I love saying the word couloir, because the only correct and reasonable way to say it is with an over the top French accent. This makes me happy. In addition to saying the word couloir, I have found that I enjoy skiing them. It’s weird, but I just do. Here’s a little story about a couloir at the top of the world that turns dreams into realities.
Ross and I had been talking about skiing Mt. of the Holy Cross all winter. It is the easily most iconic line visible from Vail, where the both of us grew up skiing. The couloir is a giant cross of snow etched across a massive rock wall. We had already done a few big missions this season and our confidence and enthusiasm were high. It was early April; spring was approaching and the marginal amount of snow was melting. We knew we had to do it very soon or have to spend another year wishing we had. The problem was that we didn’t have snowmobiles, because we suck. The Cross is deep in the wilderness and the approach without sleds would add a day to the trip. So I thought of another plan. I had been ski touring off the back of Beaver Creek a bit and had been eyeing up the access to Holy Cross. I google earthed a route from the top of the Beav back along a ridge to Mt. Jackson. From Jackson, it’s a ski down to the valley and then skin up to the bottom of Holy Cross, spend the night around the Bowl of Tears and ski the Cross the next day…..easy.
I got Ross stoked on the idea and the weather looked great for a couple days. Time to go! We organized our food and camping gear together to spend one night out. We split the four season tent, food and Ross carried the Jetboil. Add in some mountaineering equipment and toilet paper and we were outfitted to slay the dragon.
We met up the next gloriously blue and calm morning. I left my car Subrina at the bottom of Tigwon road and we took Ross’s Jetta (Dick Magnet) over to B.C. You feel like a true boss strolling through ritzy Beaver Creek village with mountaineering packs and ice axes. After saying hola and bon voyage to the homies at Surefoot we got on the chairlift and began the journey to Mordor. We started skinning off the top of the Cinch lift. The skin to the top of BC (the Bald Spot) is a lovely mellow pitch at about 1.25 miles. It took us about 45 minutes. From there we were able to see our entire objective.
“What’s that?” asked Ross.
“Holy Cross” I said.
“Sweet, its right there!”
“Yep, I’m a genius”
What did appear farther away was Mt Jackson, which Ross observed and noted. I agreed but we decided to head towards it and see how it went. We skied down the back of Beav and skinned across Grouse Mountain. The weather was holding strong and blue but the wind picked up reminding us that we were outside in the high alpine. From the other side of Grouse we determined that Jackson was still pretty far away. We decided it was a better idea to bypass skiing Jackson and take a more direct route towards Holy Cross since that was our main objective.
It was a leisurely ski down Grouse through open, rolling trees for the first half. Then we got in to the trees and the snow became a little sparse, then we got to the dirt. The last 1,000 feet down to the valley was entirely melted. We put our skis on our packs and down hiked through the woods, cursing occasionally. This was turning into the adventure I expected. We finally made it to the river valley below, which was snow covered. We looked back up at Jackson. The exposure of the bottom was a bit better so if we had skied it, we could have skied almost the entire way to the valley floor. It would have been more skinning but we could have avoided that whole walk through the woods. We were still making decent time though.
We had lunch in the valley and started skinning up the Holy Cross side. It was steep zig zagging through woods. We eyed up pillow lines that might be worth a 6 mile skin. The snow was sticky and started to glop up on my 10 year old untreated skins. Nobody brought glop stopper. This when the going got a little tougher. I found the best way to knock the snow off was by whacking my skis with my rental poles. This worked great until I snapped my pole in half sending one end boomeranging away. I recovered the half of my pole and continued on with one and half. Learning experiences! Thankfully the snow had gotten less sticky at the higher elevations.
It was late afternoon now and Ross and I hadn’t talked in two hours. We made it to the ridge of Holy Cross past where the hiking trail goes up, and looked down at a nice place to camp. We skied about 800 feet down an icy chute to a perfect camp spot. It was flat, it had a cave, and there were trees nearby so we could gather pine bows to put under our tent. Camping in the belly of the beast is not something I will soon forget. I also repaired my broken pole with two sticks and duck tape.
We awoke at dawn and had coffee and oatmeal in the tent. We gathered only the necessary gear together and started skinning up to the bottom of the Cross Couloir. It felt great not to have a heavy pack. The sky was blue and the wind was calm. We skinned around to the north east side of the peak and started zig zagging up to entrance to the couloir. It was firm but we knew it would be corn by the time we came down it. We made it to the entrance of the couloir and got our first really good look at it. She was beautiful. Tall and thin with subtle sexy curves. Consistently steep up to blind rollover entrance and flanked by two rock walls. One other surprising feature was the single track down it! Some solo shredder apparently got it the day before. Touché. We switched over to crampons and ice axe to start boot packing up.
