This spring, I made a goal to ski all the 3 stars lines in “The Chuting Gallery.” I’ve had a trusty copy of this book since I was 16 and ever since I can remember, I’ve always craned my neck out the window on the drive up Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons to gawk at all the big chutes and mountaintops around.
Some people asked me, Why focus on the 3 star lines when rating systems are so subjective? Of course ratings are subjective. But there is something about McLean’s writing and style that clicked with me. The descriptions are hilarious. If you aren’t familiar with the book and you ski in the Wasatch, get it now. It will open your eyes to many new ski experiences. If you haven’t heard of Andrew McLean, check out his blog, Straight Chuter. For some strange reason, I trust Andrew’s judgement on ratings. From the book, “These are a subjective quality rating. They have nothing to do with the snow conditions, slope angle, the gnarl factor or anything aside from just general coolness.”
The 3 star lines: “Ta die for. A classic. Major in every sense. High quality. A must ski. Do it now.” So I did.
Here’s the list:
Y-Couloir, Coalpit, Lisa Falls, Tanner’s, Little Pine, Monte Cristo Directissimo, Mt. Superior- South Face, The Hypodermic Needle, Pfeifferhorn – NW Couloir, Roman’s – Wolverine Cirque, Lone Peak – NE Couloir, Main Chute Baldy-Alta
Other people asked me, why not wait for good conditions and make it a two-year project? Some of the lines I skied in good snow, others, not so good. But part of the mission was exploratory – to see new terrain, climb new peaks, to push myself beyond my comfort zone.
I’ve always had this inner mountaineer in me, I think we all do, it’s just hidden deeper in some. The voice inside of us that wants to get to the top of every hilltop or mountain. Like in the Sound of Music, “Climb Every Mountain, Ford Every Stream, Follow all the rainbows, until you find your dream.” (Yes I admit, I’m kind of a dork). It’s especially easy to nurture this inner mountaineer in the Wasatch, where dozens of amazing peaks are viewable from the city skyline. I’ve always wanted to ski all these lines, but have usually been so busy skiing powder at the resorts that I didn’t take the time or effort to make it happen.
The project officially started near the end of March when I realized I’d already skied a few of the 3 star lines. The thing with this type of skiing is that it’s addictive. The combination of adrenaline plus endorphin rush is intoxicating. After my first few missions, I’d get nervous when I didn’t have another one lined up. I started friending random people on Facebook that looked like strong touring partners (they have now become good real life friends). I obsessed over weather forecasts, strategically assembled teams and planned my objectives. Starting so late in the season was stressful, especially with so many south facing lines, but April came through for me in a big way. Little storms coated the Wasatch with fresh coats of paint, but not enough to create unstable avalanche conditions. A cold storm near the end of the month was the icing on the cake. I ended up skiing many of the lines in excellent conditions.
Here’s how it all went down:
1) The Y-Couloir
Feb. 15, 2013
I usually ski the Y once a year for a good workout and fun usually around Valentine’s Day. If you want to get into chuting, the Y is a good place to start. You can scout it from the road and it’s very straight-forward. With all these lines, you want to be sure to have 100% stable avalanche conditions. As McLean states in the book, “The most impressive aspect of The Y is that it hits 40 degrees immediately and never varies more then a few degrees in its entirety.”
A spicy entrance to the Y – Forrest and me booting up in lean conditions – usually this rocky section is filled in. Photo by Brent Benson
Forrest in the Y.
The Y and other lines as seen from Lisa Falls.
2) The next line I skied was a burly one, the NW Couloir of the Pfeifferhorn.
March 3, 2013
Local photographer Steve Lloyd loves this and organized this mission. It was my first time touring with Brody Leven and Alex Taran and they are some of the best partners ever. Brody explained the approach and made sure I knew what I was getting myself into before we left the parking lot. I appreciated the team’s attention to detail and safety.
The NW Couloir in all it’s glory.
Happy and excited!
This year, there were especially lean conditions in the NW Couloir and there was a lengthy rappel to enter the chute. photo by Brody Leven.
This was one of my favorite days of the winter, even though the snow was a mix of breakable crusts. This was a long day – we ended up skiing out of white pine in the dark, fading headlamp, out of water and nearly out of food (I was rationing gummy bears and Clif shot blocks to the group), but we were laughing and smiling the whole way back to the car. Good friends and a good day in the mountains!
3) South Face of Superior, March 4, 2013.
Superior is one of my favorite lines. It’s so iconic and is probably part of the reason so many skiers make their way to Little Cottonwood Canyon. We began on a cold, snowy morning at 4:30 am. It was the windiest ridge walk I’ve ever done, and I nearly got hypothermia waiting for the sun to emerge, but alas, the clouds parted ways and made for a breathtaking sunrise.
