Crested Butte, CO Backcountry Report: A Chute on Mt. Axtell’s First Bowl

Dominic Gawel | BackcountryBackcountry
Pow Slash by Josh Jones. Credit: Dominic Gawel

Report from Monday, March 8, 2021

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The Crested Butte backcountry never ceases to impress me and today was no exception to that. Mt. Axtell delivered steep skiing, powder, soft snow, tight trees, and a fun chute. Our day began at the Kebler Pass winter closure where we skinned about two miles to the base of Mt. Axtell. Once we reached the base, we followed a skin track up Mt. Axtell to its ridgeline full of classic Crested Butte descents.

My roommate Josh and I had been planning to ski the infamous Pencil Couloir down Mt. Axtell for several days beforehand. We asked friends about it, researched, and made a detailed tour plan. After carefully looking at the weather forecast the night before, we knew any of our drop time options would be at the peak of the short storm. Despite knowing the forecast, mountain weather is unpredictable and the storm hit a bit harder than expected with lower visibility and heavier snow.

Looking down from the top of the chute. Credit: Dominic Gawel

Josh and I evaluated conditions throughout the tour. We stopped on the approach several times to get views of the Pencil Couloir with binoculars and determined it was skiable if weather conditions allowed. Upon reaching the ridgeline, we evaluated some other descents in the first and second bowls prior to reaching the top of the Pencil. Once we reached the top of the Pencil, we determined the visibility was too poor to ski it. Fog brought the visibility down to about 200 feet and the light was too flat to safely see what was in front of us in a no-fall zone.

We decided to ski a plan B descent down a chute in the first bowl of Mt. Axtell through consensus. We descended the ridgeline several hundred feet to the entrance of the chute. The chute was around 1,300 vertical feet followed by another 1,300 vertical feet of patches of tight trees and open glades. The deeper powder and high snow quality was a pleasant surprise and lent some early spring style skiing.

The storm hit harder than expected! Credit: Josh Jones

Snow stability throughout the region has been drastically improving persistent problems through melt-freeze cycles and time. Heat and sun have increased danger for wet problems on non-northern aspects. Although we have seen a long period of moderate and low avalanche danger, the danger will increase with fresh snow in the forecast this week. The storm will be an awesome refresh and help keep our snowpack longer into the spring!

Weather Forecast:

Credit: NOAA

Avalanche Forecast:

Credit: CBAC
Credit: CBAC

Snow Water Equivalent:

Credit: USDA NRCS

Snowpack:

Credit: USDA NRCS

Photos:

Looking at Pencil Couloir, our plan A descent, with binoculars on the approach. Credit: Dominic Gawel
Visibility deteriorated quickly. Looking back up towards the chute. Credit: Dominic Gawel
Credit: Dominic Gawel

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