Majestic mountain scenery, fresh powder and the rush of adrenaline on a steep descent ...
You stand at the top of the run with majestic, snow-covered mountain peaks for neighbours. You breathe in the crisp, pure air, marvelling at the magical white landscape lit up by a dazzling sun. You pause for a moment, check your boot clips are tightened, your goggles are resting on your face comfortably, and then ... you're off.
Within seconds, you're whizzing down the slope, wind on your face, heart racing as you manoeuvre your skis or board to carve a perfect turn — in your mind at least. You're living in the moment, a truly wonderful moment.
Skiing or snowboarding gives you a sensory overload of pleasures that you can receive on any run, anywhere in the world. There are some, though, with the X factor, pushing the pleasure principle into overdrive. We bring you our selection of the 25 finest, from blue cruisers in Andorra and the United States to challenging bump runs in Switzerland and France and slopes with spectacular views in Italy and Canada.
VIEWS TO THRILL
The Cut, Grouse Mountain, Vancouver, Canada
Set in a resort on the outskirts of Vancouver, this wide, easy green run allows you to savour amazing views over the city, its marinas and the Pacific Ocean. It's a truly unique vista.
Sella Ronda Circuit, Sella Ronda, Italy
Pretty much anywhere on this 23km route, a loop that runs clockwise and anticlockwise around the Sella Ronda mountain range, you'll find panoramas of mind-blowing scenery, with pink-tinged peaks rising sheerly above the pistes. The route is mainly intermediate and easily done in a day, and that includes an espresso stop or two in one of the picture-postcard villages along the way.
Schilthorn, Murren, Switzerland
The intermediate section of the Schilthorn-Murren run between Engertal and the Kanonenrohr affords stunning views across the valley towards Wengen, and the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains, which are so massive you feel you could almost reach out and touch them. There are more impressive 360-degree panoramic views from the terrace and revolving restaurant at the top of the Schilthorn.
Epaule Megeve, France
This long, easy red follows the ridge above Mont Joux (1958m) with spectacular views of Mont Blanc ahead and mile after mile of rolling peaks on either side. It takes you almost all the way down to the quaint village of St Nicolas de Veroce.
Hidden Valley, Cortina, Italy
One of the most beautiful runs in the world, this easy red offers splendid isolation amid sheer dolomite cliffs, peaks and frozen waterfalls. It starts from Lagazuoi at the top of the Passo Falzarego cable car and ends in the next valley. At the end, a horse-drawn sled tows weary travellers to Hotel Armentarola.
STEEP 'N' DEEP
Pas De Chevre, Chamonix, France
This super-challenging run starts from the Grands Montets sector of the Chamonix ski area and finishes by joining the end of the Vallee Blanche off-piste descent. It's a steep, open slope, prone to avalanches and with the potential for long falls. There are several variants but all involve an awkward passage down the moraine on the Mer de Glace. Real adventurers choose the extremely steep 1km Rectiligne Couloir.
Back of the Valluga, St Anton, Austria
The final stage of the cable car to the 2811m peak of the Valluga is mainly for sightseeing. You can only take skis or a snowboard up if you have a guide to lead you off the back down the off-piste run to the neighbouring resort of Zurs. The initial pitch is extremely steep and a fall can be fatal, but then it's deserted beauty all the way.
Highland Bowl, Aspen, Colorado, America
This big, open powder bowl is accessed by a free snowcat ride followed by a substantial hike along a ridge and a daring drop-in, but it's worth the effort to explore the 250 or so acres of expert terrain. Pitches range from a serious 38 to a terrifying 48 degrees — the piste map usefully gives the steepest and average pitch for each run.
Back of Mont Fort, Verbier, Switzerland
From the top of the Mont Fort cable car, you drop off the back of the 3330m peak of the same name, negotiating a very steep pitch and then some crevasses. But after all that, you descend into a wonderful, deserted valley and a long flat run beside a lake, before ending up at the tiny resort of Siviez.
Malfatta Couloir, Alagna, Italy
There's plenty of hardcore off-piste above tiny Alagna in the Monterosa region of Italy. One of the most daring challenges is this steep couloir. If the snow cover is good you can sidestep into it, with a bit of rock scrambling, but it's a scary gradient, so you might prefer to be roped. The death-defying entrance yields an awesome descent in superb powder as a reward.
