I love skiing peaks that I can see as I go about daily life — it is special to glance up and remember how it felt to slide down that mountain in the distance. I can see Mount Sopris as I eat breakfast every morning, so I try to ski the big white shining behemoth at least once a year. The Laundry Chutes (on Sopris’ small but technical nordwand) have always tempted me as I shovel down waffles and orange juice. Today I finally got to see what one of them is like, and it did not disappoint.
We left the house at 2:45 AM, and fought side hills on our sleds (or at least I fought them, don’t know about Jordan) to the snowmobile boundary. Although the forecast had called for a freezing level at 11,000 feet, frozen snow made for easy skinning. We clocked good time to Thomas Lakes, where we veered left toward the basin below the east Sopris summit (it has twin summits). After booting a short headwall, we continued up the low angled rock glacier with our objective staring us in the face. There is always a line of massive cornices at the top of these chutes, but today there looked to be a few spots that were free of the intimidating frozen waves. We chose the left chute, as it looked to have the least corniced entrance, and the smallest cliff at the bottom. After speeding along frozen corn on the approach, we encountered ankle deep pow as we skinned up the apron. Corn on the approach, pow on the steep stuff, fine with me!
We were able to skin almost all the way to the base of the couloir, where we switched to crampons to negotiate the icy ramp that blocked the entrance. We wallowed to the base, and Jordan started up. The ice was centimeters thick, and shattered when you looked at it, so we tried to stay on the rock as much as possible. After a fun little climb, we encountered firmer snow in the chute. Perfect for booting. We made short work of the stair master, and turned our attention to getting out of the couloir. At the top all options looked equally rocky and loose, so we chose one and went for it (turned out to be a bit dicey). After gaining the ridge, I took a nice poo with a view, and continued toward the summit.
Every time I’ve been on top of Sopris the wind has nearly blown me off, but this time we enjoyed a light breeze. We skied the narrow margin between rocks and cornice on the summit ridge, then headed down toward our couloir. Thankfully, we found a steep mini-chute so we could avoid down climbing through the rocks of our ascent route. Fun chalky powder turns were had in the chute.
We paused just above the cliff blocking the exit. Although it was only five feet or so, the drop was low angled, with jagged rocks at the lip. Also, the landing was questionable as we’d encountered numerous holes and hollow snow as we were booting below it. Anton went first, sending it smoothly, and proceeded to shralp the pow on the apron. Next was Jordan, and then me. I hadn’t jumped off anything since my knee surgery, but there was no way around it, and I definitely didn’t want to down climb it. After a bit of sidestepping and poking around, I took a deep breath and pointed my skis at the rocks and went for it. The landing was feathery soft, it hardly even felt like I left the ground. Then there was the wide open apron full of powder.
We skied smooth corn down to Thomas Lakes, where we encountered the dreaded snirt. This must be like skiing the sand dunes; downhill with skins on. After skating and slogging where you’d normally glide, we reached our sleds and motored back to our trucks. Anton had been talking about White House Pizza since 5:00 am, and he promptly speeded off in pursuit of some carbs. Jordan and I followed suit.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.