The snow was ideal for boot packing. Kind of like a cream cheese corn mixture with blower in there too. The boot pack was the most fun part of the trip so far. We felt confident in the snow pack, the weather was great, and I was hiking up the freaking Cross Couloir with my buddy. The top of the couloir is the steepest part. It was exciting hiking but not gripping, just extremely fun. We made it to the summit which was a bit windy. The view from the top of Holy Cross is one of the best in Colorado. 360 degrees of snow capped rockies from Denver past Aspen. We soaked it in for a bit and had some tea and crumpets.
So without further adieu we skied her. I let Ross take the honors. The top few turns were firm and I skied slow and cautiously. After a few turns the snow softened. The sunny side of the couloir was corn and the shaded side powder. I gained some confidence and started lacing some smooth turns exploring the different aspects of the couloir. I stopped halfway down to let my slough go and give the legs a break. Then I charged it down staying closer to the wall and the snow was powder almost the entire way. I had a couple face shots and some of the best turns of the season, in definitely the sickest place I’ve been all season. I exited on the right before the couloir closes out to a mandatory rappel and met up with Ross. Even though we had hiked up it we were still shocked at how good the snow was. Also my stick repaired pole held up perfectly. It doesn’t get any better than this. Now we had another thousand feet of corn down to the Bowl of Tears.
We made it back to camp and packed up our stuff and headed out. We ended up following the ski track of the solo person who skied it the day before. It lead us to the way out perfectly like a guiding forest angel. We were completely spent by the time we made it to Subrina and so happy about the whole adventure. We didn’t ski Jackson, but we got the Cross in epic conditions and we did it without sleds. Nature taught me a few lessons and I gained deeper appreciation for the mountains near my home. The next day I went to Alpine Quest and bought glop stopper.
As I did a couple 360’s last night coming down West Vail after my brakes failed, I had a few seconds to ponder the temporary nature of things. Things are most clear and vivid when the future of our own existence is not certain. Luckily no one was hurt, and what do you do when shit happens? Get up and keep going.
There is increasing avalanche danger in East Vail as the biggest cycle of the year so far continues. High W SW winds and heavy snow will crossload our usual suspects and create the possibility of rider triggered avalanches. Again wind slabs on top of a weak base layer is the concern.
Excitement over the epic snow conditions is tempered with the events of this week. A big snow weekend will bring the travelers out, and we will be waiting to see the results.
EV always demands respect, but during cycles like this extra caution is advised. Runs like Water Tower that are most frequently utilized during storm cycles are able to slide, even into the old growth trees. Step out into the open over the next couple days and I would expect reactivity at least in the new storm snow. Of special concern is Benchie. Like Olds, parts of Benchie have run, but not all together and not to the bottom of the base layer of the snow pack. Head on a swivel if you plan to venture out.
Buddy passed along some info from his run today. Mentioned 22-24 inches of new with what he described as “moderate” reactivity of the new snow, increasing with another night of wind transport. The x factor is if it goes blue bird. That definitely brings the people out and seems to entice folks to step out a little farther. This week the death of Tony Siebert is fresh on everyone’s mind and the effect of that I think will limit traffic. However EV skiers will continue to ski EV,the beat will continue to go on and slowly the traffic will build again.
There are two lines in EV that aren’t in my playlist anymore. First is King Tut’s, the second is CDC. Watching my friend get strained in the through the top trees and seeing the entire bowl run top to bottom under 3 seconds in 2002 tempered my enthusiasm for the area and shattered my youthful notion that I could out run a such a slide. Hourglass convex cross loaded entrance with few safe areas in the open parts make it a consequential run under the best conditions. The sleeper rock on skiers right provides a thin spot in the slab and a sensitive trigger point. Can it be skied safely? Sure, under the right conditions. Many folks like the run for its length and cliffs. It can be an epic run.
I hope to get out tomorrow and get some more detailed pit info as I’m interested in what is going on. As always, leaving the possibility open of not skiing EV,of turning around. The lesson of turning around is the hardest to learn for a pow addict like me. After my own mistakes and lessons learned, it is easier now to do that than ever. For me it was the hardest one to learn. Stay safe out there.
Driven out of Vail like the mighty lynx out of Cat 3 , I, Martineast found myself on the road in search of new terrain. The factors had come down from the universe and it was time to go. Really the death of the Visti Bahn was too much to bear. For me, that signaled an end of an era in Vail history and for me personally, my stint in Vail. That’s right, EV won’t have Martineast to kick around anymore. I look forward to the first report of conditions, I expect another touchy year with the early snowpack resembling last years’ junk underneath, but I can’t tell you for sure.
