Instead, these ski routes happen with few people around, amongst wild hop turns at miserably high altitudes. The amount of such exposure and risk would not normally appeal to the well-adjusted, sane individual. But we are duly thankful to the people who pioneered such lines; For without them, we wouldn’t know what is possible– what is the absolute limit– above our heads and shrouded in the clouds.
The 10 Craziest First Descents Ever Recorded
10) Grand Teton, Wyoming – Bill Briggs (1971)
Still known as the godfather of steep skiing, Bill Briggs put down this epic descent by himself after his partners backed away from the line. While many people refused to believe Brigg’s tale, the proof was in the pudding as Virginia Huidekoper of the Jackson Hole News and Guide grabbed the shot with Briggs the next day. Thank God.
Buy the poster here: BILL BRIGGS GRAND TETON POSTER UPDATE
- First descent occurred on June 16, 1971
- Solo skied
- 7,000 feet of elevation gain (human-powered only)
9) The Mallory Route, Chamonix – Anselme Baud, Yves Détry and Daniel Chauchefoin (1977)
While alpinists used the Mallory as an early test piece for objectives like Everest, the Eiger, and Mont Blanc, the route wasn’t descended on skis until 1977, when legendary Anselme Baud lead the charge down the route. To this day the 55° degree line with multiple rappels is only attempted by the most seasoned ski mountaineers.
- 55° max steepness
- 2 mandatory rappels (more rappels depending on conditions)
- No hiking required
8) Pontoon Peak, Alaska – Jerry Hance and Michael Cozad (1991?)
“We got snaked on it… Unfortunately.” – Eric Pehota
The Pontoon isn’t as much on this list of “crazy descents” for its steepness but rather for its story. The line, which had been eyed by a few saavy big mountain rippers, had yet to see tracks before Trevor Petersen and Eric Pehota laid eyes on the beast. However, hours before they planned to go ski the damn thing, Jerry Hance and Michael Cozad had already snaked their line, claiming the first descent and the win.
- Classic bros snaking each other’s lines
- Alaska trophy peak
7) Huascaran, Peru – Patrick Vallencant, Jean Marc Boivin (1978)
When it comes to type II fun, maybe Peru takes the cake. With an unbelievably long approach, Huascaran is an interesting first descent. Those that dared do it first, did so shortly after a 7.9 earthquake that created what is commonly referred to as the largest and most fatal rock avalanche ever recorded in human history. 66,000 people are estimated to have died in the 1970 earthquake after a humongeous chunk of the north face crumbled into the towns of Ranrahirca and Yungay.
- Susceptible to earthquakes
- Large crevasses blocking much of the approach
- Extremely remote with little to no support
Video: Huascaran First Descent
6) Denali’s South Face, Alaska – Andreas Frannson (2011)
Andreas Frannson went on a vision quest down the South Face of Denali and returned with some of the most exciting film ever captured on such a large mountain. Denali was just one of Andreas’ many first descents.
- Skiing + 4 Rappels + Downclimbing
- Expedition style approach required
- Roughly 10,000′ vertical drop
5) Mount Waddington, BC – Trevor Petersen, Eric Pehota (1986)
Canada’s most famous first descent must be Mount Waddington in the Coast Range of British Columbia. And while they got snaked on “Pontoon,” Eric Pehota and Trevor Petersen bagged the mac daddy of North America– Mt Waddington instead.
- 10 day expedition
- Tallest mountain in the Coast Range
- Extremely exposed to avalanches and full of glaciated terrain
Video: The Spirit | Clip 2
4) Nanga Parbat, Pakistan – Hans Kammerlander and Diego Wellig (1990)
In 1990, one Italian and one Swiss national put the first tracks down the North Summit of Nanga Parbat. To this day, the feat is crazy but that said, any skiing above 20k feet is crazy.
- Navigate through rockbands, snow, and ice on 50° slopes.
- Known as “Killer Mountain”
- Climbing route is extremely prone to avalanches
Video: Nanga Parbat Ski
3) Hornbein Couloir North Face Of Everest, Nepal (Accessed from shoulder) – Dominique Perret and Jean Troilet (1996)
I’m gonna go ahead and say it. If I was superman, had unlimited lung capacity, access to a high tech helicopter, and skis that were waxed for skiing @30k feet, I’d ski here and only here. To think that a person… a mere mortal has skied here without oxygen, in pure alpine style is insane. That said, maybe Dominique Perret is God?
- Accessed the couloir from just below the summit
- 47-60° slope
Video: Hornbein Couloir
2) Everest South Col, Nepal – Yuichiro Miura (1970)
Without a doubt, the weirdest and wildest first descent story, Yuichiro Miura became the first person to ski off the South Col of Everest after weather shut down an attempt to ski from the summit of the world’s tallest peak. Instead he decided to ski down the South Col… with a parachute deployed.
Find more here: The Godfather of Extreme Skiing
Not only was the technique ill conceived but it almost cost Miura his life when he fell down the face and miraculously stopped just a few hundred feet short of the Bergshrund. That said he picked up his gear and skied out as the first man to take turns on the world’s highest mountain.
- Edmund Hillary (first person to ascend Everest) encouraged the descent
- The 4,200′ descent lasted approximately 2 minutes and 20 seconds
- Fell a good deal of the descent and miraculously survived
1) Hidden Peak, Pakistan – Sylvain Saudan (1982)
“I don’t live for the mountain. I couldn’t live without her. I live with her.” – Sylvain Saudan
At the age of 46, Slyvain Saudan skied what is still considered by most as the longest, most exposed 50 degree slope to ever see a pair of skis. Nicknamed “skier of the impossible,” Saudan is one of the few steep skiing legends who is still alive to this day. He turned 80 years old last week.
- Longest 50° descent ever recorded
- No supplemental oxygen used
- First descent at the ripe young age of 46
Video: Hidden Peak