Some people call it the world's most dangerous sport. But it is certainly the craziest: you've got to be mad to ski down a 60-degree slope.

Extreme skiers have some advice for newcomers to the sport. It's blunt advice, as you might expect from people who get their kicks from pushing themselves to the limits of daring: "If you fall, you are sure to die."


For the extremists, the steeper the descent down a mountain the better. They are happy skiing over rocky slopes and taking stomach-turning jumps. The craziest individuals will even ski over cliffs - though they do wear parachutes. And it's all for an adrenalin rush that they claim can't be described, only experienced.

The ultimate prize in the world's most dangerous sport is the Extreme Ski World Championship. Vaila Macdonald is a past winner. Victory involved launching herself from the summits of three 2000-metre peaks in the Chugach mountains in Alaska. Like all the contestants, Macdonald was only able to survey the course from the bottom of the mountain before being airlifted by helicopter to the start.

On the descent the slopes were breathtakingly steep – inclined at an angle of more than 50 degrees. As she hurtled towards one area she had thought ski-worthy, Macdonald saw it was a sheer cliff face. Fortunately, she found an escape route just in time.

If all this seems a far cry from the skiing of holiday brochures, it's because it is. There is nothing like extreme skiing – in competition or for its own sake.

It was the French who invented le ski extrême. In the sixties a mountain guide called Sylvain Saudan took to skiing down the icy precipices above the Alpine town of Chamonix that had previously been the territory of climbers using ropes, axes and crampons.' Saudan got his name in the Guinness Book of Records by skiing down the Couloir Gervasuti on Mont Blanc in 1968. At its steepest, this slope touches 60 degrees.

Extreme skiing doesn't offer the sensuous pleasure of sliding through the snow. It has more in common with solo climbing. There is the same tension between motivation and reward. To stay alive you must stay in control in extreme situations. It is a search for perfection in which error is excluded and human weakness denied.


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