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.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.