Low Angle Circuits

| March 3, 2010 | 7 Comments

Due to the strange snowpack we have this year in the Wasatch, I’ve been skiing new, although not necessarily exciting, terrain.  I have yet to dig a pit as almost every time I go out I’ve felt collapsing, seen natural slides, triggered avalanches with ski cuts or dropped cornices, and/or seen shooting cracks.  Between that and reading the UAC report, it is obvious that the unusual storm patterns have created unusual avalanche conditions and it is best to be patient.  People have been getting away with skiing some steep, north-facing lines (generally The Goods in the Wasatch), but I’m still leery of them.

Doc Brock rockin' the 25 degree Muff Mower.

Instead, I’ve been collecting some obscure crusty lines and piecing together long, low angle skiing circuits.  At first this doesn’t seem like that much fun, but it is a perverse challenge to put together an 8,000′ tour that never gets over 30 degrees and doesn’t involve repetitive laps.  More than anything, these tours are good to have in your repertoire for future high avalanche danger days. So far the skiing has always been better than expected and the snow quality itself is good, although shallow and sensitive.

Yawn. When life gives you dangerous, low angle conditions... go straight down them.

One of the keys to doing low angle tours is finding partners who are into it as well.  Finding partners for steep, exposed, fall-to-your-death terrain is easy, but finding people who are patient and willing to slog can be tough.  It is also hard to sleuth-out terrain in that coveted north-facing, mid elevation, moderate angle, sheltered realm that is new and therefore uncrowded.  The South Face of Superior is big and obvious, but The Eyebrow, Slimy Ridge and Freebird Trees are carefully guarded secrets because they can only handle a few sets of tracks.  Most of the time this type of skiing is just table scraps, but this season it has been the main course.

I am heading over to Beijing, China to present the “Golden Rhino Award for Best Climbing Spirit” on behalf of Mountain Hardwear and will be back on March 8th.  Until then, pray for snow.

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Category: 07 Avalanche Avoidance

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 (7)

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  1. chris says:

    Funny. Thats the outlook we have almost every winter in Colorado. Our shells all have tears in the shoulders from repeated tree skiing.

  2. steve says:

    hmm maynerd and I were expecting maps with lines drawn on them…

  3. Tim says:

    Was out in the Sierra (Tahoe area) this past Saturday and stuck to low angle (~20 degree!) and tree stuff due to my inexperience and a crusty layer with a lot of snow on top.

    We stayed safe but being on a splitboard and knee deep heavy powder kept us from actually being able to ride! Oh well learning experience and we were safe!

  4. d3 says:

    there’s the sledding hill at sugar house park i’ve been eyeing for a while. just waiting on snow.

    enjoy china!

  5. Tim says:

    The south face of the big pile of plowed snow in the Alta parking lot is the steepest things I’ve skied all season.

  6. Cameron says:

    Ditto on the Colorado comment. I have come to realize the value of low-angle ski tours. I skied Homestake Peak near Leadville, probably 1,500 vert at 25 degrees. Any other good Colorado tours that you guys know of? It sounds like this is not the year to visit Utah.

  7. Greg Pfeil says:

    I am hopefully moving to the Rockies sometime soon. It would be awesome if there were a guidebook that focused on these low-angle tours. I love riding the trees, and flatter stuff is great for introducing people to the sport. How about you publish some of these tours? Even just online, if you feel you don’t have enough time/material/whatever for a book.

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