Blading big mountain lines takes patience and dedication. So when life, partners, and conditions lined up, I knew I had to jump on it. The goal: Tolcat Couloir off Mt. Olympus (V 50° 2500ft). Overlooking Salt Lake Valley, this striking line has captured the imagination of skiers for generations. After making its first descent in 1847, Brigham Young famously declared, “This is the place”, and decided to retire from skiing in favor of religion, knowing he would never again find such a spiritual experience in the mountains. Despite its importance in skiing history, Tolcat has yet to see a ski blade descent. Garrett and I set out to change that.
Inspired by some of the recent skis done by our peer Andrzej Bargiel (K2, Laila Peak, etc) we decided it was not enough to simply blaze the first ski blade descent of Tolcat and instead we decided to link in a technical approach: Geurt’s Ridge, a striking ridge traverse whose Mountain Project description includes words such as “really hard to downclimb”.
Ski blading, the bastard child of the ski industry, offers none of the lucrative sponsorships found elsewhere in the outdoor industry and so, burdened by desk jobs, Garrett and I departed from the trailhead at 5pm counting on the lightness of our gear to make up for our not-so-alpine start.
Speaking of gear, Garrett chose to go light, pairing some Atomic ski tips, tightly sawed off, with warrantied Vipecs. I wanted to make sure I had enough blade for anything we might find so I went a little heavier, with some Fisher ski tips, sawed long, mounted with some Black Tie Ski Rental Delivery of Park City rental bindings. Full disclosure, Black Tie Ski Rental Delivery of Park City is a sponsor of mine, but I can honestly say I was truly thrilled with the power transfer these things provided to the blades’ edges.
Our stubby skis and oversized enthusiasm made quick work of the approach bushwhack. You know what they say about big skis: big… trouble making quick work of approach bushwhacks. Mountain Project claims the shrubby brush “makes wearing pants a good idea” but we’ve always believed blood loss allows one to go lighter and thus faster.
Soon enough we gained the ridge and began working our way upward. With 215 and I-15 as our only reference points, the route finding was tricky at times, but we moved smoothly and efficiently across the rock, 100% focused at the task at hand. Here, any slip could be fatal, and the seriousness of the mission began to set in.
Eventually we arrived at the first gendarme (after traveling au cheval along the arête). We discussed blading up and hucking it into the snow patch below but decided to leave some room for improvement for future generations and instead rigged the rappel.
Done with the rope for the day, we raced upwards, the setting sun hot on our tails. The ridge seemed to stretch on forever but we knew at this point the only way down was up so we continued our push towards the summit. Side note, I’m jealous of adventurers in the southern hemisphere where the only way up is down, sounds much easier.
Eventually, after much sweat, blood (both of us) and tears (Garrett only), we got the first glimpse of our intended line. The sheer scale of our objective hit for the first time. Before us lay a perfect sliver of steep snow, flanked on either side by steep, un-climbable walls; to drop in would mean total commitment, a complete embracing of the full experience, whatever it might bring.
We reached the summit just as the sun began to set behind the distant mountains. Mentally fried from the hours of travel in high consequence terrain, we allowed ourselves a few moments to soak up the beautiful views and reflect on all the amazing places blading had taken us. The vast, primal wilderness of the Wasatch provided the perfect backdrop, and we pondered the hundreds of lines awaiting first descents.
As every mountaineer knows, the summit is only halfway, and we refocused on the present and turned our attention to Tolcat. On the way up, we had spotted a thin chute of snow right near the summit that funneled into the main couloir. We descended back to the top of this and clicked in. The opening turns were steep and narrow and I have to say I was envious of Garrett’s shorter blades as he effortlessly hop-turned down the gnar towards the main chute below us.
We paused for a moment atop the main chute to admire the views and then dropped in. The run was everything I had dreamed off, the position wild, the turns perfect. Garrett and I flew down the chute, leaving perfect powder-8’s in our wake, smiling ear to ear.
Descending further, we soon encountered the mandatory cliffs we had heard about in past reports. It probably goes with out saying, but we stomped them.
Soon the cliffs bands grew more frequent, and eventually the run turned into full on mixed blading. Originally pioneered by the late and great Shane McConkey, mixed blading has seen a major resurgence in popularity in recent years. While mainstream ski media still chooses to focus largely on pure snow lines, there is a groundswell of hardcore bladers quietly pushing the limits in mixed terrain.
Eventually the snow ran out, and so did the daylight. The bushes grew denser and denser as we bushwhacked down but yet Garrett and I pressed forwards, knowing down was the only way towards home and safety. Our clothes repeatedly snagged and ripped on the sharp branches, and fearing what any late night Mormon hikers might think of two men stumbling half-naked out from the woods, we resorted to hiking out in the stream. One day I want to be an ex-stream skier, but on this day I was just a stream skier.
Finally, around 10pm we emerged back onto the main trail. From there, a short hike and we were back to our cars, exhausted but so, so fulfilled. Did we cure cancer or solve world hunger? No. But I think I can safely say our first blade descent of Tolcat will be remembered as one of the most significant contributions to Wasatch skiing for generations to come.