Thursday, March 24, 2016

chutes, no ladders

To anyone who skis Alta, the Baldy Chutes are pretty much the Holy Grail.  Sure, there are iconic runs like High Rustler, Gunsight and Devil's Castle, but Mt. Baldy's chutes are - literally - above and beyond everything else.  Baldy looms over the front side of the resort so you can stare at the chutes as you ride up the Collins lift.  They aren't often open and you have to do a major boot-pack to get up to them.  The chutes are for experts only and H has been itching to get up there basically since we moved to the area.  On Sunday, H did the Main Chute.

Starting the hike

"Because of exposure to rock below, uncontrolled falls in Main and Little Chutes can have serious consequences.  Uncontrolled falls in Dogleg and Perla's Chutes almost certainly will.  This is very serious, some would say, extreme skiing.  Be very sure of your conditioning and technique before attempting." - The Powder Hound's Guide to Skiing Alta, Brad Asmus
Over that drop-off? Vertical and icy 

For some reason, the conditions have been right enough that ski patrol has had the Baldy Chutes open a fair amount this year.  H had been thinking about getting up there it for a while now but his focus on telemark skiing has put the kibosh on it; skiing Main Chute is, for him, alpine-only.  Saturday evening, he mentioned to me that he was thinking about taking his alpine gear up on Sunday and I knew what he had in mind.  Sunday morning confirmed it: he was taking his Cochises and, if they opened Baldy, he was going to ski it.

Getting ready to drop in

H tried to convince me to do it as well - it really would be more fun with someone, but each time our ski guests have come out, the chutes haven't been open - and while I was tempted, I ultimately decided against it.  I was concerned about what the drop in at the top would be like - I'm not a fan of diving over cornices - and I knew that the hike (600 vertical feet, up to elevation 11,068) would be brutal.  He's so much stronger than I am that I knew he could ski it even after the hike up; I wasn't sure that my legs would be sturdy enough to do the ski after the hike.

Looking back from whence he came

He started up a little before 10 a.m., with just a couple other diehards going that way with him.  Later in the day, we would see lots of people heading up and we knew why more didn't go earlier: the steepest section of the trail, which we have climbed in the summertime, scrambling hand over hand up the rock, is nearly vertical and, when H did it, was extremely icy.  A fall would send you all the way down.  It was very slow, nerve-wracking climbing, as H had to use both hands, as well as keeping hold of his skis and his poles.  (Note: a backpack that you can strap your skis and poles to would be very helpful in this situation.)

The way ahead

Once he got past that icy, vertical bit, it was fairly easy walking up the ridge, and not at all crowded.  There was a ski patroller up there who dropped into Little Chute as H made his way up; another skier, who had done Main Chute Saturday and who was up there to do Little Chute, showed H which trail to follow to the top of the chute.  Once in position, he waited a little, resting his legs.  Then, over the edge he went.
Once you're in, you're in

"Main Chute is the largest of the Baldy Chutes ... It is wider than it looks from the bottom, but still not wide ... Having dropped in, you're in.  The walls are big and steep.  It's like skiing a steep alley between brick buildings.  The chute fades right with a double fall line and gets real narrow about 1/3 down."  - TPHGtSA
Almost out

I had taken a couple runs, figuring the hike would take him about thirty minutes, then skied out the Ballroom traverse to get into position at the bottom of Main Chute.  Once I saw H up in there, it didn't take him long to ski down, even with a couple of stops to take pictures.  When he came out the bottom, he was soaked with sweat from the hike, but grinning and pleased that he done it.  He told me that I absolutely could have skied it but that I wouldn't have liked the hike - both the sketchy icy section and then the fatigue after the climb.  I was a little regretful that I hadn't done it - I sure would like to be able to say that I've skied Main Chute - but I know how tired my legs are after hiking up East Castle, and I'm certain that this Baldy hike would be worse.  Maybe next year!

Done! Someone get that man a beer!

The rest of day was business as usual for us, except that we skied together a little bit more and I couldn't beat H to the lift because he skis so much faster on his alpine gear.  After lunch the strong sun took its toll on the snow: some places were nice and soft, others were heavy and sticky, depending on the angle of the slope.  Around 2:30 p.m. my legs had had enough of pushing around the heavy stuff and we skied out.  We'd brought our cooler again and did a tailgate toast, this time to Main Chute.

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