CRUISE THE BLUES
Columbia, Breckenridge, Colorado, US
Of Breckenridge's five linked mountains, Peak 9 has the easiest slopes. It's all flat, wide greens at the bottom and mostly gentle, wide blues at the top, the most satisfying of which is the Columbia run. At the end of the similarly gentle Sundown blue, it's wide, almost dead straight down the centre of Peak 9 and perfect for cruising.
5 Mile, Sun Peaks, Canada
This long green on Mount Tod, one of Sun Peaks' three mountains, may not quite live up to its name, but is nevertheless a delightful, easy cruise all the way back to the base village. It's usually pleasantly deserted at the top, but busier lower down.
Longe Combe, Les Sybelles, France
This blue is in a vast area of 124 easy cruising runs — virtually flat greens, blues and reds that should be greens and blues and a few timid blacks. The Longe Combe, from L'Ouillon at 2430m, in the centre of the ski area, offers memorable valley views.
Rossinyol, Soldeu, Andorra
A little-used easy blue that goes along the ridge from Portella at 2465m to El Forn at 2000m, Rossinyol is quiet and has excellent views all the way to the nearby villages of Pal and Arinsal.
Plateau Rosa to Plan Maison, Cervinia, Italy
Cervinia has more long, flattering runs than almost any other resort, most marked as red but more like gentle blue. From Plateau Rosa at 3480m, head along the red 80 before joining the 6 towards the Theodulpass ridge, where you can link up with numerous gentle runs down to Plan Maison.
FAST AND FURIOUS
Dave Murray Downhill, Whistler, Canada
This run meanders through the trees from the middle of Whistler Mountain right down to Whistler Creek. Although it was the 2010 Winter Olympic men's downhill course, and is a single black diamond, after it's been groomed it's a wonderful fast and varied cruise.
Run 14, Zell am See, Austria
It's fabulous speeding down this black run first thing in the morning, when it's freshly groomed and virtually deserted. The hoteliers try to get in three runs before serving breakfast to late-to-rise guests.
Saslong, Val Gardena, Italy
This is Val Gardena's World Cup downhill piste. It's kept in racing condition for Italian team practices, but is open to the public much of the time. A long black, starting at 2254m and finishing at 1428m, it's usually well maintained and frequently groomed so a joy to tackle at speed.
Jerusalem, St Martin de Belleville, France
Starting from the Meribel ridge, this lovely, long, rolling red follows on from the Cretes blue run at the top of the St Martin 2 chair. Often surprisingly quiet, it allows you to pick up some real speed.
Combe de la Saulire, Courchevel, France
Do this 3km red run first thing in the morning before the crowds arrive and you can perform warp-speed GS turns. The piste is nice and wide, so you can turn where you like.
BASHING THE BUMPS
Point de Vue, Argentiere, France
Starting from the summit of the Grands Montets cable car, this run can be tricky, not just because of the bumps but also the left-to-right camber, which leads down into the Argentiere glacier and its gaping crevasses. But, starting from 3275m, the views are truly spectacular, and provide ample excuse to stop and rest as you make your way down.
Mont Fort, Verbier, Switzerland
The monster moguls on the black Mont Fort require nerve, fitness and legs of elastic, though at 3330m the snow is usually good. Keep going at the end for the Gentianes itinerary, to make 1300m total vertical of bump after bump.
The Face, Heavenly, California, United States
The clutch of double black diamond runs under the California Lodge lifts, including The Face and Gunbarrel (a favourite of legendary freeskier Glen Plake), are so seriously steep and challenging they're often used for mogul competitions.
Prima Cornice, Vail, Colorado, United States
There are a couple of meaty, double black diamond mogul runs on Vail's front face. Prima Cornice has the edge for those after a serious challenge. Though not too long, it's steep and narrow.
Stockhorn-Triftji, Zermatt, Switzerland
Served by two long, tricky T-bars, this small sector of three runs is often a vast mogul field, with especially monstrous bumps off the top, at 3532m. It doesn't normally open until late February, but being north-facing and high, the snow stays in good condition long after a fresh snowfall. Beware of drifting to the right and hidden crevasses.