Mount Adams Southwest Chutes — World’s Best Ski Descents

Post by blogger | July 9, 2012      
Louie Dawson, Southwest Chutes, Mount Adams. We scored this at 9 for snow conditions. The range: Breakable crust or glare ice = 1, baby butt corn = 10. During our descent a few ski tracks and freeze lumps marred perfection.

Kirk took this shot of Louie, backcountry skiing Southwest Chutes, Mount Adams. Score 9 for snow conditions. Breakable crust = 1, baby butt corn = 10. Today a few ski tracks and freeze lumps marred perfection.

Mount Adams Southwest Chutes, showing descent route. Most people climb via broad ridge to right. The egress traverse I marked is just a general idea, exact egress traverse route varies.

Mount Adams Southwest Chutes, showing descent route. Most people climb via broad ridge to right. The egress traverse I marked is just a general idea, exact egress traverse route varies with snow coverage and skier choices.

One game I play is to mentally shortlist the best ski descents in the world. Such a list would be different for everyone, depending on where you’re at mentally and physically, and would change over time as your life progressed. These days I’d use something like the following score points:

1. Access; the route needs to be reachable by the common man, without mounting an expedition, trans-world jet travel, or conditions that only occur once every three years. Adams easily gets a 10 on that.

2. Safety; little chance of injury or death if you know what you’re doing. (Though I had a helmet lesson on this route when an ice chunk dislodged by skiers above smacked my foot like a cannon shell. If the target had been my head, I’d have been severely injured, but even a minimal helmet would have been a big help. Beyond helmets, lesson was when stopping and sitting, move on to the larger rock piles and ribs that’ll stop or deflect any rolling/flying projectiles. Due to likelihood of having other parties coming down above you, I’d give the Southwest Chutes a safety rating of 8, rather than a full and totally optimistic 10.

3. Snow conditions; avalanche-free corn snow likely. A 9 for us.

4. Route; has to be a king line. Adams Southwest Chutes, 10.

5. Vertical; big, but doable in a day. Depending on exact start and various small ups and downs, once you can drive most of the access road you’ll devour about 7,000 vertical to reach the Adams summit. The mountain looms around 8,000 vertical feet above surrounding lands, summit is 12,281 feet. 10.

6. Aesthetics; to score high the ski descent has to be on a beautiful mountain. In this case, good on that, also with sublime views of surrounding volcanic lands with various fire mountains jutting up here and there like something from a 1960s dinosaur movie. 10.

7. Culture; restaurants and coffee bars readily available before and after the trip, guidebook and GPS info available, quality beers can be had. Adams 9, classic routes out of Chamonix, 10.

8. Accommodations; high quality yet affordable camping or motels available for staging, preferable at or close to the start. Adams, 9.

9. Adventure; a bit of uncertainty resulting from objective conditions such as glaciers, or route finding details you have to figure out for yourself. But not so much ‘adventure’ you never return. In our case on Adams, guessing which traverse to exit on was key, and navigating the summit in a whiteout added spice. For our day of backcountry skiing I’d rate the adventure as a 10, without the cloud cap and with more knowledge of the egress route, I’d give Adams Southwest Chutes an 8 on this due to the crowded and beat-in trail to the summit.

10. Red Tape; due to yet another wallet scouring user-fee Adams goes down in this rating, but climbs back up because they don’t gate the access road but rather leave it to the public to snow bash as far as they want to the summer closure. Aside from the fee, no other government niggling I was aware of exists so we’ll still give Adams a high rating of 9.

With above in mind, Mount Adams SouthWest Chutes in Washington (state, USA) makes the cut as one of the world’s best ski descents. Does Mount Everest? Interesting question. Check the following for documentation.

Zach's photographic interpretation of how grand the Mount Adams SW Chute are. Louie Dawson skiing.

Zach's photographic interpretation of how grand the Mount Adams SW Chute are. Mount St. Helens in background, Louie Dawson skiing.

You start low, about 7,000 vertical feet from the summit, big enough for a 10 score in the calories department.

You start low, nearly 7,000 vertical feet from the summit depending on where snow closure is on access road. That's big enough for a 10 score in the calories department.

On the uptrack, about halfway. Summit looks close, but it is far. Ten hours round trip for us.

On the backcountry skiing uptrack, about halfway through the lengthy climb. Summit looks close, but it is far. Ten hours round trip for us. Quite a few people skiing the chutes skip the summit. That seems totally reasonable. Since most of us had never summitted, we continued onward and upward into a cloud cap. Not the most inviting finish, but the reward burger would have tasted half as good if we'd done only 'half' the trip.

