Wait. What? I thought triple blacks only existed in the realm of unicorns and sorcerers. Well that’s what I thought until I started skiing at Whistler Blackcomb.
Whistler Blackcomb has some of the gnarliest, steepest and most extreme in-bounds terrain I’ve ever encountered. Most ski areas would require you to put in some effort to get into trouble. Not Whistler, the minute you ski off-piste it becomes quite easy to get yourself cliffed out, jumbled in a tree or sliding down the steepest chute of your life. If you’re a skier who finds the idea of cliffs, tree wells, crevasses, waterfalls, drops, cornices and chutes scary, that’s good…. YOU SHOULD.
However for skiers with a few screws loose who live for an adrenaline filled challenge, Whistler Blackcomb is the place to be!
Technically Whistler doesn’t rate any runs higher than a double black, which at Whistler are the real deal! Nonetheless, there are many in-bounds lines and runs that are not marked simply because they are very high risk! The mountain doesn’t want to advertise these as runs and be liable and have to rescue unprepared people who attempt them. These un-marked knee shaking and heart thumping lines make up Whistler Blackcomb’s TRIPLE BLACK DIAMONDS.
How is Run Difficulty Determined at Whistler?
Believe it or not, every mountain has their own trail rating system. This is why some of those classic black diamonds you loved skiing at other ski areas are similar to the blue runs at Whistler. Whistlers rating system is based on three factors. The slope width, the vertical gradient (vertical difference in elevation/horizontal distance) and the steepest 30 meters. Runs with trees or rocks are considered to not have a wide slope width and automatically become black diamonds due to hazards. A great modern day example of the trail rating system is the Saddle on peak chair. The Saddle was traditionally rated as a blue square. It’s groomed, wide open and super mellow at the bottom. However in recent years the top portion of the run has become steeper thanks to glacial receding. Now the steepest 30 meters of the saddle is that of a black diamond and not a blue square.
Comparing Single, Double & Triple Black Diamonds
Single black diamonds are typically runs that have a similar or slightly steeper pitch than a blue runs, however, they are less wide, include hazards such as trees and rocks and are not groomed and bumpy on days that don’t receive fresh snowfall. But don’t be fooled, some of the Whistler blacks are seriously intense!
Double Black Diamonds
Double blacks at Whistler are like double blacks nowhere else. They are loaded with hazards including rocks, trees, cliffs, cornices and sometimes even frozen waterfalls. There are so many hazards the ski patrol can’t even mark them off so you have to ski with caution when riding the double blacks at Whistler because you don’t know when the next cliff is around the corner.
Triple Black Diamonds
Whistler doesn’t actually offer a triple black rating, and the triple black runs I’ve listed are well known extreme lines among local skiers. Triple Blacks might be a tad steeper than double blacks, but what makes them ‘triple blacks’ is the amount of exposure. By ‘exposure’ I mean how exposed you the skier is to falling off cliffs, breaking cornices, falling into holes, or sliding to a certain death or severe injury. A run is considered triple black if in one or more portions a mistake or fall would undoubtedly result in serious injury or death.
So the moral of the story. Don’t get a flat tire (ie. lose a ski) on any of these runs, the results will not be pretty.
Triple Black Diamonds on Whistler Mountain
Exhilaration lives up to its name and is extremely steep and narrow. If you have a long set of skis it may be pretty hard to get enough jump turns in. There needs to be a couple solid storms before there is enough snow cover on the rocks and it is skiable. Turning can be tough in the chute, I’ve seen skiers bomb the whole thing straight down. They were only able to slow down because their gigantic balls were dragging down the mountain.
The Glacier wall is the huge cornice wall towering above the glacier bowl. Depending on conditions the entrance into Excitation and Exhilaration might be easier than dropping off the wall. This one is a triple black because there’s no telling what the drop in off the wall is going to entail. Depending on the snowpack and recent wind loading it is an adventure to find a way in. If you can manage the wall you can usually steal some solid snow beneath.
The coffin is the most legendary ‘freeride’ line on the mountain. The coffin is situated right beneath the peak chair and you can scope it out as you ride up the lift. It is a super skinny chute that can only be skied by dropping straight down it and taking your first turn in the bowl below to reduce your speed (or not). There is a mandatory small cliff drop at the top if you want to ski the line in the classic fashion. Otherwise you can ski in and around the drop and bomb through the coffin. In my opinion, depending on the conditions, climbing up to it is actually spookier than skiing down it.
The Flute bowl is a hike accessed inbounds bowl skiing paradise that has a remote backcountry feel. The terrain in the flute bowl is North Facing, holds unbelievable snow and has loads of line choices of varying difficulties to choose from before attack its beautiful slope. You can choose your own adventure on flute and create lines of varying difficulties and steepness.
