A Trip Across Alta’s Ribbon of Doubt

| April 30, 2009 | 17 Comments

The Ribbon at Alta is a line that I’ve been meaning to ski for about the last twenty years, yet I never seem to get around to it.  One good reason for putting it off is that it traverses through the top of the Devils Castle Buttress with a whopping 600′ of exposure the entire time.  Another reason to put it off is that it is 100% in bounds at Alta, and although you might be able to semi-legally ski it when the gates are open, I’m sure the Patrol would have something to say about it. 

I first heard of this line from Lorne Glick who was driving cats at Alta at the time.  He skied it with John Whedon (skiing is actually a very relative term with The Ribbon…) and said that it was named Ciochetti’s Ribbon after Dave Ciochetti, an Alta Patroller who is not only credited with the first descent, but also brought along his girlfriend as a partner.  I probably would have put this off for a few more years/decades, except Courtney Phillips pointed out that I wasn’t doing anything tomorrow afternoon, so we should do it ASAP.  Thanks for the motivation Court!

The Ribbon is a 100% full-on blend of skiing and rock climbing as you need to belay each pitch and not only place protection for yourself, but your partner as well.  There is really no advantage or disadvantage to leading or following as both skiers face the same fall potential.  The rock is tricky to get gear in, especially if you underestimate the endeavor and bring a skimpy rack like we did.  Super bad idea!

We swapped out the pitons for a #2 Camalot and this was all we brought. Double this amount of gear would have been, uhmmm, helpful.

Getting started on The Ribbon is dangerously easy – you skin up the Devil’s Castle apron, wrap around the back and boom – there it is!  Much to our amazement, there were another set of tracks in there already.

The entrance. This is one of the easier parts of the traverse.

Courtney approaching the crux of the traverse, which is that section of scattered rocks. As we didn't have the right gear, I ended up climbing over the top of it instead of taking the low traverse around, which looked almost totally void of snow.

The entire outing entails 2,800′ of climbing and skiing.  As it faces due north and is about as high as you can get in the Wasatch, the snow was still soft and fluffy on the traverse.

There are a variety of potential exits to The Ribbon, but we were able to continue traversing around the entire wall until we connected with the Devil's Castle Couloir. In this photo, Courtney is skirting some cliffs right before merging into the lower couloir.

Done! Fresh, fluffy powder never felt so good.

This was one of two lines in The Chuting Gallery which I hadn’t skied, so one down, one to go!  I’m saving the last one for an outing with Noah Howell, who is just about to tick them all himself.

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Category: Trip Reports

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (17)

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  1. Cliff Huckstable says:

    I’m heading up this afternoon to build a kicker at the crux. I’ll be lapping it with the thug-life gangster snow sports bro-brah crowd in my tablecloth plaid baggy huck threads. Sick, dawg.

    Come on up A-Mac, you’ll fit right in!

  2. Andrew says:

    Don’t forget your beeker, snow rod and condoms – safety first. ;)

  3. Chuteski says:

    So what is the last couloir on the list????

  4. Fred says:

    Right on. Nice work. At least Court did not start feeling “sick” this time, eh? Get some helmet cam stuff? that would be cool to see. Cheers.

  5. Andrew says:

    Hi Chuteski! The last chute happens to be one you named – The Black Pearl. It is gone for the season, but it would be fun to ski it together next year.

  6. Andrew says:

    Hi Fred – I dragged the helmet cam all the way up there, and as I’m finding out, its major weakness is that it CHOWS through batteries. I got it all set up, shot two minutes of footie and the batteries died.

  7. Ken McKean says:

    Did you use a running belay or actually set up stations? My son and I were at Alta for the closing weekend and he pointed out the ribbon as a possible line as well as skiing from the top of the couloir is that possible or is it a massive rappel in?

  8. Jon Jay says:

    Holy Smokes! I’ve had a picture of this route as my desktop picture since I was in Utah in March, I definitely had my doubts about it’s ski-ability. I guess I can see why it’s called the “Ribbon of Doubt”. Very cool stuff and congrats for checking it off the list.

  9. Andrew says:

    Hi Ken – we accidentally did some running belays as the 70m rope kept coming up short in relation to good belay spots. I think we did it as four rope lengths. The first one was about 2/3rds length as there was a perfect bolt from one of the climbing routes which we could use for a belay. But, most of the other belays consisted of one good piece, one marginal piece and then a third piece just for rope dressing (looks good, but of no value).

    We saw a set of boot tracks coming down from the very top of the DC couloir. I’m not sure if they downclimbed it, or rapped in, but it looked like it was a continous, but very steep line of snow.

  10. Andrew says:

    Thanks Jay. In looking through The Chuting Gallery, I saw that The Black Pearl may not have been included (I thought it was), so perhaps my Wasatch work is done. ?

  11. Cliff Huckstable says:

    Ouch, Fred. Ouch.

    Just for the record, these days the only time I feel “sick” is after I stomp a windjacked triple-stager switch while texting Ingrid on my iPhone, and checking my look in a Whippet which I’ve polished to a mirror shine just for such occasions.

    Yup, I feel sick all the time these days.

  12. Steve says:

    Nice line. I’m planning to do the Devil’s Castle couloir tomorrow. Anybody know if there is a rap anchor at the top, or do you need a picket?

  13. Andrew says:

    Hi Steve – I’ve never done it all the way from the very tip top, but it looked like there was a booter coming into it yesterday. That said, it would take a lot more time and effort to wrap all the way around and ski it from the top/behind when you will get the exact same amount of skiing by just booting up the chute until it gets too steep to ski (which would be the end of the rappel).

    But, I undetstand the need to do so, and if it was me, I’d bring a few pieces of rock gear as the rap starts right at a rocky cleft.

  14. Stan says:

    The Black Pearl is in there somewhere because I remember get frustrated trying to figure out where it and the White Pearl were? Do you know? Either side or Perla’s Ridge?

  15. OMR says:

    I’m still thinking my high-speed, mid-night, scrub-oak descent into the backyard of a trophy-home, owned by the Bishop of the Bountiful Mueller Park Doofess Ward, trumps anything in Chutting Gallery. Alas, home owners aren’t too happy about stinky skiers using traditional trailheads, now displaced by the villa’s of Hummer driving soccer mom’s (with or without lip-stick). On the up-side, I’m now on a first-name basie with the late shift of the Bountiful City P.D.

  16. Steve says:

    Skied the Castle couloir yesterday. From the top, with feeling. EZ approach from the East Castle face. There’s a couple of trees about ten feet back from the top of the couloir, and someone had kindly left some fresh runners and a locker on them. About a 20′ vertical rap, then a little dicey for another hundred feet, to clear some rocks in the middle. Watched a sluff from above scour the Cochietti ribbon. Overall, very refreshing.

  17. nohow says:

    Congrats! Nice work on the ribbon and on finishing up the book. I didn’t think it would be as tricky to tick them all off as it’s turning out to be. I’d still be psyched to ski the Black Pearl next winter.

    See you in AK, if not sooner.

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