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Length of the ski descent line

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Length of the ski descent line

Postby nkan02 » Tue Jun 04, 2013 10:28 am

My impression until recently has been that the longer the ski descent line - the better. After this past weekend I am sort of starting to question that, and want to hear opinions from more experienced folks than I am.

My hesitation comes down to timing. It seems to me that timing the snow on 3k line is way harder than on a 1.5k line. Take Tuning Fork on Torreys as an example. We encountered incredibly variable conditions - basically 3 main temperature zones for the descent - icy hard pack crust near the top, powder in the middle, and cheesecake/wet sloughs/rollerballs in the lower part. The most enjoyable part was obviously the powder, with top/bottom parts providing so-so skiing. By comparison, last weekend we skied Missouri North Face (1.5k line) and it was perfect uniform quality corn top to bottom. I have to say I personally enjoyed skiing Missouri more.

If we are not looking at the *list*, but the goal is to maximize the enjoyment of the ski descents - what length of the ski line would be optimal for Colorado?

Re: Length of the ski descent line

Postby lordhelmut » Tue Jun 04, 2013 10:55 am

Natalie -

Its very rare to have good snow conditions top to bottom, specially this time of year, on a 3k foot line. The best you can hope for is the snow to soften enough to hold an edge on the top 500 feet and then enjoy whatever is below that. Late March and April, sometimes even early May, depending on how much snow falls, are the highest probability to obtain powder for the entire length of the line, but of course, more conservative decision making is needed in the earlier months. Skiing corn/powder is a luxury but skiing ice sometimes is a necessity. Overall - it just comes down to timing and luck.

In my view - both of what you just laid out are equally appealing. Tuning Fork, Emperor, Silver Couloir on Buffalo, Bald's Northeast Couloirs, Kelso's North Couloir, Aetna's Grand, Quandary's Cristo and Sultan's North Face are all examples of long descents with minimal effort. On the flipside, lines like Deming Drop, Missouri, Cross Couloir, Savage Couloir, El Diente's Luttrell Line, Hopeful Couloir, Big Eyes and many others all are under 2,000 vertical of actual skiing on the face or couloir (this does not include skiing any roads or flat areas). Those are all classic lines where it can be easier to obtain in good snow conditions. I guess its all about what you are looking for. Skiers in the Pacific Northwest make a living out of this exact dilemma. They have snow much longer than Colorado, but they deal with descents ranging up to nearly 7 to 9k of skiing, and incr4edibly variable condtions throughout. I bet a top to bottom corn ski of Rainier is a rather large blessing - I'm not even sure if its possible at all. Sometimes you get extremely lucky. When we skied Shasta, it was chalky powder on top of hard pack from 14k to 13k, then it transition perfectly to corn down to camp via a massive 3k foot bowl, then even softer corn from camp back to car.

Anyways - timing the right conditions on a longer line is a science, perfected through trial and error and then luck. Sometimes you just gotta deal with a little crust up top and realize there is better snow lurking below. Just remember more skiing is better than less and a summit to car ski is always a plus.

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Re: Length of the ski descent line

Postby clemsonmtneer » Tue Jun 04, 2013 11:49 am

nkan02 wrote:My impression until recently has been that the longer the ski descent line - the better. After this past weekend I am sort of starting to question that, and want to hear opinions from more experienced folks than I am.

My hesitation comes down to timing. It seems to me that timing the snow on 3k line is way harder than on a 1.5k line. Take Tuning Fork on Torreys as an example. We encountered incredibly variable conditions - basically 3 main temperature zones for the descent - icy hard pack crust near the top, powder in the middle, and cheesecake/wet sloughs/rollerballs in the lower part. The most enjoyable part was obviously the powder, with top/bottom parts providing so-so skiing. By comparison, last weekend we skied Missouri North Face (1.5k line) and it was perfect uniform quality corn top to bottom. I have to say I personally enjoyed skiing Missouri more.

If we are not looking at the *list*, but the goal is to maximize the enjoyment of the ski descents - what length of the ski line would be optimal for Colorado?