The steepest lines are known as the Flute Chutes. They are located on the far side of the main Flute bowl where the North Bowl begins. Look for the rocks just right of the shoulder and you’ll find the chutes. Choose your poison and pick a chute that looks skiable.
The patrol do avalanche control so you don’t have to bring avi gear if you plan on a flute adventure. There is only one groomed up track (the musical bumps trail) which skiers can hike to the top and no marked runs down.
To access Flute head to the top of the Symphony Express chair. Take a left and ski between Piccilo and Flute and locate the groomed up track. If you can’t see the up track when skiing down to it, the visibility is probably to poor to attempt flute anyways. When exiting Flute locate the exit track which is marked with bamboo poles with florescent circles. Note: You cannot ski down to the base from the bottom of the Symphony Chair. If you miss the last symphony chair you will have to hike 30 minutes up the rescue road to get to Harmony Ridge.
West Cirque (High Entrance)
This ones my favourite of the bunch on the Whistler Side. The West Cirque boasts a 44° average slope with an initial ‘straight down’ drop in that involves some rock dodging. It is one of the steepest sustained pitches on the mountain and almost rivals the Saudan Couloir. If the normal West Cirque isn’t enough for you, get a real thrill by dropping off the cornice to the skiers right, known as the ‘high entrance’. The high entrance is a little tricky to find so I would recommend employing someone familiar with West Cirque to guide you in for your first time! The top part is the steepest and once you finish this section you have the option to head to the West bowl, Whistler bowl or blaze your own trail. I would recommend hanging a left under the cliff bands on the traverse known as ‘Sneaky Pete’. Ride along the West Ridge and drop into the trees down to the left. I like to call this one Christmas Trees. The West Cirque and Christmas tree combo is one of my absolute favourites on Whistler Mountain.
Elevator is a spooky line that drops between the rocks off the West Ridge. Elevator can be accessed by skiing West Cirque or Whistler bowl and traversing across the Whistler bowl and riding along the West ridge. Elevator is the second line between the rocks along the ridge. It is a very spooky, steep and rocky line that requires solid snowfall before attacking it.
Triple Black Diamonds on Blackcomb Mountain
The Pencil chute is long and thin and is accessed via a cornice which you sometimes have to jump into. If it is possible to side slip the entrance expect it to be icy. You’ll be coming out of the chute at intense speed so call your drop and make sure no one is below before you nail this legend of a line. It’s always best to check the snow conditions below the line before you drop in. You will not be able to let go of your speed if you exit onto sheet ice. Good Luck!
This is hands down one of the most insane lines on the resort. It is located on the peak above the Blackcomb Glacier. Krakatoa is the second skiable line along the ridge and begins at the top of the mountain. This line is extremely dangerous and involves dropping two cliff bands that can range anywhere from 2-10 meters depending on the snowpack. You’ve got some serious kahuna’s if you drop into this one!
It’s located on the same ridge as Krakatoa. Crack house starts the same as Ladies first which is the furthest line down the ridge. Maneuver left around the upper cliff and take a right turn at the second rock band jumping off the mandatory air in the middle. This one is also extremely dangerous and should only be attempted in optimal conditions by expert skiers.
Way Stupid is the highest skiable line in the Horstman zone hike from the 7th Heaven Express Chair. ‘Skiiable’ is a pretty loose word. It’s rocky beneath and the cornice atop can be quite gnarly depending on the time of the year. The chute is great to rip once you manage the top portion, but, If I’m on Horstman I always prefer to enjoy the turns down Stupid East and can traverse into Way Stupid when the snow looks solid!
Pearly Gates is the first sendable line after Prime Rib. It steers you to the skiers left above the large cliffs below. Make sure you din settings are high because a fall on your first few turns could spell trouble. This one is also high risk and low reward. You’ll be so focused on staying on your feet that you probably won’t enjoy the turns to much. But hey, steep skiing isn’t about enjoying your turns Right?
Sapphire Bowl Entrance’s
The Sapphire bowl is one of my favourite spots to shred in Spanky’s Ladder. Sapphire holds great snow thanks to its many challenging entrances. There are three primary entrances that lead into the bowl. They all involve either straight lining and some exposure to rocks and cliffs. If you want more details on the Gemstone Bowls check out my Spanky’s Ladder Guide!