Wyoming, Utah, Idaho. Drove through all of these and had the urge to keep going. Washington. Pac-NW it is. Mt. Baker sounds good, why not? World record snowfall, middle of the Northern Cascades. No Condos, 125 dollar tickets or fur stores. A sick little resort resort tucked away from the world high in the Northern Cascades. Bellingham, the closest real town, is 50 miles away.
Different from Vail? About as radically different as you can get. Land of moss, weed, wool and hanging seracs. Volcanoes, ice, crevasses, glaciers. At the end of WA-542, Mt. Baker sits below Mt. Shuksan, an imposing Cascade wedge with a massive serac hanging from it. A couple day lots, couple of base areas and that’s it. Possibilities for backcountry around Baker. Endless. When you can see, that is, as weather is a constant off the ocean. Literally, the end of the road. Next stop B.C.
It’s been a long time since anything inbounds has required a second look to ski. I’ve been lulled into complacency by our wonderfully groomed golf course. Baker, however, has it all over. Better bring your A-game. Steep slots and trees runs, roll overs exceeding any point of repose in Colorado. Covered ice, rime spines, snow ghosts. Sidecountry that dwarfs the resort. Bottom line, if planet Hoth had a ski area it would be Baker.
Spent time out the gate my first afternoon to check out the snowpack. Dug my pit on a North facing 28 degree angle slope just above the gate, right off the skin track. Snow total, 305 cm depth on December 13. T his was before the current four foot snow cycle that has since closed the road. Results on my two columns dug to 160cms: CT-build a house out of it. Incredulous at the results of my first attempt at column failure, I recut and dug the second with the same result. It took all my weight and pulling on the second column as well to get a Q2 shear at 130 cms, way off any scale. Cascade snow pack is for real. I’m sure things have changed of late, our latest cycle has come with big wind, so we’ll see the impact of that. (63 inches in 4days, 100 plus trees down on the road up. Resort, I mean ski area, is closed for three days to clean up and dig out, truly a wild place on earth.)
Learning a new area isn’t overnight. I have no comfort level with the backcountry terrain here. My initial day had good vis and what I could see just on an EV length jaunt outside the area was vast and varied. Trees and spines, convex rolls and chutes endless are calling. In due time. It was good just to get my hands in snow and get a general idea of local conditions.
Here to relearn it all. I guess that’s the reason for the move. Look forward to the posts from Vail, Luke in Jackson, Me in Baker. EVI worldwide. Note: we plan on being in AK again if the snow shapes up, so stay tuned…
Took a drive tour over Loveland Pass coming back home from the front range yesterday. Stopped to hike the dog up the eastside ridge at the summit of Loveland pass. Stomping through freshness layered in among the scree it was great to get smacked in the head with 0 degree, 30 mph winds under a cobalt grey sky.Stood into the wind and took a breath of the cold. The jet stream was whipping clouds overhead, obscuring the tops of the highest peaks off the Divide, blasting eastward. Snow was falling and the wind was transporting it in great swirls on the open faces of the pass, steadily erasing whats left poking through the snow. Off in the distance, A-Basin looked better than it did all of last year, lifts churning on a busy Saturday, snow in the tress .There were even a few intrepid souls braving seriously early season conditions on the West side of the pass, skiing down to the lower switchbacks . Looked to be about 8 inches of fresh on top of a 60 mile deep granite base. Admire the love, a little early for myself. Drove over a mitten in A-Basin”s cross walk. coming down the pass. No hand in it. Ahh winter. It’s back.. At least above 11,000 feet.
Back in our world, EV is covered in its first layer of the white stuff. I drove back over Vail pass looking the notorious layer that is the foundation for our snowpack. Usually for us in Colorado this becomes a loosely faceted layer that sets the stage for an avalanche cycle in mid to late November in EV and can dog us for the entire season, depending. Last season Old Man’s early season was perfect example, sliding to the ground in November.
This first snow set the stage for the crown jewel of a garbage Continental snowpack in 2011/2012. Early October snow with a long long period of clear, warm weather created 2-4 mm very loose facets out of the first snow. Surface hoar also reared its’ ugly head. When we finally did get some snow, it came with wind and the results….well you remember. The snow pack never recovered.
Our best hope is continued snow without a third Indian summer before the larger snow load arrives. As bad as last year was ,two years ago was the textbook for a decent snowpack. fo us. Snow, snow and more snow, consistent temps and little wind. “Average” year ? I’d take it.
