The Northeast was blessed with perhaps the best Fall snowpack in recent memory. Starting in mid November the snow came down hard and rarely let up. Having recently moved back to New York from Bozeman, Montana, it was nearly impossible to keep myself from making the five hour drive from Ithaca to the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks.
The inner reaches of the high peaks are one of the best places in the northeast to do some real ski mountaineering without having to worry about your line getting skied before you can get there. There is a cost to skiing these unique lines however. They require a long approach followed by a dense bushwack, which can be just a few hundred feet or a few miles depending on the objective. It requires navigational chops and a familiarity with the area.
Our objective for the day was a slide formed in 2011 during tropical storm Irene. With a trailhead meet up time of 8:30AM, it meant I was up and out the door before 4AM. After a long drive and a beautiful sunrise I found myself with my ski partners Rob and Kellen at the Adirondack Loj. Temperatures were in the low teens but the sun was out, the wind was minimal and it was turning into a beautiful day.
The trail was well broken in by a mix of ski tracks, snowshoes, and hikers in recent days. We glided on skins with ease to Marcy dam, then to Avalanche Pass. We were making great time and by noon we found ourselves looking up our objective. After fully assessing the snow by digging a pit, we observed some windcrust on top in spots but nothing that made us feel unsafe. We also observed that the looker’s left of the couloir was completely blown in with soft snow, which made us excited for the decent. After a quick lunch we threw our skis on our backs, took out the crampons and ice ax and started the ascent.
It felt amazing to be back in my element. Spending a year in Montana made me truly fall in love with ski mountaineering. Piercing the snow with my ice ax and kicking steps up this steep chute was euphoria to me. On top of that, I was back in the place where my love for this style of skiing developed.
About three quarters of the way up the grunting phase started for me. It wasn’t helping that each step was different. Sometimes I would stay right on top of the wind crust layer and it would be like walking up stairs. Other times, I would sink up to my chest and have crawl my way out.
We made it up the headwall and turned around to take in the view. Only two days from the winter solstice, the afternoon sun was low in the sky, making for some magical light across the pass on the McIntyre Range. There was still nearly no wind and after transitioning to downhill mode, we assessed our best route downhill as well as safe points to stop.
Finally it was time to ski. Having broke most of the trail on the way up I was given first turns. The headwall was more of that punchy windcrust. While I felt confident it wouldn’t slide on me I was worried about a ski punching through the crust and getting caught on a turn. Thankfully neither happened and I made my way down into the gully where the snow had all blown in. This was where it got good. The chute had a double fall line that made it ski almost like a half pipe in spots. Wind drifts of light dry snow were waist deep at points making for some great turns and a few faceshots. We broke our descent up into four sections, stopping for photos and videos along the way.
Our stoke was high as we reached the bottom and we exchanged high fives while looking back up at our line. As we made our way out my mind soon wandered off to which Adirondack slide I’d ski next.