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Routefinding: Would you ski this line?
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ArticleId: 1235 Written: 2005.01.05 by: Mitch Sulkers

Cowboy Ridge, immediately east of Singing Pass in Garibaldi Park, has become an increasingly popular backcountry destination in the past 10 years. On 2005.01.02, I counted a total of 36 tourers on this ridge in a three minute period.

Cowboy Ridge from Oboe Summit East

Tourers are attracted to the consistently angled intermediate slopes and enjoy the relatively quick access from the Whistler Valley via the Singing Pass Trail or the Whistler Ski Area. Unfortunately, there are generally some differences of opinion on how to climb this ridge and how to ski it. Often, multiple climbing tracks cross obvious avalanche zones, and skiers often cut across the most severe convexity, as the two skiers who skied the left hand line and started the avalanche did.

In the spring, I've seen the avalanche debris pile up over eight metres deep in the bottom of the pass. While this year's snowpack isn't sufficient to do this yet, there seems to be little question that this convexity would fail on the facets beneath the December 19th crust if it were loaded by a skier. It appears the skiers chose to ignore this hazard, suggesting that they thought the risk was not great. Note that their climbing track was covered by the slide debris.

It seems there are a number of observable factors that would suggest this line should not be skied. What do you see?


Comments

#451 - 2005.04.01 Mitch Sulkers
They are, however, ski tracks...

Steve's first point is rather important, given the storms of the last two weeks in our area, combined with considerable wind. A good weekend to be careful out there.

#450 - 2005.03.31 Steve Grant - A couple of points...
Every winter or two an avalanche sufficient to pile trees up as far as the trail on the west side of the pass comes down this slope. Sooner or later there will be more broken things than trees in it.

Also, the tracks that started the slide look more to me like snowboard tracks than ski tracks. They aren't as mobile and so tend to cut across the slope sooner so they don't have to walk down the first part of the trail.

#449 - 2005.03.29 Bernd Petak - Cowboy Ridge Face
It never ceases to amaze me how different terrain looks in a photo versus in real life. The slope in the shot has probably been seen by every regular Whistler ski tourer dozens of times over the years. When you look at Mitch's photo, slide notwithstanding, it looks harmless. In real life, this particular slope has always screamed at me to be careful. I'll stick with the great tree-protected slopes to looker's right outside the shot, both for skinning and for skiing. This shot is a great reminder to listen to the little voice inside!

#406 - 2005.01.14 Sandra McGuinness - I'd probably ski it .. but not put in that up track
Apart from the rolls at the top, easily ski cut at the start of your run ... the slope doesn't look all that steep. But, the uptrack is just plain silly, the trees it zig-zags through offer minimal to no protection and I count about 13 kickturns on it (time for a hip replacement afterwards). The preferable route up appears to be through the trees on the right hand side of the photo. Perhaps I'm dating myself but uptracks seem to have got sillier with the advent of fat skis and skins.

#403 - 2005.01.10 Todd Ponzini
I've skied down all of those lines in the past, and have used ski cuts on the wind rolls to determine stability with excellent results. However, I've always set my up track well to the right, out of the photo, winding up through the trees in a safe location.

The placement of the uptrack in the photo is another example of the lack of mountain sense displayed by the "backcountry" skiers that tend to frequent the slopes adjacent to ski areas (Singing Pass, Blackcomb area, and Baker). Some of the uptracks you'll find in the Table Mtn area at Mt Baker show even less sense when it comes to the terrain and the possible risks.

Starting a (small) slide while skiing down is not the end of the world - but being caught while skinning up is very dangerous.

#402 - 2005.01.06 Lee Lau
Hi mitch. I'm glad I wasn't the only one who saw that skin track and said wtf?

There's a convex roll at the top of the slope.

The slope is about 35 degrees at the roll.

There is zero protection on the skin track that was covered.

Even if the slope is safe, the skin track cuts into skiable terrain.

There's tons of alternative ways to get onto the ridge without exposure.

The skin track looks awfully steep and is not exactly efficient.

The ridge line is wind-exposed and has some potential layers on top of the ridge - perhaps a fracture point?

Don't know if the slope is wind-loaded at the top. The slopes I skied; to the right of the picture weren't badly wind-loaded so I'll give the track-setters benefit of the doubt there.