Every year is different and fascinating in our world, , not only because of the endless variables that affect our snow, but the endlessly variable human element as well. You can’t make the stuff up that happens out in EV. Keeps me coming back and I can’t wait to tell the tale this year. See you soon at the bus stop. EVI.
Walked the roommates dog this afternon among the firing snowguns of Beaver Creek shrouded in falling snow from the first decent storm of the year. Matt’s video officially dusted off the website and ended our cyber-hibernation. The walk through the falling snow broke me out of my own. Found some interesting ways to spend the off-season, but when it comes down to it, it’s all just killing time until it snows again.
It’s dumping as I write this and my mind wanders to pow skiing. Having a few more weeks before the lifts turn, be fore we tell the tale of yet another EV season, we sift through memories of an epic trip. Moved some photos over to wp from the fb highlights from our tour from Thompson Pass to Hatcher to Turnagain Pass. Check ’em out. Hoping to end this season in similar style, but first we have a season to ski. Ready?
Welp, it’s been a while. The season that never was led to a long summer off for the EVI crew. A snowy weekend across Colorado reminded us that a new season is just around the corner. Just in time, Matt put together an Alaska edit filled with footage from the EVI trip up North this past spring. Enjoy!
While half the crew enjoyed a second season in AK, the rest of us watched the snow melt as the mountain closed lift by lift, and ultimately, shut down last week for the 2012 season. Good riddance. For the past two months, I had been looking more forward to the sounds of sitars and Thievery Corp than the skiing. Armada Bubbas looking sad and lonely in the corner, maybe next year, friends.
The little bit of last second snow was almost a cruel joke, just covering up fallen trees and dirt patches long enough to get a couple final runs in. And honestly, the first few hours of closing day were some of the best of the year, as sad as that sounds. Why I’m even writing about a 7 inch powder day, I don’t know…other than to summarize the bookend season we had. If last year was the best of times, this was surely the worst of times. Seeing what EV could be on both ends of the precipitation scale told a tale of two seasons.
If anything, a good year to test your snow science skills. If you had none, it was a good year to get some. Silverton Avy School, et al. earned their keep this year, with plenty of examples to show would be snow gurus. EV dictated same, with what seemed like a slide a day. Fortunately, only a few serious injuries in Mushie and no deaths in EV. The rest of Colorado and the ski world as a whole wasn’t as lucky. A constant reminder in skiing, where the crossroads of freewill and inherent risk intersect.
Waxing philosophic aside, a pile of bones was about all that was left to poke at here in Vail. Full on summer now, so enjoy the off season. Get strong, train, ride your bike, go hike, get on the river, get swole, get ready for what will hopefully be a better season next year. If not there’s always the great white North. AK on the mind…see you next year.
Bluebird skies have been too good to pass up. Booked a heli trip wtih Alaska Snowboard Guides for a full day. Brand new op, cool guys and some I know.
Headed out with Dave and had an opportunity to get out and hit a legend. Our first warm up run out the heli? Meteorite. No shit. A 3500′ sustained 52 degree ramp with a 60 degree roll in, it defines Chugach ramp skiing. First run out of the heli for Matt and Luke in AK and headed to the big time. They are now completely jaded. We represented Vail well sent it and spent the rest of the day with Tim Ellis on the Tonsina glacier hitting shots ramps with Sophie.
Thanks to Alaska Snowboard Guides for the opportunity, many people wait a very long time to get the chance to tee it up on an iconic run. Storm rolling in for a couple of days, but all is good. Gonna hit up a sled drop to the Books for a couple days after with the guys from Big Mountain Taxi to hike and ski. Thompson Pass kicks ass…..
On a side note: Congrats to Vail local Brandon Reid for winning TGA with a sick run. If you’ve ever seen a guy on a long board being pulled by a dog at mach ten in the village, probably Brandon. 10 g’s cash and a sword, pretty cool.
A little update from the North on EVI’s inaugural trip to Alaska.
Letting the boys sleep in today after a bluebird windless stretch like I’ve never seen up here. We were up at 4500 feet yesterday and not a breath of wind. Unreal. Snowed 20 to 100 cms depending on the aspect and elevation last Friday and Saturday, since then its’s been game on!. Tailgate AK, a lovable junkshow, has wrapped up and the ABA parking lot is ours.
