Speed Demons of Verbier, Switzerland

Looking towards the north face of the Bec de Rosses, a fabled mountain in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier, I ask a friend whether the extreme skiers and boarders zoom down the left - or right-hand side of the mountains. "Neither," she replies, "they go down the middle".

'Simply not possible' is the first term that springs to mind. How anyone could navigate a slope that's so steep and so strewn with jagged rocks and cliffs, that it looks more suited to rock climbing than skiing or boarding, is beyond me.

But it's a chance to watch some of the world's most hardcore athletes taking on opportunity for some not-so-extreme skiing of my own - that has brought me to what's known as Xtreme Verbier.

Every March, Verbier hosts the competition, which is the final round of the Freeride World Tour, which since 2007, has brought together the leading top male and female extreme skiers and snowboarders for events around the world.

It's all downhill

From the safety and comfort of a viewing area opposite the Bec de Rosses, the danger is obvious. Some of the riders jump off 50ft cliffs, others launch blindly off a ridge without seeing their landing point, while others prefer extreme speed. But unlike a regular, groomed slope, a mistake on the Bec de Rosses can be fatal. A mistimed jump could leave the rider splattered on a rock, while the slope is so steep - 60 degrees in some places - that anyone who crashes will simply keep tumbling down.

But there are no such worries in the woman's final, as the riders make their way - after some hair-raising jumps and turns - to the finish area.

Then it's the turn of the men, the first dozen or so riders leaving myself and the other spectators scratching our heads at the bravery on show. That is until one crashes badly after jumping a 30ft cliff. It seems like an eternity until he raises a hand to show he's OK, before the rescue chopper arrive to winch him away. 

Not so fast

Even if you're not a wannabe free rider, Verbier has plenty to keep you interested. Made up of four linked valleys, it has no shortage of places for beginners and experts alike. There's snow-sure skiing on the 3330m-high Mont Fort, and plenty of challenging black (difficult) and red (intermediate) runs on the higher slopes.

Meanwhile, down low are some lovely blur (easy) runs through the trees that are perfect for novices.

But a word of warning: if you do watch the  pro free riders in action don't let their skill supercharge your adrenalin the next time your strap on the skis or board. 

I try some extreme antics of my own on the run down to the resort and end up having a crash or three. While I didn't need a rescue chopper, I was sporting two serious bruises that night. Which, embarrassingly, was two more than the event winners sitting across the bar toasting their victory.