26 April, 2010

The 3 Most Classic Spearhead Descents

The Spearhead Traverse gets a lot of exposure, and so does a lot of slackcountry areas as well, but the range itself has so much to offer in the way of great ski descents.  Everything is easily done in a day, and with the possibility of two new huts (oops did I let the cat of the bag), skiing even more great descents during a weekend is now right around the corner.  So I decided to throw together a view of, not all, but the 3 most classic descents in the area.  These three provide the longest descents in the area, are the most popular for good reason, and provide some of the most memorable days.

Mt Fissile
The obvious, and most visible and known mountain in the range, even seen from town, hosts a variety of fantastic lines to ski.  Fissile does get skied relatively a lot, due to its proximity to Whistler Mountain, but shouldn't be passed up if you just have the day in the area.  The mountain has around 10 named lines but there are 2 main lines which get skied more often than the others (NW Face and Banana Chute).

Main Face Lines
1.  North East Face (55 degrees, 540m)
2.  Elevator Shaft (55 degrees, 540m)
3.  Summit Chute (55 degrees, 540m)
4.  Saddle Chute (55 degrees, 540m)
5.  North West Face (50 degrees - at the top then mellowing out, 540m)
6.  Banana Chute (40 degrees, 440m)
*note* degrees in these lines do change with different snow years.

Mt Macbeth Curtain Glacier
The Curtain Glacier is one of the longer and most interesting lines to ski.  Although not steep, it winds down and changes aspect multiple times, so skiing it is all about timing.  To add to this, there are some crevasses which you have to weave through, depending on the time of year and how much snow has fallen that season.  Make sure you bring a rope, and know how to use it.  That being said, the descent drops 1200m from the summit, with a short 45-50 degree roll of the summit to start.  Mid winter descents are recommended, but spring trips do get made, of this fantastic ski.

Mt Fitzsimmons
Fitzsimmons North Face may be one of the most classic Coast Range steep ski descents, especially in good snow, and is one absolute must on any skiers to do list.  The face is one big 380m or so shot, tipping the scales at 45-50 degrees, but then gives skiers an additional 500m of low angle skiing afterwards.  The beauty of this descent is obvious, committing, big, steep, consistent, what more can you ask for while skiing a big face?

These three mountains are all fantastic, and all provide unreal ski descents.  That being said, they are all committing, and big (part of the reason why they are great), respect should be paid.  


  1. Nice article Alex. They are classic for sure

  2. Note all these lines haven't yet been enchained, wink wink.

  3. How do you get back from the bottom of Macbeth?

  4. After skiing down the the Curtain Glacier (Macbeth), you will continue skiing down the valley alongside the left hand side of the creek (Fitzsimmons range side), and start traversing as high as possible at around 1500-1450m. From there you can skin up the Russet Creek drainage, which pops out at the base of the Overlord Glacier, and continues up to Russet Lake. You can exit over the Musical Bumps or out Singing Pass from there. The exit route is marked on John Baldwin's Backcountry Whistler map as well, although the route is pretty easy to find if you are using a 1:50,000 government topo.

  5. I see. Wanna spill some more beans on these huts? Youve got me excited.

  6. I can't say too much, but I will tell you there should be two huts, hopefully with some services (beer, tea) one around circle lake, and one at the back of the Spearhead.

  7. Hmm clasic eh... It really depends on your definition. I would say you have 1 out of three are correct. Fissile is very obvious, but the two others are down on the list due to thier location. Being at the back of the horse shoe makes these mountains less skied and there fore less classic than say Decker or Whirlwind. True, the angle and and aspect make them a classic ski descent but the average level of the ski tourer of the whistler area is not that strong to call it clasic to the layman. I've seen more marker dukes, and fritchi slack country types in the area touring with baggy pants and puffy jackets than serious dynafit people. Maybe one day the other two mountains will see a lot of traffic. I'm a regular Rogers pass skier who has also spent my learning years in the whistler and I hope one day the level will get there. My days are usually 6 to 9 thousand in vert which is not unusual for the pass. Your ahead of your self alex! In five or ten years with a cabin to base out of, fitz and mac beth will be ultra classic. I have walked by these descents many times on the one day tour, but just like almost everybody else I keep walking by due to time constraints or fitness level. I'm going with decker and whirlwind as 2 and 3. Just ask any joe ski tourer of the area and more than likely they will mention these ski descents which makes them more classic.

  8. You are right, these are big days (95% of the populace), but also don't have to be combined with a Spearhead Traverse. I agree these are far for some, but these picks are out of the entire Spearhead Range, not just for the slackcountry crowd. But perhaps classic may be the wrong terminology for some, lets say for now '3 must do's.' Thanks for the input, I feel like skiing Whirlwind this week now, especially if there is some corn setting up.

  9. The way I see it, classic doesn't have to mean every single person skiing it, just the best out there. Which is what I think Alex is getting at.

  10. Seems like I've waded into this a little late. I linked the aforementioned peaks with my good friend Veronica. We did hourglass on Tremor instead of MacBeth, and added the steep N face of Cheakamus? (behind fitz). But alas we did it in two days . . . much more relaxing. More impressive was that Veronica had to play a playoff hockey game right when we got back!! But this was before people kept track of vert on their wrist. We were just having fun. I'm sure Alex could do it in ??????

    Fitzsimmons is fuckin classic. The fact that it takes a mission to get to it makes it even more classic. One of the best 'Face' lines on the south coast. Maybe the best! Mmmm . . . have to ponder that one. Thanks for helping chronicle the steeps of the coast alex! Keep it up.

  11. Trevor,

    Sounds like a wicked trip, and North Face of Cheakamus is such a great line to add into the mix. A great way to knock off a bunch of amazing lines. Fitzsimmons North Face easily is one of my absolute favorites in the big faces category. Thanks for the great comments, I'll have to make note of that trip, for next year!

  12. Just a little poke at anonymous guy who didn't like your classics. I have been living in whistler for my entire adult life and I can't wait to get my baggy ass pants and my splitboard out to shred the classics. I might even bring a puffy jacket just for kicks who knows. Enjoy the journey everyone, because at the end of the day it's about memorable experiences with good friends in a truly beautiful place to call home.

  13. I wouldnt call myself a fitness machine, and was able to squeak out a curtain glacier run from the top in one day with the classic downhill boot / fritchi set up. Just takes a bit of mental will power / stubborness.

  14. To add some more (belatedly) to the quibbles, some of us "slowboarders" (gasp!) are even starting to knock these lines off in a day. It's gonna be a serious race to ride any of these lines fresh once the huts go in.

    I think these 3 line choices are bang on, although a strong case could also be made for Tremor's Hourglass (super fun and aesthetic, but not as much vert as the others), and Disease Ridge/DOA (amazing mix of steep terrain and accessibility; the subject of so many published photos). Cheakamus looks rad (haven't ridden it) but is a little too far off the radar for "classic" status.

  15. Snowboarders are killing it these days. It's great to see everyone getting after it, not just people on two planks. There is so much terrain in such a small area, I may need to do another blog post with other lines, or other high quality hits!