It seems to be gear-nerdout season here at Wildsnow. While I’m no stranger to busting out the digital scale and calipers in search of arcane equipment details, how about a trip report for a change?
Jason getting some nice late-day powder above Cutthroat Creek. Being on the east side of the mountains, Mazama tends to have a bit lighter snow than the western Cascades, while still mostly retaining the safer coastal snowpack. Awesome!
Mazama, WA is a tiny mountain town nestled on the east side of the Cascade mountains, on the east side of Washington Pass. Nestled near the craggy peaks of the northeastern Cascade mountains, the Mazama area has some of the best skiing in the state, if not the lower 48.
I’ve been over to Mazama several times in summer for the stellar granite rock climbing on Washington Pass. However, the drive distance from Bellingham doubles in the winter months, so I haven’t managed to sample the skiing. This weekend my friend Zach successfully convinced me to finally head out to Mazama for some incredible skiing on Highway 20.
Most of the skiing around Mazama is accessed by snowmobile up a variety of roads with the main access being up snow-covered Highway 20. The highway is broad and well traveled so beater sleds are the perfect tool for the job. This is our ride for the weekend.
The parking area at the end of the winter maintained Highway 20, full of snowmobiles and friendly folks.
Saturday we headed up the Cutthroat drainage and found some sunny powdery skiing. Casey enjoys the view.
North Cascade Heli Skiing operates out of Mazama and on Saturday they were running laps in the same valley as us. There's plenty of terrain to share and we hardly saw other skiers all day. As long as they didn't use up all the powder, it was cool to see the dark helicopter with a skull and crossbones swooping low over the trees periodically. You can see the helicopter in the right hand sky of this photo.
Casey shredding a steep face later in our first day.
Zach shot this great photo at the end of the day of Cutthroat Creek.
Local friend Amber has a well-marked map of the area, which we spent several hours poring over late into the night.
Sunday morning we sledded up the road to just below Washington Pass near the summer climbing in the Liberty Bell group spires. On the way up we stashed some breakfast burritos on the sled exhaust, and enjoyed tasty treats before starting off on the skin track.
Sunday morning we skinned up toward Kangaroo Pass and then skied a short chute above and down into the next valley. From there we were able to see this nice long couloir that Zach has been eyeing for a while (at the very top of the photo). Our stability assessment had so far been confidence inspiring, so we decided to make our way up toward the couloir while evaluating the snow a few more times on the way up.
As we climbed up the apron into the main couloir we continued to evaluate the snowpack. Our studies conclusively showed 'epicly' blower pow (with stable snow underneath to boot). Perfect!
Jason captured a classic between the legs shot part way up the wallow fest of the couloir
The climb narrowed sharply at the top and then popped out onto a broad ridge.
Although we had booted up the chute, I still felt a belayed ski cut couldn't hurt. We quickly set one up, and I guinea-pigged the first few turns. After a vigorous set of hops and slashes, I untied and skied the rest of the couloir. The chute and the lower apron held incredible snow, and proved to be one of the top (if not the best) run of the season so far. Woohoo!
Monday we will ski one more day before I book it back to Bellingham just in time to slip onto campus before class starts. It’s six degrees out and snowing, so tomorrow should be just as good. Thanks good people of the Methow valley for the incredible skiing!