Teetering is one of the more interesting entrance’s to negotiate in Blackcomb. I always thought it got it’s name because the gigantic cornice that marks the entrance barely balances over the chute below. Take a look up at it the next time you are riding up the glacier chair and you will wonder, ‘How the hell, does someone ski this?’ Teetering is actually named after the Wile E. Coyote rock situated on the cliffs edge about 30m to the left. The Teetering entrance is a massive cornice and sometimes there is no reasonable way to conquer it. Once you are standing atop teetering things feel slightly better as you can take your first left turn onto a bench type feature above the massive cliff below before fully committing to the line. The conditions have to be right for this one so make sure you spot it from the bottom! If you conquer Teetering from the top you have some serious guts.
The Curl (Lone Pine)
The curl also known as lone pine for the tiny little solo tree that sits at the end of the line. Ski down secret bowl and head left alongside the huge cliffs. Continue hugging the cliffs and ski down the curl as it winds around the cliffs left. The entrance and line is fairly straight forward but take your time and ski safely because the whole line is a (no-fall zone). If you lose an edge you will be tumbling down a massive cliff. The curl is a unique line and will be very fun to point out to your friends and family the next time you are heading up the chairlift and want to brag.
Purple Haze is another fantastic chute with a slightly technical and exposed entrance. To access it you need to head up the 7th heaven express and traverse across Secret Bowl staying to the left towards cougar chutes (the open and clear path down with sparse trees). Ski a few turns down cougar chutes and traverse to the right where the run flattens out and there are two small sections of spaced trees. Head between the trees and take a look at the cornice before dropping in. The entrance is a no fall zone and it is tight and tricky. Once you safely conquer the entrance you will be rewarded with some amazing snow and great powder turns down purple haze as it opens up into the Baggers area and into the Bite.
I like to call this one THE MAZE. The CBC trees are for experienced ski adventurers only and those who are comfortable with a little bit of navigation and hiking through the trees. It is best to learn how to ski this run from a guide or someone with lots of prior knowledge. You can be in this run for 15-20 minutes and see absolutely no one, hence, THE MAZE. From the top of the crystal chair stay right and traverse above ridge runner. You will see a designated hiking trail. Once the trees begin in front of you pop your skis on and turn down to the left. The top portion is known as Romper Room and the larger bottom portion is CBC trees. There are loads of hazards, cliffs and frozen waterfalls tucked in and around the CBC trees. The hazards are what make this area so exciting but also challenging. It is very easy to get lost in the CBC trees so only explore this area with friends always keep a bit of a trajectory to the left. It is common to get cliffed out in here and have to hike around to find a safe way down. After some exploration in this area you will become more familiar and be able to navigate your way to your favourite lines.
Chainsaw Ridge (5 Triple Blacks on One Ridge)
Chainsaw Ridge is a steep skiing playground. There are 5 triple black lines on this ridge and I’m surely confident you could decide to ski it in unimaginable ways that make it even harder. Hawaii 5-0 is the crown jewel of the ridge. It’s a beautifully steep chute that fires you into the Jersey Cream Bowl. If you want to live on the edge (quite literally) then give bushrat shoulder a try, just don’t pop a tire because the cliffs to skiers right are massive. And for those cornice hoppers you can pop off the lip onto Bushwhip or Whiplash. Good luck landing with all that speed!
If you’ve read through this post your probably a steep skiing addict and are now planning on conquering one or ALL of these iconic Triple Blacks. To all those haters who think Triple Black Diamonds don’t exist, go stand on top of Hawaii 5-0. Do me a huge favour and make sure to play it safe out there. Start slow, spot the lines from beneath and take your time ripping down if it’s your first ever crack at it. Use common sense and balance adrenaline and safety so you can go home in one piece.
12. False Face to Saudan Couloir
Named after Sylvain Saudan, a French freeskier who was considered the ‘godfather of extreme skiing’. Over the course of his career Saudan claimed 23 first descents on some of the wildest steep skiing terrain in the world. In 1987 steep skiing was becoming the rage and Blackcomb launched a race named the Saudan Couloir Extreme (check out this epic youtube video). The race marketed itself as ‘2500 vertical feet of thigh burning hell’ and this couldn’t be more than true. The Saudan Coulouir is the steepest sustained fall line on both Whistler and Blackcomb and if you enter via the ‘False Face’ you will have conquered one of the steepest skiable faces at any ski resort in North America.
Have fun my steep hounds!
Please remember to always wear a brain bucket AKA a HELMET. I swear by my Smith Vantage Helmet and IOS Goggles. Another fantastic and super affordable option is the OM Diamond Snow Helmet with MIPS technology & OM Ultra XL Goggles. Keep your brain and eyes protected all day long!! (Use code JAMES10 for a 10% discount on anything on the OM website)
Did I forget Any Runs? Is there a run you think should be a triple black? Let me know in the comments below!