Cooke City Part III 3/10

After finding deep and stable snow the day prior, we decided to go check out the numerous 2,000ft avy paths off Woody Ridge that we had been looking at across the valley. With a large number of lines to choose from, all easily accessible from the ridge top, all ten of us headed up the approach together, a fun change of pace from the last couple of days where we had divided into smaller groups.

The skin up felt like it went on forever, a classic experience in big terrain where scale is easily misjudged. But soon enough we found ourselves popping out of the trees, the windswept ridge top just above us. We ditched our skis and headed up to the ridge to check out the views. With the clear skies we got our first good look at the epic Wolf Mountain to the north and a nice close up of Index and Pilot Peak to the east.

It was also fun to look back at our lines from the day before and see how small they looked amongst the surrounding terrain.

We decided to drop in two groups and Ellen, Cam, Prescott and I headed towards an avy path directly next to the trees we had skinned up through. The snow was absolutely immaculate, and the more open nature of the run allowed us to ski longer sections while maintaining visuals on the skier. The terrain was consistent, hovering right in the mid 30’s allowing for wide open, arcing turns, and the run felt like it went on, seemingly forever as we leapfrogged past each other. We pulled into the trees at the bottom of the face and saw our skin track just feet away. There was no question, we were going back for seconds. We soon ran into the other group on the skin track and they reported similarly epic conditions in the line they skied. With 20+ similar shots off Woody Ridge, it was almost overwhelming to think about the amount of good skiing in just a couple square miles of terrain. Unfortunately we are only human, and after a second amazing lap down another shot, most people were feeling done for the day and headed back into town.

I had a little left in the tank, however, so when Garrett asked if anyone was interested in checking out the north face that overlooked town (referred to as The Shoulder on the caltopo map) I jumped at the opportunity. Clouds began to move in as the two of us skinned along our tracks from the previous day, but we were able to get some great views of the lines we had just skied.

The entrance to the face was fairly tricky to find. We initially skinned too high towards the main ridge and found ourselves on top of the cliff line. We spotted a small col a hundred feet below and made our way down and were psyched to find a clear passage to the face. The nerves began to set in, however, as we looked over at the face. We studied the photo Garrett had taken from the Field of Cream earlier. The top two thirds of the face is wide and open, but below that a cliff band runs the width of the face with three narrow passages. We knew the middle one cliffed out, the skiers right one went, and the skiers left was a question mark. Our plan was to try to make it to the skiers right one. But standing on the col this suddenly seemed a lot more uncertain; the part of the face we could see looked steep and intimidating, with cliffs looming on all sides.

We agreed to poke out onto the face with the assumption that we would back out if we didn’t like what we saw. Garrett went first and yelled back excitedly, “it looks like it goes!”. I skied down and joined him on a small flat stance pressed against the cliff.

It did indeed look like it went. A chute lay below us, looking continuous and skiable to the row of trees that indicated the top of the cliff band. Beyond that, our passage was uncertain. “Well we can always boot back out” we reassured ourselves, ignoring the fact that it was early evening and wallowing back up through the powder would have certainly been a nighttime epic.

Garrett kindly agreed to go first and do a ski cut and we held our breaths as he dropped in and cut towards the far side of the chute. The snow stayed put and he paused for a second before beginning to make his way down the face. He was soon out of view and I waited with bated breath to hear from him. After some delay he radioed up saying he had found a safe zone and instructing me to make sure I cut skiers right when possible.

I dropped and was thrilled to find deep, stable powder. The north aspect had clearly avoided any of the crust found on the other aspects and the turns were some of the deepest of the trip. I kept my skiing conservative, scared of any unexpected tumbles that could cause me to lose a ski, and instead savored turn after turn down the surprisingly long chute. It eventually opened up and I made my way around a small cliff and, spotting Garrett tucked down in some trees to the right, made my way to him.

“I think we need to go hard right” Garrett said and I agreed. We were both on edge; even though we had seen no red flags, hanging around on a steep north face felt unnatural and exposed. We cut to our right and soon saw the middle passage come into view. It looked for a moment like we might have to hike up to skirt around cliffs on the side of the passage, but luckily as we got closer we saw that the passage was flanked by skiable snow.

Garrett dropped in and cut hard right into the trees on the other side, eager to not loose too much elevation. I followed and we continued to work right, arriving shortly at the right-most passage, our intended exit. We stood above a steep, rocky face but luckily we had stayed just high enough, and we saw we could cut high to ski directly into the exit chute without any shenanigans. I watched Garrett rip some big turns and shoot through the exit choke, hearing a whoop as he did. I followed and felt a similar surge of elation as I joined him on the apron, only some mellow tree skiing separating us from a relaxing soak in the hot tub.

Looking back up at the face, it was satisfying to know we had navigated our way safely and efficiently through the line, finding some deep snow and quality skiing at the same time. It was my first real “line” of the season, and the perfect cherry on top of an amazing day of skiing.





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