It was 930pm on Saturday night, and I’m feeling worked from too many days at the rock gym. Rather than doing something social, I spent the evening researching backcountry skiing options. My friend Jake is a strong skier, and has his weekend on Sunday & Monday. He was psyched to ski, and the colder temps and frequent precip left me thinking that spring skiing today might be in fine shape. The season is still on!
St. Mary’s is a classic ski line in the Bitterroot range, and I had tried it once before but with little success. Driving south on Hwy 93 past Victor, MT it’s easy to dream up carving giant turns in the open bowl. We left town around 715a this morning and were skinning the road at 845a. The road was clear to the 735/735A junction, and we alternated skinning and bootpacking in equal amounts from there to the trailhead. Another hour put us on top of the first knob, but awful skinning conditions slowed us down on our way to the true summit. Temps dropped quickly, but we had relatively little wind, so things stayed mostly comfortable up high. We tagged the summit around 1245pm in clearing conditions, and were blown away by the view- I just didn’t know the backside of the Bitterroot looked quite so… awesome:
You should see that again:
Psyched to be on top, and “curious” about the route down, we changed over and started scouting things out. It looked okay, but as I traversed into the crux headwall, it didn’t feel okay. Despite a well consolidated snowpack, my ski cut gave me the avalanche shivers, and threw a bunch of chunky crap down the route. I stopped, looked around, and only then noticed the extent of older avalanche debris. The slope I cut hadn’t slid, but I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t. That said, I was sure I needed to get off it. I lifted my foot to initiate a turn, but instead of turning, a funny thing happened. I discovered my right ski binding wasn’t actually properly clipped to my boot.
The ski made it out of the suspected avalanche zone quite a bit faster than I did. I made short work of bootpacking down after it, and was glad to see it stop only 250m downslope, but I missed out on the steep skiing (and possible avalanche triggering). Not sure if it was “a sign”, but I was psyched the slope didn’t slide while Jake dropped down to meet me, and with two skis firmly attached, we cleared the area in short order. I’m not going to get in to the exact decision-making here, but it didn’t feel good at the time, and I’m thankful for the learning opportunity.
We enjoyed the rest of the ski, I may have spied some ice climbing for next winter, and getting back to the car required quite a bit of work. Despite the scare on the headwall, it was a beautiful day out, and I’m psyched to have a little more experience with a solid partner.