How Extreme Skiing Works

Types of Extreme Skiing

Freestyle tricks add extra extreme to extreme skiing.
Freestyle tricks add extra extreme to extreme skiing.

In the beginning, any steep downhill skiing was extreme skiing. Since then, extreme skiing has mutated from its origins as a steep-slope run into a variety of hair-raising winter adventures:

  • Heli skiing began with Canadian skiers in British Columbia, who started using airplanes and helicopters in their ascents, allowing them to make run after run without trudging up remote mountains. After all, you can't have the backcountry, mountainside run of your life if you can't get to the top of the mountain.
  • Ski jumping is an Olympic sport, and prominently features two elements extreme skiers and spectators alike love: raw speed and big air. Skiers may reach speeds of 60 mph (97 kph)and can travel the length of a football field before landing. While ski jumping and extreme skiing are different sports, extreme skiers sometimes perform big jumps in the middle or end of a run and use aerodynamic techniques associated with ski jumping.
  • Freestyle skiers perform aerial stunts and tricks anywhere there's something to ski off of, but in competition, this takes place in downhill mogul runs or on half-pipes. Extreme skiers find and make opportunities to perform long jumps, high-altitude drops, extreme vertical drops, or stunts that consist of some variety of freestyle spins, flips, and ski- or board-grabs as they careen down mountain slopes at highway speeds.
  • Snow kiting involves skiing while harnessed to a large sail or kite that pulls the skier across (or above) the terrain, enabling the snow kiter to catch massive air. Snow kites allow skiers to ski down dangerous mountainsides, taking flight when necessary to sail over rocky terrain (or directly into it).
  • Ski-BASE jumping is an offshoot of BASE (Building, Antenna, Span, Earth) jumping, in which enthusiasts ski off cliffs at speeds of up to 50 mph (80 kph), detach their skis and deploy a low-altitude parachute. Ski-BASE jumping has even spread from snowy cliffs to Las Vegas casino roofs and other decidedly nonmountainous locales, where skiers ski off ramps and parachute down to pavement.
  • Ski gliding (or "ski flying") involves skiing off a cliff while strapped to a hang-glider, and it's exactly as crazy as it sounds.

Extreme skiing pioneers continue inventing new types and hybrid forms of extreme skiing and show no signs of stopping. But you can't drop thousands of snowy vertical feet each day without a little technique, and we'll talk about that next.