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Margus, Sharon and I set out on a sunny Duffey day to wander around the north arm of the Cayoosh drainage, here in British Columbia, to see if Million Dollar Couloir was in good shape and if it was, to ski it. All three of us had done it before. During the prior weekend, one of this winter’s typical British Columbia coastal snow dumps had produced an exceptionally deep snowpack.
The southwest winds accompanying the snow dump changed to northeast and northwest winds on Sunday. We got arctic temperatures come Monday. Shar and I went out Sunday in the Whistler area. We found good tree-sifted snow below treeline on southwest and south aspects. On Monday we climbed Duffey and found excellent snow on south aspects below the alpine ridge.
Tuesday found us one valley west of our Monday trip, skinning up the north arm of Cayoosh Creek. Temps were still cold; -13 C at valley bottom, but winds were nil, sky clear.
Decision 1: There is terrain of north, southwest, west and south aspects in this drainage. To get to the bigger objective (the N facing Million Dollar Couloir) the approach takes a wide valley and wide glacier. We played the terrain card by picking this route so we would have choices.
Decision 2: As we gained the ridgeline a small, east facing feature slid as a Size 1, and remoted, also as a small Size 1. But we had a considerably larger more solar exposed east facing feature to traverse to gain the Cayoosh north glacier.
Decision 3: We agreed the Million Dollar and (backup plan) the Half Million would both ski well. Million Dollar had actually slid in a previous storm cycle thus probably cleaning out major persistent weak layers so we figured sluff management would be the only avalanche factor we’d need to deal with on that route.
But weighing risk/reward traversing an east facing larger slope was not worth it, given the north facing slope we’d triggered while skinning up an east facing slope.
Decision 4: We skinned up to Rock and Roll Ridge to pick off a 500m slidepath that appeared to not be wind-affected. We had some settlements on the southwest aspects below treeline as we were skinning up. Expected because there was preserved-buried surface hoar below treeline and the wind slab formed a cohesive slab above the surface hoar. Unfortunately the target slidepath we skied had variable snow.
One side of the path was SW (slabby); the other was W (creamy boot-top). The path was too constrained to play with angles and use the west aspect.
In retrospect, perhaps we placed too much reliance on the previous day’s south and southwest slopes being good. Instead we should have picked other paths further down the ridge which were wider and less constrained.
Once we were done, we’d ascended about 1100 meters and not skied much. But we had a good day in the sun, collected information and made observations, made decisions based on what we saw, and finished contented. Plus the valley bottom had warmed up to a balmy -7 when we were done, and the beers were tasty
Guest blogger Lee Lau is an avid skier and outdoorsman embarking on many adventures with his loving, and sometimes concerned wife, Sharon. He has over 15 years of experience skiing, ski-touring and dabbles in mountaineering. In the “off-season” he is occasionally found working in his day job as an intellectual property lawyer when he is not mountain biking. As a resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, Lee’s playground extends mainly to Western Canada, including South West B.C. and the Selkirks.