Consistency is important in skiing as it is in life. While I haven’t achieved that in writing blog posts I have in my skiing. Yesterday was Sunday Funday, and a group of friends and I decided on an objective to climb and ski, Sheep Chute on Sheep Mountain 13,292′. We set our car shuttles and began the skin through the forest and up to tree line. The wind was howling and we’ve been in a high pressure pocket for what seems like weeks. This has allowed cold nights and warm days, the wind had ample faceted snow to transport and hard wind slabs were a plenty. All of which were highly touchy and reactive, certainly a good time to watch your step, plan your route and talk openly amongst the group. Crossing a small slope we set off a slab that propagated wide across two drainages and quickly stepped down a layer; fortunately our route was fairly well chosen and we were able to scramble and slide to a “safety spot”. We decided to put the skis on the pack and scramble up rock to avoid the touchy slabs. This proved to be a safe choice and offered us the opportunity to go straight up the hill and gain the ridge as quickly as possible. Once we got on the ridge there was a collective increase in happiness and confidence grew, we knew that we only had a few hundred feet of elevation on a somewhat sketchy ridge to reach out objective.
Snow on the ridge was some of the most wind effected I’ve seen, to put it simply it was horrible. Would this be a sign of the conditions in the couloir? Probably. The view and experience of having 2,000′ of exposure to your left and right with a horrible traverse is attention grabbing and rewarding. Truly nothing crazy compared to what my peers in the San Juan Mountains frequently accomplish but great none the less.
Things smoothed out on the traverse after the hight point of the ridge, the winds were quite strong and perhaps a sustained 25-30 mph with higher gusts. The winds were coming up and over the objective of our ski. This is opposite of the past few weeks and was blowing the opposite direction of the ridge line cornice. This left a small amount of concern for the giant south facing drop to our right, this is a 2,000′ ride we did not want to take. The entrance was absent of a cornice and provided easy access into the first leg of the couloir. The first few turns resembled more of a World Cup GS course that that of a powdery run of your dreams. This tends to be the case above 13,000′ in most of the San Juan Mountains right now, we need snow.With the rest of the crew on a ridge acting as a safety skiers left between the first and second section of the couloir I ski cut the second pitch then took off down the fall line. The center of the hallway was quite firm, the right side breakable crust that wanted to swallow your ski and perhaps tear parts of your ACL along the ride. The left was a mix of recycled snow blow in on top of breakable crust. Conditions were variable to the max, they sucked.Looking back up the massive hallway of the couloir was quite rewarding with a strong burn in my legs. I was pumped that my last few turns on the apron resembled round turns; I assure you my turns in the middle of the run didn’t, they were lacking any beauty to say the least. Survival skiing was the name of the game. Fortunately the line isn’t all that steep, perhaps your average resort “black to double black” and I believe we were all grateful that was the case. On the way out we were able to ski low angle powder in a few other aprons of giant bowls above. There were a few reminders that even with a “moderate” avalanche report rating and fairly stable snowpack that all it takes is to tickle the dragon in the wrong spot and she’s awaken with a fierce vengeance. This slide ran fairly wide and a long ways down the apron. Always a good reminder to keep your head on a swivel and travel options open. Good times with good people are what it’s all about. A safe and wonderful ski tour, with a great group of guys and girls, Sunday Funday!