To me, the only downside of Adams is the seemingly ubiquitous user fees and permitting.

If the guy in the photo looks like he's reaching for his wallet, that's probably true. To me, the only downside of Adams is the seemingly ubiquitous user fees and permitting. I find it disconcerting that we're allowing government agencies the freedom to charge us these pesky fees when we already get taxed till our skin burns. The five of us ended up paying about $50, just for one peak climb. If we'd gone on to something like St. Helens or Rainier, the ding factor would have gotten ridiculous.

Entering the cloud cap. Classic.

Entering the cloud cap. Classic.

Using GPS for backcountry skiing in cloud whiteout.

On the summit, a whiteout in the cloud cap inspired use of GPS. You could follow quite a few climber footprints, but had no way of knowing if they went the correct direction. Indeed, while we were wandering up there just before summit, we turned completely around and after a glance at the GPS realized we were headed back down instead of the last few feet to the top! Amazing how quick you can loose your orientation.

We had a party of 5, including competent backcountry splitboarder Zach.

We had a party of 5, including competent backcountry splitboarder Zach, shown here riding the king line, Adams Southwest Chutes.

Southwest Chutes line is ridiculously big, around 4,000 vert and seeming as wide as the Columbia river. Easy score 10 on the size component. Check out the view of Mount St Helens and intervening stacked ridges, easy 10 in the view aesthetics category as well.

Southwest Chutes line is ridiculously big, around 4,000 vert and seeming as wide as the Columbia river. Nearly every photo we grabbed showed the skier-as-speck effect. Score 10 for size and drop of about 4,000 vert just for the chutes from the summit.

Dining to the sound of an impact wrench, having a local beer near the trailhead.

Dining to the sound of an impact wrench, having a local beer, near the trailhead. Score 9+ for amenities. Mandatory visit to The Station Cafe, where you can get a brake job after overheating your grabbers while driving down the steep access road, gas up, and have the best burger in the area. It's a guy thing, or a redneck thing, or some-thing -- but a 10 thing. Local motels are available, good camping at municipal park in town (coin op showers are expensive but work), or at trailhead.

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30 Responses to “Mount Adams Southwest Chutes — World’s Best Ski Descents”

  1. Joe July 9th, 2012 10:08 am

    Nice! Louie, awesome pic of you wiping that baby butt corn clean off Adams.

    It is July still, correct?

  2. Lisa July 9th, 2012 10:35 am

    Another awesome day in the spectacular Cascades!

  3. tony s July 9th, 2012 11:49 am

    Looks awesome, thanks for sharing. It’s high on my list for sure, gotta get out there next year.

  4. KEEN Recess Team July 9th, 2012 12:11 pm

    What an inspiring post. The pictures and the tips are great. Thank you for spending time putting this post together.

    I am writing on behalf of the The KEEN Recess Team. We are inspired by people like you who make getting outdoors a priority. We love hearing about people who are dedicated to finding a recess outdoors. Looks like you hit the jackpot on this one!
    Thanks for your input and expertise!

    KEEN Recess Team

  5. Gaper Jeffey July 9th, 2012 12:21 pm

    Nice, but on your overview photo I’d recommend w/ that level of snowcover going to the Round the Mountain trail rather than traversing high like the dots show.

  6. Lou July 9th, 2012 12:38 pm

    Jeff, yeah, the dots are just a general idea of what you do after the main descent. No intent to provide a guidebook type photo…

  7. Carl July 9th, 2012 4:36 pm

    One of the best ski runs I have ever done, a couple summers back, bluebird skies and 5000 vert of corn. Highly recommended, but a weekday would be a good idea, there must have been a few hundred people on the mountain on a sunny summer saturday, however most of them didn’t realize the best part was the descent and we only saw a few other skiers.

  8. Cindy July 9th, 2012 4:46 pm

    I love your photos. I wish I was there!!!

  9. Eric Steig July 9th, 2012 6:20 pm

    Nicely done guys. Adams is truly a favor for us in the PNW. I haven’t done it since a glorious March trip (in really very much Spring conditions) many years back. Was on leather boots and Kazama Outbacks, but it didn’t matter since the corn was so perfect.

  10. Zach W July 9th, 2012 6:35 pm

    “It’s a guy thing, or a redneck thing, or some-thing — but a 10 thing” – love it!

