Report from July 21, 2023
“Pipeline Couloir” at Snowbird, UT yesterday was a buck-wild adventure ski!
Maybe the best adventure skiing I’ve ever had anywhere…
Rockfalls, waterfalls, evil melted-out black bomb holes, second-thought-inducing steeps, convoluted/corrugated snow, violent pitch changes, unholy spine-chokes, a large rocky waterfall mid-chute, and more rocks-embedded-in-snow than you can shake a stick at.
I actually removed about 50 rocks from the snow as I hiked up.
Why ski Pipeline in these conditions?
Well, yesterday was the last ski day of my North American season, I’d seen it from the top of Mt Baldy at Alta on Wednesday and thought it looked exciting, and who doesn’t love a good challenge?
Honestly, yesterday was one of the best days of my life.
I had a roaringly funny incident on the way up, then got to ski this legendary chute, had a large life milestone come to fruition on the hike up, then went and saw the Barbie movie in SLC with my fiancee.
What a Freakin’ day!
3- chutes in 3-days (Main Chute, Suicide Chute, Pipeline) felt great.
Off to Patagonia tomorrow.
11,460′ American Fork Twin Peak, UT – “Pipeline Couloir”
- Summit (actually a notch): 11,300′
- Car: 7,900′
- Vertical From Car: 3,400′
- Vertical skied: 1,000′
- Max Pitch: 50º
- Avg Pitch: 42º
- Aspect: East Northeast
- Distance: 5.5-miles round trip
- Time From Car to Top: 2 hours and 45 minutes
- Car to Car Time: 5 hours
- Recommended Equipment: Crampons, Ice Axe x2, skins, ski crampons
- **Note: we do not recommend skiing this chute in summer – rockfall was active and unsafe
Up at 6:30am.
Hiking by 8:30am.
When I arrived at Snowbird, I was shocked to find thousands of cars and sporty people milling about.
There was a big mountain running race that I had no idea about.
A 28K and a 10K were popping off that same day.
At first, I was nervous, wondering if I’d be invited to leave as I climbed up.
- Would we be on the same trails?
- Would there be thousands of runners everywhere doing everything?
- Would I be able to use the same trails?
As I climbed I saw no one.
Flowers and green grass everywhere.
Once I got on the bench, I ran into a ski patroller who confronted me as I walked past.
He recognized me and thanked me for helping him acquire some Scott skis for a raffle they’d had for a good cause this past winter.
It was clearly OK that I was there.
I continued on merrily and began to encounter racers.
They were all lovely and strong.
Ripping uphill at various paces but mostly around my pace.
I fell in with them and made friends.
A mountain biker may have been berating the racers as he came down screaming “F*** you! Go back to the valley! F*** you!”.
I may have yelled “Be nice!”
He may have yelled back “F*** you!”
I may have yelled “Be nice!” again.
He may have yelled “F*** you!” again.
As he came down around the switchback I may have stood my ground.
We may have fallen into a game of chicken…
He may have charged me on his bike and I may not have flinched.
He may have collided with me and I may have, at the last second, lowered my shoulder to protect myself.
He may have gone down hard.
I may have walked on as if nothing happened.
He may have come after me in a white rage of fury.
I may have told him calmly and repeatedly “We are not going to fight.”
He may have gotten in my face, screamed a tirade of obscenities, and tried to wrestle the ski poles I was usuing to keep him at bay away from me and throw them down the mountain.
I may have resisted that attempt.
He may have eventually grabbed my ski laden backpack and swung me to the ground.
Once I was down, he may have seemed satisfed and gotten back on his bike.
He may have yelled in an increasily desperate tone “F*** you, go back to the valley!”
I may have yelled back, “I’m from California.”
He may have blood-curdlingly screamed back to me “Go back! Go back! Go baaaaaack!”
I may have hollered in return, “Just visiting,” in that passive tone that housekeepers use when knocking on your door to say ‘housekeeping.’
But all of that above only may have happened.
Regardless, I had no adrenal response.
It just felt like the right thing to do.
Just after that possible encounter, I spoke with my new friends a bit about the wildness that might have just happened.
We chuckled as they raced on.
I broke from the trail here and began scooting up toward the apron of “Pipeline.”
Once on snow I dropped shoes and slipped into boots and crampons.
