A big thanks to Ortovox for making these post happen. Check out Ortovox's new line of electronic LiTRIC avalacnhe backpacks for your next backcountry adventure.
Thanks to our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry for sponsoring this post. They’re always up for a good long adventure.
Trip report for Pineapple Pass to Bryan Col
It’s a little weird to think back to pre-COVID times these days, but this tour back in March was truly special. About two weeks before the state of Washington started shutting down, Louie and I enjoyed an amazing day of skiing in our backyard at Snoqualmie Pass. Ever since I started backcountry skiing, I’ve heard of the Chair Peak Circumnavigation but it wasn’t until this year I finally got to check it out.
Chair Peak is one of those iconic mountains in the Alpental valley; it’s a gorgeous looking peak visible from the Alpental ski area, is fairly easy to access and offers lots of variety for climbers as well as skiers. At times, the approach trail from Alpental over to Source Lake in the winter can be a real zoo, with lots of skiers and snowshoers heading into the area. Generally we have made it a point to arrive really early or quite late, and that has helped us avoid the crowds on the first part of the tour.
The Chair Peak Circumnavigation is one of the classic ski tours in the Snoqulamie Pass area. There are two ways to do the tour: counterclockwise, heading up towards East Shoulder on Chair then skiing to Snow Lake, or clockwise, skinning up to Bryant Col and skiing down towards Melakwa Lake. The route requires you to travel up and down avalanche terrain no matter which way you decide to go, so safe avalanche conditions are a must. Warming is also something to consider if you are tackling this tour later in the season. We were blessed with a moderate danger bluebird day in early March providing us with nearly perfect conditions.
We parked in the upper Alpental parking lot at the crack of 10 a.m. and skinned on the climbers route towards Source lake below Alpy. Given the number of people going up towards Chair Peak and how crowded the East Shoulder of Chair usually is on a weekend, we opted to go clockwise; heading up Pineapple Pass towards the Tooth, traversing climbers right to reach Bryant Col. The last bit to gain Bryant Col in firmer conditions may require booting, but conditions allowed us to skin the whole way. Bryant Couloir looked like a fun ski, which would be the last descent for those going counterclockwise; as we were moving the other direction and skied down towards Melakwa Lake on unsupportable breakable crust. This descent would have been really fun if the snow was better.
As we skinned over to Melakwa Pass, it was apparent that the sun was warming up south facing slopes. A few wet slides naturally triggered near rocks around the area, those were easy to manage but good to be aware of. We passed several people heading counterclockwise as we continued to make our way toward the pass. This was the busiest area during our tour but once the rush finished, we didn’t see many more people.
From Melakwa Pass we skied down to Chair Peak Lake and decided it wasn’t too late to add a little detour to our adventure. From the lake, a skin track and bootpack led us to the top of Roosevelt to ski Holy Diver Couloir. We commented on how well the bootback up Roosevelt was set and later found that one of our friends was the one to set it earlier that morning — small world! The ascent was quite steep, so safe avalanche conditions were key for this part. In case of harder surfaces, you may want pointy things with you. Holy Diver itself is wide and not particularly steep. The entrance is the narrowest part, but allowed for easy turning. We were the last party to ski it that day, and to our surprise that made for the best conditions. All the breakable crust was scraped away by the previous parties which made skiing in the couloir genuinely enjoyable.
The skin back out to the saddle of Roosevelt was a bit of a slog, given the mileage already covered. We took it slow and enjoyed taking in the views of our home mountains, discovering at least three couloirs that would be worth coming back for. Our descent to Snow Lake brought fairly horrid skiing, as the temps were cooling and everything was starting to freeze. With some careful route finding and exciting ski chattering, we quickly made it down and then across Snow Lake. The evening lighting on the Alpental Valley was truly magical. Those are the moments when I start to feel like I am in a fairy tale, maybe a bit tired from the mileage under my feet from the day but also so thankful I get to call this area my backyard. We were back at the car around 7 p.m., wrapping up just before dark.
It’s weird to write this now, reflecting on the solid ski day, not knowing that it would be one of the last days in the backcountry that we would have this winter. We didn’t get the best skiing conditions for this tour, but the blue skies and warmth of the sun made the day special. I am grateful to have gotten the chance to experience our backyard before we hunkered down at home. Can’t wait to get more time to explore our local tours next winter!
Total distance: 13.38 miles
Total elevation gain: 5973 feet
Looking for some more ski-spiration? Check out our other trip reports.
WildSnow Girl, Julia Dubinina, is a weekend warrior chasing snow in winter and sun in summer. A lover of long tours and steep skin tracks, she explores the Pacific Northwest and beyond. When she is not out adventuring, she is working away at her corporate desk job for a software company to make her next adventure happen.