One of the interesting quirks of steep skiing, is the difficulty of training for the sport. It’s basically the opposite of Olympic sports, where athletes mindlessly train specific movements until they’re burned into the subconscious. Yesterday I inched towards the edge, wondering how my first steep turn would go, while trying to remember the last time I performed the movement (approx. 10 months ago in Georgia). I could go to Whistler and practice on the inbounds steeps, but a little bit of my love for skiing dies when I have to battle with the crowds. I wasn’t scared that I’d screw up, but there were still some thoughts of “how do I do this again?”
I left the house at 4:30am, for an early started up the Duffey. When skiing a mystery couloir with Jon, you automatically pack your harness, crampons and axes. Dave Gheriani also accompanied us. The snowpack was settling but still had some touchiness, so we reasoned that the steeper terrain would have sloughed enough, or already slid. But the trick is not exposing yourself to too much medium angle terrain in getting to it. In the cold of the morning, we raced through the flat valley, surrounded by massive north-facing granite walls, waterfalls of ice, and debris-ridden southern couloirs. The refrozen snow had a stiff crust that aided our quickness. As usual we had no ski crampons, and as soon as the slope steepened things got a little technical. Finally we had to boot-pack through the breakable crust on a low-angle slope . . . so much fun!
We first saw our line from the side view. Much of the couloir was hidden and except for the very steep looking top section, it seemed pretty easy. We wrapped around to get a view from the bottom. This seemingly easy couloir ended in a tight choke with a very ‘dirty’ 50-80 foot cliff (it was hard to tell). A ‘clean’ cliff would be near vertical and deposit you in the snow below. This thing was more of rambling mess of rock. A little diagonal couloir split off from just above the cliff and would allow us to ski to the bottom without rappelling. Not that falling is ever an option, but with our low snowpack it certainly wasn’t an option in this case.
There was some hang fire up top, so we decided to wrap around and drop in. Our skin track wandered through mellow heli-ski tracks and soon turned into a boot-pack. All three of us had Billygoat plates, so we gain the summit ridge easily. Although I didn’t lead the boot-pack at all because I was recovering from a hamstring issue, so maybe it wasn’t that easy! Luckily the ridge was fairly smooth and the entrance to our line was cornice free, so it was easy to discover. We knew the main couloir had already slid, so the upper part was our only concern. Jon set an anchor farther up the ridge and Dave had fun roping up and using his shovel to drop a huge chunk of cornice. It dropped onto our entrance slope with no result.
So who would drop in first? Jon had already skied the line twice. I would’ve felt a bit sheepish dropping in first since I hadn’t lead and inch of the skintrack or boot-pack, and was just glad that my leg seemed to be working properly. So Dave dropped in and skied the steep upper slope with style. A few minutes later we could see him traversing into the exit couloir. Then Jon dropped in and I packed up the rope and anchor. Dropping in third had its pros and cons. I was now very sure the slope was stable, but each turn I had to negotiate the bomb holes of previous turns. Obviously I’m spoiled by our untracked lines, and would probably get all whiny in a tracked-out paradise like Cham. One of the cruxes was entering the main couloir and dropping off the crown line onto the stiff bed surface. The rest of the couloir was stiff, but the sluff had created some nice pockets. The diagonal exit hadn’t slid and contained some nice powder. After we regrouped, we had great corn snow turns down our long approach valley. It was great to get an objective done before the next round of warm storms come through and jack the avy danger.