    I find it interesting that only 2 of the Washington Volcanoes have similar “red tape”.
    Adams= $15 permit
    St. Helens = $22 permit, limit 100 per day May 15 through October
    Rainier= $43 permit ($30 if your under 24) and special permit for solo skiers above 10,000ft
    Baker and Glacier Pk = no permit required

    The inconsistency is almost as annoying as the fees themselves.
    Great skiing/splitboarding with you Lou!

  11. Chuck July 9th, 2012 6:43 pm

    St. Helen’s was a 9 this Saturday. Perfect snow and blue skies. Would have given her a 10+ if the descent was twice as long.

  12. Xavier July 9th, 2012 8:18 pm

    When I skied it , it was an 11.

  13. Lou July 9th, 2012 8:32 pm

    I thought it didn’t go to 11, my mistake (grin).

  14. john July 9th, 2012 8:41 pm

    Funny, I was just out there a few days ago. A nice way to sum up the many different aspects of the ski. Enjoy the road trip.

  15. Mark W July 9th, 2012 9:48 pm

    Very nice. I climbed Adams back in 1998, but didn’t ski it. Too bad the summit was enshrouded. It’s incredibly massive.

  16. brett July 10th, 2012 1:21 am

    I believe a good portion if not all of the Adams permit goes to the Yakima Tribe, as half of Adams is on tribal land.

  17. john doyle July 10th, 2012 7:00 am

    Skiing in July; a delicacy served in the PNW. Nice work on a fine looking mountain. Cheers

  18. AndyC July 10th, 2012 9:18 am

    @Zach W: don’t forget the NW Forest Pass that was required to park at any trailhead–who knows where and when that applies now; also Sno Park permits; and now State Discovery Pass (just to drive on state forest roads). And of course entry fees to NWR and NPs.

    Some of these, I am told, is due to people like former Sen. Murkowski and some other Republicans who didn’t want to fund recreation on public lands and who didn’t believe outdoor recreation was an important contributor to the economy; thus the NW Forest Pass was created to test for a strong public demand and willingness to pay (to hike on their own land); also the switch to concessionaires (I remember having to pay $5/container for water in a NF in Utah) away from summer employees, and reduced budgets. Some of WA NF have lost 50% or more of their employees due to budget cuts. Much of recreation (especially road maintenance) was previously paid for by the timber program. Once timber harvesting was markedly reduced due to decades of over-harvest, legislators no longer felt the need to fund the forests. Mt. Rainier NP, however, has faired relatively well, primarily due to Congr. Dicks who is retiring. Mt. Rainier’s fee is high, I presume, because the maintain a large and expert climbing ranger program and use helicopters to service the high camps (Muir, Schurman). MSH is a National Monument (part of NPS) administered by the Gifford Pinchot NF, which also admns Mt. Adams; I don’t know how they justify their fees as I have only once seen an FS employee (on MSH) on either one and they gave up plowing the road to Climbers’ Bivouac trailhead. They plow to Marblemount because it is an OHV center and years ago the GPNF chose to feature OHVs and horseback riding as their “high quality recreation.” They get lots of cooperation, volunteer time, etc. from those groups.

  19. Lou July 10th, 2012 9:48 am

    In my opinion, sometimes an additional fee is justified if it’s applied to a specific user group, used to do something for that group, and the fee isn’t eroded by administrative costs (most are). To give a 100% nod to a fee, I’d have to know the administrative cost percentage, sort of like when you donate money to a charity and research if it’s being used to pay salaries, or actually get something done in the field.

    What’s been described to me by locals up here is a ridiculous situation, with forest recreators having to remember/buy/renew multiple passes, money from which goes who-knows-where.

    On the surface, such things can look ok. But really, what happens is agencies do have funds, and it’s how the choose to allocate their funds that causes problems with shortages of money. Then we give them the opportunity to ding us in multiple ways, and they take it. Really, a vicious cycle.

    While human powered recreation is not without impacts, it’s a far cry from things like logging and oil/gas. We should be treated accordingly, and in my opinion we should pay ZERO fees. If that means rougher roads and crapping in a plastic bag instead of a heated bathroom, so be it.

  20. AndyC July 10th, 2012 11:17 am

    The erosion by admn costs is a real issue. I remember reading that the MSH fees almost entirely went to general administrative costs and the costs of enforcing the payment of fees. Similar issues were raised about the NW Forest Pass.

    I haven’t seen a thorough analysis of the climbing fees in MRNP, but I hear relatively few complaining due the presence of the rangers and the reporting of rescues.

