the huge moguls, puts many people off - the down chair is always busy! Avoriaz itself is at the heart of the Portes du Soleil, an immense area, and an interesting challenge can be trying to ski as far as you can in one day without missing the connections home (or face a very expensive taxi ride.).
If you do choose Portes du Soleil you could also just about squeeze in a day trip to Chamonix (about 1 ½ hours drive away) and experience one of the most awesome runs available in Europe - the Vallee Blanche, Mont Blanc's glacier. Approx 20km long, it starts at the Aiguille du midi (3812m) and finishes 2800m lower at Montenvers train station. Entirely off piste, you cannot ski this without a mountain guide due to the danger posed by crevasses. Skiing is of a mild blue run sort - the scariest part of the day is walking out of the cable car at the top - but the scenery is out of this world, and the experience of skiing across this immense glacier, miles from lifts or any signs of civilisation, has to be experienced. The glacier is not always open; best times of year are probably mid season, late Feb through March. And if that gets your appetite going, Argentiere, higher up the valley, has some pretty challenging itineraries - almost back country but not quite..