WritingsThoughts, ideas, comments, diatribes, and rambles. A subjective take.
Wy’East Face Ski Descent
My dream of a Wy’East Face ski descent has been parked in the closet for a while. The first time that I saw the Wy’East Face was as a freshman at Reed College, in 2006. Riding the Vista chair at Mt Hood Meadows ski resort, the face spread across the upper reaches of Mt Hood, a huge white expanse which from afar looked steep and serious. In 2007, from the same chair, I saw someone skiing the face. Later that year, I also saw an enormous avalanche crown in the same spot, and in the following years, the face ripped each spring, at times depositing debris near the bottom of the Heather Canyon chairlift several miles down-canyon.
Returning to Oregon in 2012 after a few years in Utah, my perspective on steep skiing had changed, and the face looked ever more inviting. I understood that timing made all the difference, and that a path which can produce massively destructive avalanches can, at other times, be relatively safe and acceptable for skiing.
Still, I was tied up in work, applying to medical school, and other adventures. As close as the Wy’East was at hand, I simply never got around to skiing it. Last year, it was even my express goal… which I never got around to. The cycle had to stop, and this year, it was broken by the new sense of urgency that comes from a pathetic and quickly disappearing snowpack. The Wy’East face wouldn’t hang on until July, so I couldn’t write it off and miss it again. For Taylor’s birthday, we’d head up the face.
Wy’East Face Ski Descent Beta: The Wy’East face offers a descent of around 5000′ from ridgeline to parking lot, uninterrupted by shenanigans or uphill travel. The upper face hovers around 40 degrees, briefly rolling to 45 through the upper rocks. Below, the angle mellows to a perfect 35, spilling into the agro-business sized corn farm called “Super Bowl”. The approach rises through Mt Hood Meadows resort, which can be center-punched once closed, but when open must skirt the Western boundary line up Vista Ridge. In Winter, the face is heavily wind-loaded, so conditions must be selected wisely. It is vastly more common to ski the face in May-July when it has turned to corn. The aspect is SE, and catches the morning sun, so start early or risk being late.
With a group of four, a 6 am start, and a super-casual pace, we reached the bottom of the upper face around 9:30 am (Strava). Here Taylor and her friend Hallie opted to wait and forgo the effort and angle of the upper pitch, leaving it to Peter and I to run up the remaining 1600′ before the sun turned it to slush. Switching to crampons, we spent our pent up energy booting the face at race pace and passing a few parties until post-hole slogging took over during the steepest and most sun-soaked pitch.
A bit breathless, we made a fast transition on the ridge and soaked up the 5000′ of skiing below us. The top pitch is a beautiful few turns; the face rolls away below, giving it an edge-of-the-world feel. In the distance, the cascades spilled away to the south, while the tiny sprawl of Portland lay to the East. While a cluster-f*$% of Mazamas trudged up the South Side route behind us, we dropped into perfectly ripe corn in the solitude of our friends and a few like-minded skiers.
The turns came easily in the good snow despite an entertaining pitch and warming temperatures. With some quick leapfrogging, Peter and I cleared the steepest pitch and carved turns down to our friends. I felt elated to have matched my experience skiing the face with the dream that I’d held for years. When things go to plan, it just feels so satisfying. With earned competence and a bit of good luck, there are some amazing adventures to be had.
Pete and I collected Taylor and Hallie at the bottom of the face, and we gang-skied the amazing corn out of Superbowl and down through the closed resort, jibbing the melting remains of the terrain park and making the most of the snow to the bitter and muddy end. It’s likely that these will be my last turns in the USA for the season. It was a good ending, and I’m looking forward to getting after it in Iceland in June.
My kit for Spring Ski Mountaineering:
Philosophy: As light as possible, but versatile. Spring skiing kit needs to handle a wide range of temperatures, and everything from hard, frozen snow, to wet, baked slop. We left the ski crampons in the car because we knew that the snow was well consolidated and wouldn’t be punchy. The ice axe was good insurance, though it proved unnecessary. If I’d been solo, I’d have left my puffy at home, but in a group, it’s good to have some insulation for those waiting-around times. Not mentioned is standard avy gear.
- Skis: Atomic Ultimate 78 with Dynafit TLT Speed Superlight bindings.
- Skins: Coltex PDG Race (make your own!)
- Pack: Dynafit Broad Peak 28
- Whippet Ski Pole, CAMP Corsa Nanotech Ice Axe (superfluous)
- Black Diamond Neve Pro aluminum crampons
- Bottom: Dynafit PDG Race Pant, Icebreaker Merino Boxers
- Top: Icebreaker Cool-Lite T-shirt (these are awesome), Arcteryx Squamish Hoodie, Patagonia Nanopuff Hoodie.
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