The Most Accessible Big Lines to Ski This Winter
The six most doable ski descents in North America, according to pro skier Cody Townsend and ski mountaineer Noah Howell
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Pro skier Cody Townsend is on a mission right now to ski all 50 lines in the 2010 book Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America. He’s one year and 20 lines into what he hopes is a three-year project, and he’s learned a ton so far. Townsend isn’t the only skier attempting all 50. Utah ski mountaineer Noah Howell has been at it for decades and has currently done 30 of the descents. Some of the lines in the book feel practically impossible due to their remote and challenging terrain, while others are literally disappearing due to climate change and rockfall. But a few are pretty attainable for the rest of us—albeit if you have proper backcountry-skiing experience and avalanche training. We asked Townsend and Howell for their input on the most doable lines in the book. Here’s what they recommended.
Mount Shasta, California
A good entry-level ski-mountaineering objective, 14,162-foot Mount Shasta is a volcanic peak at the southern end of California’s Cascade Range. You’ll spend many hours slogging up 7,200 vertical feet, and you’ll need an ice ax and crampons to ascend the peak’s steepest sections. The book cites the Avalanche Gulch route up Shasta, the most popular and straightforward thoroughfare for climbers and skiers come springtime. Shasta Mountain Guides leads trips in April and May (from $145). Sleep in your car at the trailhead or post up at Loge Mt. Shasta, a hotel and hostel with on-site camping that opened last spring (camping from $40; bunks from $50; rooms from $110).
Tuckerman Ravine, New Hampshire
On the southeast flank of 6,288-foot Mount Washington, you’ll find a glaciated cirque called Tuckerman Ravine, a rite of passage for backcountry skiers in the Northeast. It may be the most popular line in the Fifty Classic Ski Descents book—this place gets packed on spring weekends. Park at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, then strap skis to your backpack to hike the three miles along Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the base of the bowl. From there you’ll have your choice of a number of classic lines. Synnott Mountain Guides (from $325) leads backcountry trips and instructional courses all around Mount Washington, including custom trips into Tuck’s. The AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge (from $70) at Pinkham Notch is open year-round and comes with breakfast, dinner, and guidebooks in the library.
Mount Superior, Utah
Drive up Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon on your way to Alta or Snowbird and you can’t miss Mount Superior, which towers over the road and beckons backcountry skiers with fresh powder after a storm. This popular Wasatch peak gets trampled with dawn-patrol skiers from Salt Lake City, but you can still find quiet corners and untracked lines in the steep, north-facing Cardiac Bowl or on South Face, which has lines like Little Superior, Suicide Chute, and Pinball Alley. Utah Mountain Adventures (day trips from $200) guides skiers down the southeast face of Superior. Stay at Alta at the Snowpine Lodge (from $329), which is just steps from the trailhead.
Bloody Couloir, California
It’s a long approach to the base of 12,552-foot Bloody Mountain, in the eastern Sierra Nevada, before you even begin the haul up the peak’s signature north-facing couloir. You’ll spot this marquee line from Highway 395 as you’re heading south from the town of Mammoth Lakes. To get there, drive up a rough, four-wheel-drive-only road—if the snow is low enough—or hike or skin an additional five miles and over 2,200 vertical feet to reach the bottom of the 2,500-vertical-foot chute. Sierra Mountain Guides will do private, custom day trips here for clients with enough backcountry experience (from $475). Convict Lake Resort (from $119) has 28 cabins and a restaurant just a few miles from the start of the route.
Seven Steps of Paradise, British Columbia
Rogers Pass is full of excellent ski-touring options. But Seven Steps of Paradise might just be the most classic and doable. You can see the line from the Trans-Canada Highway, making it a popular roadside tour. You’ll start at Highway 1 at Rogers Pass, hike to the Asulkan Hut, and then top out on the headwall of 9,245-foot Young’s Peak, gaining over 5,000 feet in elevation along the way. Stay overnight at the Alpine Club of Canada’s backcountry Asulkan Cabin (from $35), which will take you a few hours on skis to reach. Seven Steps of Paradise is easily accessed from the hut. Revelstoke Backcountry Guides leads group day trips all over Rogers Pass (from $299).
Silver Couloir, Colorado
Like many of the lines in the book, this one is hardly a well-kept secret. Despite the potential crowds you’ll find here, it’s still as aesthetic as a couloir gets. You can see the Y-shaped Silver Couloir on the northeast side of 12,777-foot Buffalo Mountain as you drive west through the Eisenhower Tunnel on Interstate 70 in Colorado’s Summit County. The 3,000-foot-long, relatively wide line reaches about 45 degrees in steepness. Rocky Mountain Guides (half-day trips from $220) will escort you there. Stay in the town of Silverthorne at the Mountaineer Hostel (from $70), a five-room lodge run by a backcountry skier.