14 August, 2011

Best Couloirs In The Sea To Sky

There are a lot of superb lines to ski in the Sea To Sky area.  Big open steep faces, billy goat lines, exposed spines, fall away ridges, but nothing as memorable as skiing really big couloirs.  Couloirs are the same to skiers as getting tubed is to surfers.  That feeling of being inside and part of the mountain, as the sound of your turns echo off the walls, and only one way to get out.  Funny enough, there are some lines that are considered couloirs, when really they are merely chutes or gullies.  A true couloir must be long dropping a good amount of elevation, aesthetically obvious with large walls dominating the sides of the corridor, and at least steep enough to need to turn.  These are just some of the ones that standout in my mind, all of which are toured to, and not heli dropped.

Birkenstock Couloir, Microwave Ridge Birkenhead Peak, D'Arcy
Alright I know this really isn't exactly Sea To Sky, but it is really close to the road, making it within perfect day tripping range.  First climbed by Drew Brayshaw in Sept 1998, this 700m 45-55deg couloir is gorgeous, and begs to be skied when looking at it.  The straightforward approach, climb, and atmosphere of the couloir makes it an instant classic to add to anybodies bucket list.  Full Photo Here (Photo Credit: Pat Mulrooney)

(Video Made By Chris Christie)

Aussie and Central Couloir, Mt Joffre, Duffey Lake Road
The Aussie (Australian) Couloir is an utmost classic for budding ski mountaineers to cut their teeth on.  It's long 400m elevation loss while skiing a cool 45 degree slope is a treat to ski.  However, it's south facing nature does make it prone to sucking in the sun's rays, which makes decision making crucial, if you don't want to get washed out while climbing it.  That being said, it is a fantastic ski, and worth the trip up Cerise Creek.  Paul Cordy and myself skied in it the moonlight a few years ago, while bailing off another objective, which incidentally proved to be one of the  most nostalgic couloir experiences I've experienced.  (Photo Left:  Aussie Couloir (Left), Kiwi Couloir (Right), photo courtesy of Lee Lau)

Central Couloir, is Joffre's crowning jewel alongside the Twisting Couloir, which didn't make it on to the list, as it is more of a ski mountaineering line rather than a pure couloir.  The Central is pretty much the most dominant couloir, that demands respect, and won't allow anyone to ski it.  Most parties climb it first and ski down their tracks, however, this cuts the crux of the entire couloir off.  Skiing it from the summit is difficult, but allows you to rap in and ski the beautiful 55 degree ramp with bouts of 60 degrees, before rapping again off a 30m (100ft) cliff mid couloir.  The couloir itself is steep, imposing, and requires a "no-fall" attitude.  Beautiful from top to bottom, with an additional mega luxurious glacial descent through seracs, crevasses, and rolling terrain.  One of my personal favorites.  (Photo Right:  Central Couloir, Mt Joffre, BC)

Supercouloir and Camel Toe Couloir, Spire Peaks, Squamish
Another two rarely skied gems, hidden away in the basin of Spire Peak, just off the Garibaldi Neve.  The Supercouloir (left) skied a handful of times, and the Camel Toe (right) only once, are worthy of the list specifically from their gorgeous aesthetic nature.  Hands down probably the most perfect couloirs in the area, and up there with those in the province.  Make no mistake, a long hard road with fantastic conditions is required to ski them, but to those who put in the time they are most memorable.  (Photo Left:  Spire Peak Couloirs)

The Supercouloir, featured in a Doglotion article, got this couloirs notoriety out there.  Just shy of 1000m long (3200 ft) of couloir skiing, with a beautiful easy going slope angle, this is what dreams are made of. It's neighbor the Camel Toe, is a bit more full on, boasting over 1000m of skiing through it's doglegging and twisting walls make this a bit more of an undertaking than it's neighbor.  Expect a short 70cm squeeze near the top just below it's steepest 50 degree chockstone which may or may not hold snow (depending on the snow year).  While skiing either of the two couloirs, expect a very long approach and exit, and ensure you get your timing right otherwise it will be all for nothing.  (Photo Below:  Trevor Hunt mid Supercouloir, Trevor Hunt Collection)

Siberian Express, Mt Atwell, Squamish
Ah the cream of the crop.  This beautiful, big, hairy couloir doesn't see a lot of descents, but if you can nab it it's one of the coolest you'll ski in your life.  The Siberian Express is situated off Mt Atwell's West Face, but is guarded by either a heinous approach with a scary climb up the guts of it, or coming around the back of it and dropping into the unknown conditions of it.  Both ways require the utmost care in decision making, as some parties have encountered surprising "walls of ice" that are unskiable, requiring more than just simple ski skills to get around.  Train hard, skiing this won't be a walk in the park.  (Photo Left:  Siberian Express (red line), Photo By: Trevor Hunt)

Notable Mentions
Mt Matier - Twin One Couloir
Mt Wedge - NW Couloir
Mt Currie - Pencil, Diagonal, Y Couloirs
Mt Rethel - N Couloir

Any others you can think of?