    As far as roads go, rough roads in CO are one thing, but roads in the PNW are another–if a road is not adequately maintained substantial erosion results, often followed by landslides. A few years ago, just one Ranger District on the Olympic National Forest had 8,000 landslides due to unmaintained roads and culverts and inadequate culverts. So the move has been to close and actually remove roads (and trails), with the concomitant reduced access to the high bc.

  21. Lou July 10th, 2012 12:52 pm

    Andy, agreed, if something needs money and it’s important to recreation, then a fee structure is sometimes appropriate. On the other hand, many roads are maintained for much more than just recreation. Also, we get in to the sticky ethical issue of how society as a whole pays for things that are used by a sub-group.

    The fact that fees get eaten up by admin could otherwise be called bureaucratic cancer, and it can be a really bad thing. Six guys sitting there on salary, rubber stamping and filing the permit paperwork, another 10 guys on salary just to enforce compliance, and the extra 3 cents goes to road upkeep. Could happen.

  22. Rob Mullins July 10th, 2012 2:50 pm

    Mt Adams Fees as I recall started when the road was rebuilt and the Cold Springs CG rebuilt for increased use. The fees are low when compared to other things money is spent on for fun/ satisfaction. However, if I am charged, then access should be provided- meaning open the road (clear snow) when Fee season starts.

    Other comments above may be off. To be accurate, USFS in the PNW became impoverished because of issues surounding the Spotted Owl listing and the resultant Forest Plans more than decimating timber harvest on USFS lands. It is arguable that there was overharvest, especially when the plan was for xxxxx amount of USFS lands available/ planned to be harvested, then Wilderness designation reducing that total. Wilderness is a good thing. Overharvest not good, sustained and managed harvest would be better. What resulted is the interest groups on one side winning to create the current impoverished USFS, unmanaged shabby and fire-prone former tree-farm areas, and not even enough $$ to manage Wilderness and recreation on the Forest.

    Ahh, nostalgia. I yearn for past days when my town was dominated by millworkers and loggers overharvesting the Forest, and tourists were a sidebar, not a primary industry….:evil:

  23. Steven July 10th, 2012 10:12 pm

    Enjoyed a 6000+ vertical foot day today on Adams including the SW Chutes. What wonderful bliss…! Perhaps even crossed some of your tracks. Enjoy your PNW trip!

  24. AndyC July 10th, 2012 10:44 pm

    More like a see-saw. Timber interests won all through the 50s, 60s, 70s. The Chief of the FS during that time said after he retired “any fool could have calculated on the back of a napkin that we were [grossly] over harvesting.” The timber that was left was the least profitable (highest elevation, steepest slopes). Industry started closing down timber towns and mills. Then came aerial photos and movies of devastated landscapes, with some of the highest forest road densities in the world. Then the spotted owl became listed as threatened. And the environmental/protectionist/conservation biologists ascended to create large areas of late-successional reserves to go along with the Wildernesses and Roadless areas. Industry lost interest, less lobbying for timber dollars (with frequent resurgences) and the recreationists and Wilderness advocates never lobbies for recreation management dollars (to any great effective extent). Some considerable effort was put into restoration (removal of roads) but even attempts to manage the second growth became controversial. It is funny that in my area, people are lobbying for federal money to buy land for a community forest which would abut little 10s of millions of acres of State forests and parks and federal forest and parks!

  25. trevor Jones July 12th, 2012 9:07 am

    love it, but the best ski route on the best mountain for climbing up and skiing down in the world; Wintun Ridge, v. Mount shasta. In may. Vertical can’t be a negative because you can always just turn back before the summit, if you’re not he man. For the rest of us you’ll need a night at a low camp… stunning astheticas and skiing without question. 8000 safe.

  26. Jason Hummel July 12th, 2012 12:13 pm

    Awesome. The SW Chutes are classic. I love Mt. Adams.

  27. Destination360 March 8th, 2013 10:05 am

    Was your trip in mid -June? in looking at your post date of July what what I suspect

  28. Lou Dawson March 8th, 2013 10:22 am

    Destination, the trip was in July, just before we posted. Lou

  29. Destination360 July 3rd, 2013 11:56 am

    Just got back from our climb and now wished I would have brought my board. Seen many skinners, even one with a dog. Def will return with board. We left LC at 4am and glad we did the snow softened up big time postholing.

    I did a couple 360’s on the Mt if you want to share with your readers: – Its a beauitul mountain

  30. carson January 4th, 2016 6:32 pm

    whens the best time to ski mt adams

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