Spent our time getting to know both sides of the pass after getting through an avi cycle the day after the storm. Luke set of a SS-AS-R5-D3-I on the Berlin shoulder. Everybody’s OK, but a sobering reminder to watch your ass at all times up here. Since then the conditions are stable and good. Things heal up very quickly here in the maritime world. The north aspects are filled with Valdez cream cheese, wind buffed supportive powder that hardly sluffs at all on our 40 to 50 degree runs. We’ve been using sled bumps to get to our zones, after that we’ve been climbing and skinning. It’s different and very enjoyable to tour in a place that is a skier’s paradise and overwhelmingly beautiful, filled with a lifetime or two of accessible runs.
Berlin Wall, Berlin Shoulder, Giovanni’s, Aucopolco, Girl’s, Python Wall and today when the boys wake up a bump and hike to ski the mighty Python. Our cost? A little sweat equity and 180 bucks. Not a bad deal.
Will jump into the heli for a day or to and if it stays the same conditions try to get onto some big stuff. Meteorite, Tusk, Pontoon, Kiwi’s are all things availible.
Matt and Luke have been awesome and our group dynamic is better than I could hope for. Solving problems on snow, getting around hazards and learning the game, they both have excelled. We have a ton of pics and video. We will put them up when we aren’t skiing. Simply put it’s been incredible.
I stand on top of the Top of The world and stare in awe at what I see. A mid-May landscape of brown and white stares right back. Barren Vail pass and a rapidly melting east vail are an indicator of just how off this season has been in terms of snow. Nothing to do now but hike and train, ski EVs to get ready for the big game. Nice also to get away from the spring break madness that has taken over the mountain. Good Lord it’s dangerous out there and I’ll take my chances with the backcountry any day.
Thought about my options and realized that with the consistent temps and sun hit, the west wall’s demise was near completion. Probably would be my last chance to rescue my AK JJ that I sacrificed last week during a moment of huberis. A few more days of the above 40 temps and sun would render the isothermic snowpack completely unsupportive and the West Wall starts ripping to the ground, entombing my ski in wet slide debris until late spring. The run to the ground scenario is something reserved usually for late April or May in a typical EV season. This year, March 13? Why not?
Rescue mission time. The only access it was to ski the run I had last time. There was no option to cut over from skier’s right West wall and be high enough to get the ski. Plus, undercutting that entire area to get across wasn’t an option.
Skied to the entrance of the Corner Pocket and thought about my last run, eating it, getting hit and losing a ski in the process. Shut my eyes for a second, deep breath and I push off onto March corn. I ski the upper, sparsely spaced old growth trees without incident.
Coming to the choke, the place where I failed last time, I stopped behind a large tree and peered in. I saw that the double stage drop was now a muddy runnel with snowmelt, bushes and mud leading to the runout area. Below in the debris zone is where my ski was supposed to be. I could see two specks of black, and a tip of a ski in the melting carved runout.
Getting down to it was the issue. There was no hucking the drop this time. It would be a tragic irony to land and go through the rest of the snow pack and lose another ski in another tomahawk. The answer lies in the river of water and mud trickling to my right. The next sequence is an ad lib that has no basis in snow science or widley accepted backcountry protocol. I don’t give a shit. Sometimes you have to do what you have to get your ski.
First time for everything. Stood on a bushy bench looking down and considered my future.
Step One. Side Stashes off. (Taking your skis off is a no no, but there was no chance to downclimb mudrunnel on skis.)
Step Two. Throw side stashes like a spear into the debris pile below.
Step Three. Grab slippery root in the mudrunnel and try to down climb over a ledge covered in flowing water and mud.
Step Four. Realize gravity always wins, commit to the muddy ass slide over the ledge and air it.
Step Five. Land onto the debris pile below in a spider monkey position.
Step Six. Wallow/ swim in the snow to find and retrive AK JJ. Use as a support to get to the Sidestashes. Get on em and get out of there.
Skied out decent corn on the old debris piles next to recent wet slide debris in the mddle of the far left west wall area. The slide went over the first roll and down near the traverse out from Tele Line. The crown was just under the cliffs to the skier’s right of my gully. It was about a foot and a half deep, the debris looked a day or two old.
Spider monkey pentrometer confirmed that the snow pack on the west wall was being bridged by a rapidly weakening mid pack crust layer being saturated with melt water. Underneath is loose and unconsolidated to the ground. The end is near.
Rescue mission a success. I skied out with three, being careful not to clothes line myself on the traverese out. Another first in my fifteen seasons here. Prouldy displayed my hard earned, slightly muddy trophy on the bus.
Sam, a EVI follower who I didn’t know, aked me if that was the indeed the rogue JJ from EVI. I laughed and confirmed. Talked about the state of EV and the crazy year on the way in.
EV season started two months late and ends a month early. Not much left in between.