  1. Great list. With a 2000m descent from peak to valley (although not all couloir) I feel Mt Currie's Pencil couloir deserves a bit more than a mention, but that's just personal opinion from a Pemberton resident

    1. If we're talking bests, I agree that the Pencil and Central of Mt Currie are a cut above the Aussie

  2. FASP - E Face couloir. 1100m. Probably skied first by some tyax heli guides but bagged in kind of ok conditions here - http://www.leelau.net/sharonandlee/icemaker-glacier-and-fasp/ - esthetic too.

    I don't know if Aussie counts as best. Have to agree with the other poster and say that Pencil, Wedge's NW top that - if only because they're longer and not s-facing.

  3. That's affirmative to both comments! I opted off Mt Currie as it just sees so many heli-drops, and rarely is ski toured. However, it get's its rightful spot in Davenports 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America. Truly the realm of big hardcore descents.

    Lee as for FASP, is this still within the Sea To Sky or Whistler/Squamish touring range without a big trip? I had it all lined up to go on the list but was debating if it fit. Should be on it, but then there's some ridiculous stuff I'd have to add in in some ranges that are harder to get too. Perhaps another post in the mix then.

    Aussie is mellow, and perfect for intermediate ski tourers, but so classic and aesthetic. Fun is fun, but hey at least if you fell down in when it was hard you could break yourself!

  4. Well I suppose if you add FASP you have to add stuff like NE Meager or NW Plinth so maybe that gets a bit too big of a geographic area? FASP is probably a two day trip - with one day in North Creek. But then you can other stuff on the way. FASP just stood out to me because its so long and uninterrupted. But then I agreed that Pencil also stood out for that same reason - Pencil and Y are both so beautiful.

  5. Great blog you have here. Being in the Okanagan and addicted to the light,sexy snow of the Monashees and Selkirks I've never skied at the coast. Going to have to change this after a brief stop in Whistler last week and a drive up through Pemberton, Lillooet. I was in awe staring up at that north facing line while filling up with gas in pemberton. Looks like a 1000m line, good to go in August ?? A great shop you have there as well. Have to check it out when more winter gear is there...

  6. Thanks for the comment. The North Face you were looking at is Mount Currie. It is skied quite often, usually by heli-drop though, and also has phenomenal terrain on it's backside as well. The most classic lines on it's face are the Y, Diagonal, and Pencil Couloirs all worthy classics and featured in Davenports 50 classics book. And if you like lighter snow, suprisingly Whistler is pretty good, but the Duffey Lake Road tends to have the lightest most blower snow in the area. See you in the winter!

  7. I just realized that I've skied all of your list. Makes me feel really special . . . thanks alex . . . haha! Watch out for the spray!

    Brings back memories of why it's so awesome to grow up on the coast. The Birkenstock was (maybe?) my first 1st descent, and still my favorite! The Central on Joffre was the first steeeep line. Soloing the Siberian and punching through the cornice at the end of the climb was life-altering (as well as the ski down). Super couloir was just huge!!! Bagging the aesthetic Camel Toe was the equivalent of winning the lottery or maybe just 1 or 2 olympic gold medals- truly world class.

    If this blog-post was called "Heli-drop classics: ski the gnar with no effort", then Currie would be at the top of the list. I've heli-dropped Currie a bunch and its really classic and fun, but it isn't much of an accomplishment stepping out of a chopper and dropping in. Kudos to those that have climbed and skied it. And yes the Aussie does deserve mention due to its classic coastal status and because people usually give it the proper respect by climbing it from the valley.

    Nice work on the list Alex . . . thanks for not putting anything that I haven't skied. Now I can happily retire to the golf course.


  8. You missed out this amazing secret line I know about off the back of Whistler... Its called DOA... No-one knows about it and it always has sweet sweet untracked pow. It's pretty remote thou... you have to hike for ages to get there. It can be scary being on such a steep line (must be over 65 degrees at the top) so deep in the wilderness, but some of us just have to ski the extreme, right?

  9. Hahaha, high five to the comment above.