Adam Clark on the approach.
3 star line in 3 star conditions! Blower pow on the South face of Superior! photo by Adam Clark
4) March 24, 2013. Coalpit:
Another very fun day skiing a 3 star line in 3 star conditions. This time, we approached from White Pine. It was a long walk in. We came through the notch on Maybird and made our way up the apron of the Needle to the top of Thunder ridge.
Sunrises like these make the early wake ups worth it.
de-skinning at the top of Coalpit, photo by Lee Cohen
5,000 feet of good skiing await. More of a cirque or bowl than a chute. Coalpit is an amazing run that every Wasatch skier should do at least once.
5) Main Chute of Baldy, Alta
March 27, 2013
Always a fun one, and an easy one to get. If you don’t ski it from Alta Ski Area, you can hike it before or after the resort closes, it holds snow for awhile. Once I skied it near the end of July.
me hiking up to Main Chute. photo by Adam Clark
6) March 28, 2013. Roman’s, Wolverine Cirque:
Another relatively easy one to tick off the list. Forrest and I skied it from Brighton one hot afternoon.
Even though we were in the middle of a heat wave, the snow in north-facing Roman’s stayed cold, chalky and delightfully carve-able.
7) April 4, 2013. Tanners.
Now, onto the South-facing lines:
With hot temperatures everywhere in the Wasatch, I wanted to get on this line early. We started hiking well before sunrise. Even though everything was frozen solid, I got an eerie feeling as we headed up the narrow avalanche path in the darkness.
Top of Tanner’s, waiting for warmth.
The entire chute was littered with avy debris, some of the boulders bigger than me. Here Forrest enjoys a small section of corn-like snow, the only unscathed portion of the line. Skiing down 3,000+ feet of frozen avy debris was a low moment in the project, but you have to ski the bad to appreciate the good!
8) Little Pine.
April 7, 2013
This day, it was cloudy and lightly snowing. We didn’t start until the afternoon and ended up skiing the line in great corn/slush like conditions! Soft and highly rippable, it was redemption for the heinousness of Tanner’s.
My crampons and ice ax came in handy for these south facing missions.
If you look closely enough, you can see us as little specks in the bottom. There was one choke we had to downclimb, but everything else was filled in! Overall, highly enjoyable turns in Little Pine! One of my favorites.
9) Hypodermic needle
April 11, 2013
Booting up in fresh powder.
Lucky to have a foot of fresh snow for this one!
10) Lisa Falls
April 18, 2013
Trip report here. This is the line I wished wasn’t in the book because it was such a massive undertaking so late in the season. Still, we got the upper section as good as it gets.
11) NE Couloir of Lone Peak
April 22, 2013
Read Adam OKeefe’s fantastic trip report here.
The NE Couloir (which is actually mostly East-facing) has this exposed Alaska feel to it. It suites my type of skiing. It’s wide, steep and committing. There are a ton of other cool lines off Lone Peak. The potential is unlimited – I plan to go back there another time with a tent, some food and spend a few days ticking away at these.
Lone Peak in powder (not exactly the conditions we had) when I scouted it from Coalpit. Fell in love at first sight.
Ascending, full ice ax and crampon mission!
On top of the South peak in freezing temperatures!
Powder-like conditions with a big cliff below!
And a long dirty hike out…
Monte Cristo Directissimo
12) April 25, 2013
For the final line, I asked Andrew McLean if he’d come with me. Amazingly, he said yes. Andrew is the man, and it was so cool to finish the project with him!
dropping in! – photos by Adam OKeefe.
And that’s it!
I would like to dedicate this project to my half-brother Martin who perished 12 years ago in an avalanche in Stairs Gulch and to Craig Patterson, Joe Timlin, Chris Minecci, all the many other friends we’ve lost. Martin was my mountain mentor, he taught me how to climb, ski, backpack and inspired me to become the mountain woman I am today. Whenever I go to the mountains, I remember him, his smile, his contagious enthusiasm. I know he wouldn’t want me to stop doing what I’m doing. I feel his spirit in the mountains and I see him smiling down on me.
I poured my heart and soul into this project. And I know Martin would be proud. RIP to all our perished mountain friends.
I’d also like to give a big shout out to all my friends and touring partners who helped make this project successful:
And Noah Howell for inspiring this project!
Thanks to my awesome sponsors whose support allows me to ski my wild heart out.
Zeal Optics, Nordica, Patagonia, Sanuk, Leki, Thule
Petzl, Clif Bar, Sambazon, backcountry.com and Gregory Mountain Products
I learned so much by finishing the project and it’s just the beginning! Stay tuned for more exciting adventures ahead.