Late Season Ski Objectives Around Home

North Cascades Couloir Skiing

This past spring, late season snow came in heavy to the Pacific Northwest. February and March

were stormy and delivered many days of deep powder skiing. I had been away ski guiding in

Alaska for much of that time, but I hypothesized that the late season storms would lead to

higher peaks holding snow late into the spring. With that in mind, I headed deep into the North

Cascades in May to ski a rad couloir in a zone that does not see many skiers.

The skin in was classic spring time mush and, as my partner and I skied into the basin below the

mountain, the snowpack seemed very wet. We had been worried that the snow might be too

wet but as we explored a little higher the snowpack became consolidated and

supportive—perfect for steep skiing on sun-softened corn snow. We went to bed psyched to

climb and ski this 3000 ft couloir at over 50 degrees.

The next day, we headed up the mountain, mostly front-pointing in crampons. The higher we

got, the more firm the surface seemed to become. While we were counting on a transition to

cold, soft snow, the surface remained extremely firm as we entered the crux of the couloir

toward the top of the mountain, a narrow pinner of over 55 degrees.

The slope was a mix of unpredictable sections of bulletproof snow, breakable crust and rippled

ice. Worst of all, while we waited in hopes of the sun softening the surface, the heat caused

rocks and ice to begin falling down the couloir.

It had already gotten too hot this spring and there was no cold snow left, even at higher

elevations on protected north faces. The melt-freeze had made the couloir too dangerous to

ski—especially with no-fall zone terrain below—but we thought we would give it a try with a

rappel back-up.

It was comical how steep the skiing felt and how low-angle the rappelling felt; the angle was

certainly skiable but surface conditions prevented us from really trying. However, as we exited

the crux onto less exposed, more sun-softened snow, we were able to rip turns back to camp

and leave an amazing objective for next year.

Fuhrer Thumb, Mt. Rainier

A few days later, I ventured to Mt. Rainier with another friend. While we had much more

ambitious plans, my recent experience led us to depart from our original objectives. Since it

seemed there was no powder skiing to be had, why not embrace the corn skiing? Instead of

trying our luck on cold north faces, we would ski sunny, soft south aspects.

We skinned up the Nisqually Glacier and set up camp. The next morning, we woke not terribly

early, leaving camp with sunrise to give the sun enough time to do its work.

We climbed the Kautz Glacier, cramponed up the headwall, crossed over crevasses with snow

bridges still frozen solid, and skinned right to the summit; on this outing, our timing was right


The snow as we navigated and skied the steeps of the Nisqually to the Fuhrer Thumb was sun-

ripened to perfection. The Fuhrer Thumb’s couloir was rippable corn and, while the lower

mountain had been warmed to the point of wet-loose snow avalanches, we made it through

the consequential terrain of the upper mountain before it too would begin to slide with the