I was about 1 hour and 45 minutes into the climb.
The apron went quickly.
The chute looked like dogshit…
Wonky, rocky, skinny, fully melted-out in the middle with a little waterfall, steep, with old black bomb holes here and there.
I chuckled at myself and started up.
The lower chute was riddled with stone.
So much so that I spent time and energy removing around 50 rocks just so I’d actually be able to ski down.
The melted-out middle section climbed easy and climbed wet and climbed well.
I was unworried about downclimbing it.
Above the melted-out section, the snow had a deep runnel in it I was sure would lead to some interesting navigation…
On I went.
I did eventually get my ice axe out as the chute became steep and consequential.
Maybe 50º for a rollover or two?
The upper chute held 2 narrow chokes.
One was about a ski length wide and off-canter.
The other was less than a ski length wide and rocky.
The couloir was full of bits of debris I assumed were pieces of the exploded howitzer shells they loft up there.
I even saw something that resembled a shell, albeit battered, and I gave it a wide berth.
I made the top 1 hour after switching to boots.
DJ music wafting off the tram building at the summit of Hidden Peak at Snowbird was whispering into my ears in waves.
A cheering squad was coaxing racers up the last snowy slope to the top.
I could make out that Pharell “Because I’m Happyyyyy” song grooving along the chute’s walls.
The top of the chute was some sort of secret butterfly corridor.
Butterflies were constantly buzzing past me, resting on snow, examing flowers, and continuing on their way from east to west.
I was flabbergasted.
Birds, bees, butterflies, and flowers everywhere at the top of this ominous and foreboding mountain crack.
Life is amazing.
I drank in the scene for about 15 minutes before transitioning and clicking in.
The upper chute had a strange corrugation to it I’d not really seen before.
It skied fine but looked weird.
Like vertically oriented ice veins of old.
The upper funnel was fun, but no-fall-zone.
I hit the first off-angle choke with very little speed and kicked down a flurry of small rocks as I ungracefully splashed through it.
I cut back hard into the chute from the choke and gnawed on the bizarre, spiny features that the old bomb holes and July sun had concocted.
It was steep in here.
The bomb-sun spines lead me into the 2nd choke that I flopped down in unglorious fashion – skis tips clanking and skittering off rocks and I went.
More steep turns lead me to the big runnel above the snow-free zone.
I thwacked jump turns on the steep terrain right of the runnel until it was time to cross.
I crossed it like a baby giraffe on rollerskates…
Tips and tails hung up, unable to move at times, audibly laughing to myself.
Once across the gaping runnel, I threw 4 more jump turns until my skis sounded rock.
Skis off and onto the pack.
Downclimbing mostly with nose uphill.
Hands wet from slithering into the best handholds that also happened to live in the waterfall itself.
Back on snow.
Back on skis.
Rocks are just shooting off my skis here.
Despite my rocky clean-up efforts, every single turn in the lower chute must have produced somewhere between 6 and 17 rocks.
They clanked and screamed and bounced and acted tough but caused no real harm.
I laughed out loud again as I skied.
The apron was the worst part.
The season’s avalanche debris was still so dense and variable that it left even this July apron a frozen, variable mess.
I slowly survived the apron and started feeling it.
Feeling that these were my last turns of my North American ski season.
I reveled in the notion and allowed my mind to wander.
It had been one helluva day and one helluva season.
My face cracked into a smile that I had a hard time losing.
Songs erupted from my lips.
I guzzled the last of my water and scampered off feeling light and fine in my overly aggressively soled running shoes.
But I did not run.
I nearly instantly reunited with my running friends as they whooped and hooted to each other glissading down the snow patch and onto the trail below.
We all sauntered down the trail happily.
Me happy and singing from my ski.
Them happy to be going downhill.
About 1.5 hours of easy trail and road walking later I was back at the car.
It was hot down there.
I rolled downhill into SLC and got my oil changed in the 103ºF heat
Anthony changed my oil and filter in about 15 minutes.
I showered and stretched at Daryn’s house with his upset then accepting dogs then voyaged back into the furnace to meet my fiancee at the Barbie movie.
We got a huge tub of popcorn, sat in exquisitely comfy chairs, and watched one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time.
Friday was a superb day that I know I will never forget.
Thank you, Utah.