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Big Lines, in September, in the Canadian Rockies

The September that won’t stop snowing! It’s becoming a bit ridiculous how good conditions are, all the big rockies ice lines you usually can’t touch until April are coming into shape, in early September. Ludicrous. To that end, Luke and I decided we wanted to go for a ski. We decided on the 3/4 couloir, since the day looked to be a poor choice to go on a big glacier from visibility and access was currently so easy with the Moraine Lake road still open.

...it was knee deep bootpacking, and then for the top quarter, it was fully up to mid-thigh.

We met at Luke’s place in Lake Louise at a quite reasonable hour of 7, a schedule over 5 hours later than my first crack at 3/4 two years back in May. Snow quality makes all the difference in this thing, stifling the frequent rockfall. It wasn’t long until we were putting on our crampons where the couloir first closes in. The scree below was still not near snow-covered, but the ice above looked to be holding substantial accumulation. We booted, and booted, and booted. The most interesting thing about climbing this couloir has to be how massively foreshortened it is. It always feels like you’re almost at the top. The snow at the bottom was mostly sluff, which helped to extend the overall skiable length of the couloir by bringing some of the fat pow up top to the low elevation of the bottom. Nothing wrong with sharing. Midway and up, it was knee deep bootpacking, and then for the top quarter, it was fully up to mid-thigh.

Luke Seed booting up the 3/4 Couloir with Moraine Lake sitting far below

Despite the cloud and snow and literally no sun, the day had warmed just enough for the snow to start getting frisky. It was such a small change, but affected the fresh snow quickly. If we turned around at the top of the line and went right back down instead of the two hour mosey toward the hut, it would’ve made all the difference in the snow’s ability to stay put. However, the issue was one of sluffing, we knew the snow wasn’t consolidated enough to move in an unpredictable way other than one thin windslab near the top. The runnels and minor complexities of the couloir’s bottom in this early season state helped as well, by flushing the sluff down specific lanes and leaving others safe. So I had some fun with it.

Luke lays in a sweet, powdery September turn

For one panel, I misjudged a few things. I made my turns on the soon to be moving snow, and on the last turn before the exit, shoulder checked for the sluff a bit too long and ended up too high to nicely cross the one decent runnel crossing. To remedy, I pointed downhill more than planned, building speed to exit the panel before the sluff caught up. I didn’t expect the surface on the far side, which had sluffed before we got there to be quite so uneven and hard, and while trying not to traverse too hard so as to flip over downhill, ended up gaining more speed than intended, stopping just short of the far couloir wall where the snow got better. The rest of the run was a series of quick turns, and then moving to the side before the sluff caught up, great fun.

Read the full story on my site, Perpetual Ski.

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