A couple weeks ago Ryan and I wanted to get out for a big day of steep skiing. We struggled a little to come up with a plan due to a lack of recent snow and strong winds out of the west. After deciding to sacrifice potential snow quality in favor of stability we put together a plan to ski 3 lines in the Loveland pass area. Dave’s Wave, Sh*t for Brains, and The Trench.
We started our day on top of Loveland pass just before 8am hiking east along the divide. Following the ridge around to the South, we approached the summit of Cupid Peak (13,117) where we transitioned for our first descent of the day. Dave’s Wave is an easy ski of the summit of Cupid down to CDOT Corner on the Summit County side of Loveland Pass. The line is a West-Southwest facing gully that forms a cornice along the skier’s right side. We started out on the North side of the gully above any cornices that the wind may have formed. Half way down, we found a touchy wind slab as we dropped into the gully and opted to exit to the skier’s left and ski out through an open field and some trees. The snow was firm but edgeable up high and varied from powder to hard pack to mashed potatoes down in the trees. After finishing the flat ski out to CDOT Corner we transitioned for our skin into Marjorie Bowl and towards Black Mountain.
Our first line in this drainage was Sh*t for Brains. This the most prominent and popular line on Black Mountain dropping straight down from a notch to the north of the summit. If you’ve spent any time skiing at ABasin there’s a good chance you’ve scoped this one out, watched it get skied, or skied it yourself. The angle is consistently around 40 degrees with a couple benches and briefly approaching 50 degrees in spots. In my opinion the width of this line is perfect, with just enough room for quick turns but very few if any mandatory hop turns.
Approaching the Brain took about 30 minutes, and to our great surprise we had the whole drainage to ourselves at 9:30am on a Saturday. After making our switchbacks up the apron, the conditions in the couloir were to our liking, so we transitioned to axes and crampons. The snow was firm enough to climb but soft enough to kick deep steps, so the climb went smoothly with minimal post-holing. After climbing through the crux we found a thick, hollow wind slab that was very similar to what we had seen on Dave’s Wave earlier in the day. Knowing that these slabs were reactive, we opted to stop at 12,500’ and ski from there. Ski conditions were the best you could hope for. A few inches of soft snow over a stable and supportive base made for a great time on the way down.
After exiting the couloir we headed south in search of The Trench. The Trench is a less popular line on black mountain that can be hard to pick out. Neither of us had skied it before, and since it’s fairly difficult to tell how contentious a line may be when scoping from a distance, we were ready for an adventure. The upper portion is about the width of a hallway and sustained.
The apron below this one was steeper than that below Sh*t for Brains, and it took a little more work to reach a point where the snow was firm enough to climb. We eventually found conditions that were a little better than in The Brain, and made quick work of the boot pack. Again, reaching an elevation of about 12,500 feet we found the effects of the strong wind. Rather than a dangerous slab, this time we found a stiff spine running down the middle of the long choke.
At this point it came down to risk vs reward. The snow was stable, but was it worth continuing on for 500’ of survival skiing in steep high consequence terrain? We joked about excavating the spine on the way up, but after 4,000 feet of climbing for the day we were getting tired and opted to take the safer option and to save the upper line for next time. A short downclimb placed us just below the choke and in good position to transition. Again, the skiing was excellent and we were excited to have gotten some good beta on this line even if we didn’t get it from the top.
After skiing out through the trees, being careful not to enter ABasin’s terrain, we came to the road and quickly found a ride back to the top of the pass. Three big lines, 4K of elevation gain, and 5K of skiing made for a great Saturday and a basket full of low hanging fruit.
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