Lake Tahoe backcountry

Tahoe has long been a favorite ski destination for me, so it was an inevitable inclusion on this circuitous road trip. In fact Northstar at Tahoe is where I began skiing way back on my 2nd birthday in 1987. Since then, I’ve made a pilgrimage to this place every couple years. It always treats me the same, with fresh snow, steep terrain, and bluebird skies.

My buddy Dave kept telling me it was a bad winter and he was jealous of the snow in the Pacific Northwest. But I assured him that storms have been following me around this year, and Tahoe is going to get dumped on when I arrive. Sure enough, a midweek storm left 2 feet of powder on the Sierras, and the sun emerged for a perfect weekend. Dave and I made plans to ski the backcountry in South Tahoe.

Dave is a friend from the old Seven Springs days. We used to ski together in high school, back when learning tricks on jumps was the focus of our skiing. My mom would joke that I made 2 runs per day, one to the terrain park in the morning, and one back from the terrain park in the afternoon. Of course I would argue that we typically bombed Gunnar once, too. We would spend all morning building a massive jump, then all afternoon sessioning it. These were the days before terrain park crews did these things for you, and before the resorts were even cool with it at all. We would borrow/steal shovels from the lift huts and build jumps in hidden places, trying to get a few hits in before getting caught. We had escape routes to elude ski safety rangers in our daily cat and mouse game. We learned to go big, throw nasty tricks, and not to be scared.

It was no surprise to me that Dave wanted to ski some gnarly lines when I came to town. He had been waiting for the right conditions and the right crew to tackle a few crazy couloirs, and this weekend was perfect. I didn’t know what we’d be doing, but I trusted Dave’s judgement. We met Saturday morning and started an early hike up Echo Peak.

The line we skied that day is called “Hall of God”, and it’s every bit as epic as it sounds. It’s a couloir, a steep crevice cutting through a cliff face that holds just enough snow to ski. This one is 45-55 degrees steepness for about 1000 feet of vertical descent, and only about a ski length wide at the choke point. Of course there’s those buggery exposed rocks to deal with also. Here’s a picture of the line from a distance. We skied the middle of the three couloirs seen here, dropping in from the tip of the arrow:

"Hall of God" couloir descent of Echo Peak as seen from Mt Tellac

“Hall of God” couloir descent of Echo Peak as seen from Mt Tellac

I’ve skied plenty of steep chutes, but I’d never done a couloir with this kind of vertical before. Dave also said this was the gnarliest line he’s skied all year. But the conditions were right, and stoke levels were high in our crew. So after digging a pit at the top to verify the avalanche risk was low, we dropped into this beast, leaving our mark as the first sets of tracks since the new snow. The video at the bottom of this post shows Dave’s descent from his helmet mount, so sick.

The next day we hiked Mt. Tellac with Dave’s fiance, Kim. She’d been up there before, and suggested we ski another couloir called “The Cross”. The line we took was plenty steep but not as narrow as the “Hall of God”. Here’s a photo showing the cross, as well as one I took from the top showing the line we skied:

"The Cross" on Mt Tellac - photo taken in spring

“The Cross” on Mt Tellac – photo taken in spring

Scoping our descent for "The Cross" - the line we skied is directly above my head where the tracks are

Scoping our descent for “The Cross” – the line we skied is directly above my head where the tracks are

The descent of Mt Tellac was epic, but it deposited us on some heavy east facing snow. Fortunately, we knew of a ridge to our west that would have some good north-facing snow on the other side. We traversed to cross it and found knee deep pow on the other side. The combination made for a perfect descent from a well-earned summit. What a weekend! Thanks to Dave and Kim for hosting me and guiding me.

Also, shout out to Luke, the VP/Engineer of Moment Skis who gave me a gracious tour of their factory in Reno. Moment skis are right up my alley for powder and big mountain skiing, and I would definitely recommend them to anyone in the market. They have some radical new designs coming out in 2014, particularly their “dirty mustache camber” and “mullet camber” concepts. I was really stoked on a ski called the Deathwish. http://www.momentskis.com/shop/category/skis/

Check out the video and photos from this epic weekend in Tahoe:

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