A-Z of Skiing: V is for vertical drop

Vertical drop is a lot less exciting than it sounds. It's a statistic, not an adrenalin sport. A measure of the potential of a ski area, it represents the difference between the altitude at the top of the area - or, rather, the highest point reached by the lifts - and that at the bottom.

Vertical drop is a lot less exciting than it sounds. It's a statistic, not an adrenalin sport. A measure of the potential of a ski area, it represents the difference between the altitude at the top of the area - or, rather, the highest point reached by the lifts - and that at the bottom.

Like most statistics, the vertical (in skiing parlance, the "drop" is often dropped) is a somewhat crude measure. On its own, it conveys little about the quality of the skiing: long, gentle runs may, ultimately, have the same vertical as stirring, short ones. And it can be misleading, in that ski areas which have a big vertical but a low base may be completely skiable only in perfect snow conditions. Nevertheless, it's a useful measure of quantity for those skiers who like numbers - especially big ones.

According to the Snowhunter database, the biggest vertical drops are at Chamonix (2807m), Verbier (2509m, with the last section off-piste), Zermatt (2375m down to Valtournenche in Italy), Alagna (2345m) and Les Deux Alpes (2298m). But Snowhunter's Patrick Thorne, being of an amusingly perverse disposition, admits to finding his list of the areas with the smallest vertical "much more exciting". He says Yawgoo Valley in Rhode Island, USA, "has a whopping 21-metre vertical" (horizontal would perhaps be a more appropriate word). Even more astonishing, the London Ski Club in Ontario (38m vertical) and Spring Hill Winter Park in Manitoba (36m) "both have four-seater chair-lifts to whisk skiers to the summit".

For those who lack a head for heights, however, there's no need to cross the Atlantic for low-altitude skiing. Years ago, I first ventured out on skis at a dry slope in London's Crystal Palace Park. Checking in an early Snowhunter reference work, I discovered that its vertical drop was 8m.

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