Whatever you do, don’t look down….wait…what??!!!?
I’d like to say the Little Couloir in Big Sky, MT has long been on my “to-do” or “must-do” list. Well it’s been on neither. I’ve seen a few descents of it over the last few years and none of them looked enjoyable. Firm, steep, oft rock-chocked would be better descriptors. Before my move to the Jackson in the winter of 2009/10 skiing “the Little” wasn’t even in my wheelhouse. I was a mediocre intermediate/advanced skier anyways, and whatever aspirations I had to do more, I wasn’t reaching as high as the Little. Now 4 years of 100+ a-day seasons later I’ve moved up the ladder to a mediocre sometimes-expert level skier. And my aspirations still don’t reach as high.
Big Sky Ski Patrol opened the Little Friday 3/14/14. Local BSSP-Pro Patroller Josh Winstead informed me they ran “like 30 people through there.” I was otherwise distracted by ski touring the mirco terrain off the Beehive Basin ridge line launching pillows and bashing branches. Saturday the area was closed and I had my sights set on the Lone Lake backcountry zone off the peak of Lone Mountain for Sunday. Josh had offered to guild what was to be my 1st trip back into this zone.
Josh between the West Wall and Apple Core
But the Little had other plans for me… Josh as well. The zone had opened back up and Josh was anxious to give it a go. His confidence and stoke was inspiring. Over and over he informed me that “it’s mostly a head game” and reminded me of things to the effect of “just don’t fall, because you’re gonna rag doll if you do.” The Pièce de résistance of Josh’s motivational pep talk centered around his personal testimony that he was “really puckered” and his out the patrol shack commentary on “getting out there and getting on top of it…to see if we can really sketch ourselves out” set the tone. I was inspired…to accidentally drop all the way down the North Summit snowfield. Or at least call my mom and confirm my living will and advanced medical directives.
While standing in line for the tram Josh and I discussed how it would be nice to see someone ski it while waiting. It gives you a little beta on the line, and mostly inspires you to think…well shoot if they can ski it and not die/get mortally injured, I must be able to do the same…right?!?!! Well we got our wish, a party of two posted up top and one dropped into the Little Couloir direct. While our planned route was to take Apple Core off the side it was still nice to see someone skiing the area. Until they fell, and fell, and rag dolled, and tumbled. The tram line exploded in gasps, and shouts of “o s%#t!!!” Both skis off, and a 500 foot fall under his belt the unknown brave sole came to a rest and slowly got back onto his feet. Confidence inspired. Good thing I saw that I thought to myself
At the top we waited 30 minuets for our spot. Just what you want to do when faced with a head game like the Little. The recent victim of the slope’s steep-ness and funky snow? A Pro-Patrol from Big Sky. Grrrrreat, if he’s a pro-patroller, what’s gonna happen to me I wondered? (A recent correction, this might have been a “volly” or volunteer patroller.) I stepped outside to take a leak and get another look. Mostly I wanted to have an empty bladder when I took the tumble. Seriously, that’s what crossed my mind. If I’m going to tweek a knee (or worse) I’d like to not have to use the restroom the whole time. While the patroller received a slow-clap welcome from his colleagues we made our way out into the wind and ridges of Lone Mountain’s Little Couloir.
It’s a quick ski and ridge hike to the entry of Little. Not to bad if the winds were lighter. 50 mph wind speeds would shut down the triple, and the higher gusts on the ridgeline at elevation buffeted us and made every movement a deliberate one. While watch Josh ski one blast would almost knock me off the ridge, my move to steady myself almost did the same to my skis. On top of Apple Core Josh offered to row sham bow to see who went first. That’s a doozie. Do I stand up here and get some beta on the line from watching you ski, alone, in the wind, with nothing but my thoughts and demons to keep me company? Well I had the Go Pro on my head, and the shots of him going in from the top would look better from here, so it was decided. Phil and his demons, and the wind, and his Go Pro could say up here and keep each other company.
The 1st Turn
The entrance wasn’t too tricky. The key was to not look down and to the left. You’re going down to the right anyways. The “west wall” as it’s known is a 700 foot plus cliff band you are sliding over for a few moments. Nothing down there but despair (and more demons, although the wind drops away rapidly once you come to a rest in a heap at the bottom of the cliff). Once off the west wall you slide down and into the upper choke. the snow here was loose, punchy with some big rocks sticking out. The move was to side step down those. Not the cleanest way to get in, but a way in none the less. Hopefully with the side stepping packing the sloe in the next round of riders will get a cleaner line with more snow and less rocks. That’s me, always doing my civic duty.
Once into the meat of the Little it’s all about big, energy expending jump turns (the 1st one of which I almost blew up on…niiiiice). I tried a bit to hard to get some style points for the passing tram car, and was thinking about my next turns before I completed my 1st one. After that I reeled it back in. Hard to get steezy with it when you’re in traction at a hospital. I reeled my tram-cred points down and worked it out a little slower. Little comes together in the choke above the apron of the Secret entrance from the Big things get quite a bit mellower. But even on the tram-tastic legs with days of running 16 hot tram laps, almost a million feet of lift service and 200k of backcountry touring by then I was worked. Between the adrenaline, the almost eating it, and the head game I was spent. Linking the turns was do-able but arduous.
Back in the tram line as the triple was shutting down for wind it was all high-fives and red bulls (to quote http://www.backcountry.com). As we exchanged congratulatory remarks Josh waxed phil-low-sophically (as seen at the end of the video) “Nice, well we didn’t tomahawk it, so we got that going for us…”
Indeed we do!
Days: 71, YTD lift assist 945,493, YTD self propelled 185,751