I think my group of five passed you as we were climbing up Tuning Fork while you were skiing down. We noticed the same thing on our descent... the top half was very nice (we entered skier's left to where you dropped in and it was less icy... also later in the day), but the bottom was heavy cream cheese with lots of wet slough... worked the legs pretty good. It was definitely a great line to ski, have never had so much vertical on a spring ski descent, but it was getting a bit sloppy toward the bottom with lots of wet sloughing from the ~6" snow that had fallen in days prior. We basically came to the same conclusion that it's hard to expect consistent snow conditions on a 3,000 ft descent.

I'd also have to agree with lordhelmut that variable snow conditions are often just a part of the ski mountaineering experience, and just being able to ski down a mountain in of itself is very rewarding. A week earlier, I skied Pettingell Peak and encountered perfect corn snow for the entire descent to treeline. Tuning Fork offered more variable conditions, but featured a long 3,000 ft descent down a classic line... so I'd say I equally enjoyed both ski descents, but for different reasons... Pettingell for its optimal snow, and Tuning Fork for the quality of the line.

So I guess it's hard to say what the "optimal" length is for a ski descent... I think it's probably an individual preference... for me, the overall quality of a line is more important than the exact length, but I'd be lying if I said that longer lines aren't appealing... even if it means we're likely to encounter variable snow conditions... I guess what I'm trying to say is that skiing so-so snow is still way better than hiking down a mountain.

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Re: Length of the ski descent line

Postby benners » Tue Jun 04, 2013 12:10 pm

clemsonmtneer wrote:I guess what I'm trying to say is that skiing so-so snow is still way better than hiking down a mountain.

Agreed! I see it as two categories - The first you're enjoing the skiing, the second you're using the skis as tools to get down the mountain faster. It's a win win really.

During spring melt/freeze it's tough to get 3k of corn as the snow is transitioning from ice to slush at different times at different elevations. Winter it's tough to get 3k of soft snow w/o encountering sastrugi, wind slab, trap crust, or some form of instability. Bottom line is 3k of superb skiing conditions is hard to find in CO especially up high, but it can happen!

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Re: Length of the ski descent line

Postby clemsonmtneer » Tue Jun 04, 2013 12:51 pm

benners brings up a great point about the two categories of a ski descent. For the enjoyment of skiing, I think nkan02's point of a 1500-2000 ft descent down just a couloir or line itself is probably about right in terms of catching consistent snow... whereas the ski out from below your line is merely just a tool/luxury of being able to get down the mountain more efficiently, even if the snow is crap (which it usually is) by this point... but to me there's something strangely enjoyable about seeing just how far down a mountain you can push it while keeping your skis on, even if it means crossing creeks and bare patches, and maneuvering your way through dense trees and sloppy snow that is impossible to turn in. There are notable exceptions, of course.

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Re: Length of the ski descent line

Postby SchralpTheGnar » Tue Jun 04, 2013 1:14 pm

The best skis I've ever had we're chalky powder up highly and firm corn down low. All of them were in April and around 3000 vert.

Re: Length of the ski descent line

Postby lordhelmut » Tue Jun 04, 2013 1:18 pm

but to me there's something strangely enjoyable about seeing just how far down a mountain you can push it while keeping your skis on, even if it means crossing creeks and bare patches, and maneuvering your way through dense trees and sloppy snow that is impossible to turn in.


Clemsonmtneer - this is what you call "Company Car'ing" your skis and you are correct, it can be an effective method of travel, albeit amusing.

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Re: Length of the ski descent line

Postby nkan02 » Tue Jun 04, 2013 1:55 pm

lordhelmut wrote: Overall - it just comes down to timing and luck.

I guess its all about what you are looking for. Skiers in the Pacific Northwest make a living out of this exact dilemma. They have snow much longer than Colorado, but they deal with descents ranging up to nearly 7 to 9k of skiing, and incredibly variable condtions throughout. Anyways - timing the right conditions on a longer line is a science, perfected through trial and error and then luck. Sometimes you just gotta deal with a little crust up top and realize there is better snow lurking below.


