Swiss Couloir

I have a love/hate relationship with the extended high pressure system. This most recent one, though, has so far served up nothing but good times. By virtue of the weird fall we had, the alpine is caked with a little extra snow, despite lower elevations looking only marginally better than they did in October. That means bigger lines are coming in, even if their approaches aren’t. After a few weeks of mainly working on my fitness, I got out for an excellent descent of STS Couloir with a great crew in Rogers Pass. Appetites sufficiently whetted, Ryan and I headed back up the next day for something a little more interesting on Swiss Peaks.

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The day’s objective.

We cruised up from the Hermit parking lot on a well broken skintrack, quickly pushing through the dense layer of valley fog and into a glorious, sunny morning. Up and onto the Swiss Glacier we went, pleasantly surprised to be the first group to arrive. Of the multiple couloirs on Swiss Peaks, it was quite apparent that the middle of the three (technically the Fleming-Swiss couloir) would be the most enjoyable ski line on this day.

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Tupper, Macdonald and Sir Donald

The bootpack started quickly enough on the remnants of some old tracks, but less than a quarter of the way up the line that party had bailed, leaving the rest untouched. That would be great for the ski, but was doing our climbing pace no favours. Eventually, we wallowed to within a few meters of ridgetop as the surrounding peaks basked in evening alpenglow.

Those last moves were quite steep, faceted and rocky. We knew they were unskiable, but we still had to look over that ridge so Ryan went at it, punching steps into what little consolidated snow was available. A short section of tunnelling under a rock and at last we were both perched on the knife-edge ridge. We looked out from there at a view of a number of Rockies and Selkirk giants that can only be described as pure magic.

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Just another foreshortened couloir.

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Shaky camera work that doesn’t do the view any justice. Iconoclast, Sir Sandford and Columbia stand out in a sea of peaks.

We couldn’t stay long though, as winter sunsets are cause for concern, especially with the temperatures we’ve been experiencing lately. It was, predictably, getting extremely cold, not to mention dark, so we hastily downclimbed a few meters before enjoying variable turns in the day’s last light.

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Then we hurried down the moraines and into the Hermit path exit, where we ripped the best skiing of the day in perfect powder almost entirely by feel. Unfortunately, the route we took choked out heavily in a maze of boulders and alder. After a prolonged battle, during which both sides suffered casualties, we emerged victorious next to the parking lot about nine hours after leaving it.

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