3/25/11 El Terrible tree chute report

Hey late season EV schralpers,

Windy days in the Gore and EV the last few days with the storms that have rolled through. Went into the Bighorn drainage last week Tuesday to battle the isothermic snowpack held together with a top four inch crust layer. The warm weather the previous week resulted in water percolating through the snowpack in lower elevations, creating large loose facets in all aspects at lower elevations.

Big J and I went up the Bighorn ridge on a gale force day to explore more tree chutes, skinning up the south facing punchy melt freeze crust before dawn. The ridge lines were howling, the creaking of the lodgepole pines were a creepy reminder of the downfall potential in beetle kill forests in high winds. There were many recent downed soldiers, branches sticking out of the snow.

We skinned up to the farthest tree chute, our drop in really an educated guess in the thick trees. We dropped in and wove our way though the steep trees to the entrance of the gully and the increasing wind. Looking down the path, it look loaded. I decided to cut the left flank of the gully, over to a treed ridge. Passing John with a little pace, I expected a firm surface covered with the slabby six to eight inches. What I got was a sinking, submarining trip to the bottom of the snowpack about three feet down. I sunk backwards and ended up with one ski pinned underneath a rock I uncovered, falling backward onto the 40 degree slope. My efforts to release my binding were met with more sinking and twisting with no binding release. My knee was popping and slowly twisting out of place.

I was in a bad spot, and had no other option but to have John come down and help me out of my stubborn Duke. Not ideal, but a better option than skiing down with a dislocated knee, broken leg. The Gore had me whimpering, and showed me who boss. Thanks to Big J for saving my leg. I took a moment assessed the leg and continued on down skiers left flank of the gully. We quickly realized the gully was not an option. Every turn rolling into the side of the gully was met with instant slab release into it. The sixty mile an hour winds had done their job. We cautiously leap frogged down the ridge, skiing on alternating wind scour and boot deep slabby softness, watching it all peel at the slightest touch.

There were four slab peels that qualified as avalanches, the last one 500 feet above the deck was the largest, set off as I skied around a tree band. It propagated to a foot deep and a hundred feet wide. It started to suck me with it towards the last stand the trees. I was able to ski off it at a 45 degree angle, off to the side and watch it plow through the tree stand billowing and hitting trees with an audible whoomph sound. Impressive to say the least.

We named the chute El Terrible (tuh-ree-blay).

A humbling, sketchy, slightly painful run in the Gore. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

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