Yeah, I guess my question comes how to improve my timing and luck :) Interestingly, Grand on Aetna was skied in "seemingly" same conditions - mostly cloudy and windy day, but it was 3k corn top to bottom, and I was acutely aware that I need to start descending sooner than later (aka asap).

Torreys totally fooled me. We were ascending perfectly cramponable icy crust of Emperor couloir with zero indication of any warm up and spent an hour on the summit with hopes that the sun does come out eventually. Once we cleared the first 1,000 ft on Tuning Fork though, it became abundandly clear that we were too late to the corn party.

I am just trying to see if anybody has any particular suggestions on "timing" a 3k line, but I guess the common theme I see is to "deal" with icy top, enjoy the middle and hope the bottom "holds". Somehow, 2k seems to be a bit less of a puzzle and possibly a bit more fun.

Re: Length of the ski descent line

Postby lordhelmut » Tue Jun 04, 2013 2:20 pm

nkan02 wrote:
lordhelmut wrote: Overall - it just comes down to timing and luck.

I guess its all about what you are looking for. Skiers in the Pacific Northwest make a living out of this exact dilemma. They have snow much longer than Colorado, but they deal with descents ranging up to nearly 7 to 9k of skiing, and incredibly variable condtions throughout. Anyways - timing the right conditions on a longer line is a science, perfected through trial and error and then luck. Sometimes you just gotta deal with a little crust up top and realize there is better snow lurking below.


Yeah, I guess my question comes how to improve my timing and luck :) Interestingly, Grand on Aetna was skied in "seemingly" same conditions - mostly cloudy and windy day, but it was 3k corn top to bottom, and I was acutely aware that I need to start descending sooner than later (aka asap).

Torreys totally fooled me. We were ascending perfectly cramponable icy crust of Emperor couloir with zero indication of any warm up and spent an hour on the summit with hopes that the sun does come out eventually. Once we cleared the first 1,000 ft on Tuning Fork though, it became abundandly clear that we were too late to the corn party.

I am just trying to see if anybody has any particular suggestions on "timing" a 3k line, but I guess the common theme I see is to "deal" with icy top, enjoy the middle and hope the bottom "holds". Somehow, 2k seems to be a bit less of a puzzle and possibly a bit more fun.


If you want 3k of corn - find out where Chris Davenport is skiing that day. That's the only way to ensure its corn from top to bottom. Be careful though, Mother Nature only caters to him and him alone. You might anger her if you try and crash his party uninvited.

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Re: Length of the ski descent line

Postby nkan02 » Tue Jun 04, 2013 2:30 pm

lordhelmut wrote: If you want 3k of corn - find out where Chris Davenport is skiing that day. That's the only way to ensure its corn from top to bottom. Be careful though, Mother Nature only caters to him and him alone. You might anger her if you try and crash his party uninvited.

ha-ha, unfortunately, like most people, I find out what he/Mahons skied only after the fact via email in my inbox. Guessing game is getting easier though as they are checking the peaks off the list... They are doing a great job and making it "look" so easy and fun.

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Re: Length of the ski descent line

Postby clemsonmtneer » Tue Jun 04, 2013 10:11 pm

lordhelmut wrote:Clemsonmtneer - this is what you call "Company Car'ing" your skis and you are correct, it can be an effective method of travel, albeit amusing.


Ha! company car'ing, that's great.

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Re: Length of the ski descent line

Postby mtnbikir » Tue Jun 04, 2013 11:11 pm

nkan02 wrote:
lordhelmut wrote: If you want 3k of corn - find out where Chris Davenport is skiing that day. That's the only way to ensure its corn from top to bottom. Be careful though, Mother Nature only caters to him and him alone. You might anger her if you try and crash his party uninvited.

ha-ha, unfortunately, like most people, I find out what he/Mahons skied only after the fact via email in my inbox. Guessing game is getting easier though as they are checking the peaks off the list... They are doing a great job and making it "look" so easy and fun.


LMAO

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