Steep Ski Cragging on Cheops Mountain

Every winter there are at least few little windows of stability that materialize in between storms and midwinter avalanche issues. Last year, there were many and we all got very spoiled. This year they’ve been very few. In late January though, the stars aligned and I joined forces with Eric and Paul from the coast for a few days of green-light conditions.

It’s always better to ease into a weather window when possible, so we figured we’d get up to speed with what we like to refer to as steep ski cragging on the north face of Cheops Mountain; a roadside playground if there ever was one. We loaded up the technical toys and blasted up to Balu Pass, scoping lines the whole way.

Headed up the ridge. It doesn’t get much easier – or more scenic.

Then we continued along the always wind-blasted and variable ridge past Nicci’s Notch and STS Couloir to reach the spot that would allow us to peer over into Cheops North #2, AKA The Shelf. This line, a Hill/Vosburg FD according to the Sproul guidebook, has become something of a modern classic – even featuring a ring-bolted anchor.

Paul has a peek.

It took a little digging to find that, before performing a short rappel over the entrance slab. A bolder skier probably could have just sent it as conditions in the line were superb – but you’d sure hate to find out that they weren’t the hard way… Nearly perfect snow the whole way down had us feeling like it would be rude not to do another lap, so we transitioned and headed back around to oblige.

This time we topped out on Cheops North #3, AKA the Chance-Hill. This is a line that’s called to me for ages. It looks amazing from across the valley on Video Peak or Bruins Ridge, both of which are places that I spend a lot of time – particularly early season when the stoke is high. The top is a straightforward couloir, which spills onto an open, double fall line face. The snow here wasn’t as good. OK+ so we had to reign it in a bit, but the position was excellent down to the first of two cruxes.

An old photo, in which Valerio stares out at Cheops north from Ursus Minor. It might not be the biggest peak around, but just look at all those ski lines.
Eric, just below the entrance and ready to get after it.

Heavy wind had scoured the entrance to the lower couloirs, so we side stepped and dry skied our way through the first crux, before pulling out the cord for a quick rap into the center couloir. Could we have skied through? Maybe. Was it worth the effort and risk? Maybe not. Regardless, once we got into the couloir again, it was all fun turns and high fives before ripping back to the parking lot to scheme up something bigger before the window slammed shut.

A note on the north face of Cheops. Here in western Canada, we don’t have a ton of quick access to steep skiing. Cheops, with its well traveled approach, multitude of lines, potential for mid winter stability and proximity to the car is a bit of a unicorn. It was a lot of fun to have a good day up there, enjoying it the way it deserves to be enjoyed.

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