The (Other) Winter Carnival Part I: Unconventional Terrain

By:  Greg
February 7, 2011

There is no better way to describe the last few days of skiing in Vermont than as a “winter carnival.” It all started last Wednesday when a dynamo of a storm spread a thick shield of fluffy snow across VTah. Snow showers and sunny skies then alternated on-again-off-again for several days until yet another storm took aim for the weekend. Over several TRs to be released over the next few days, we will be detailing the high points of this week as we got to enjoy them. Today’s TR covers the “unconventional terrain” portion of our little Winter Carnival.

After last Wednesday’s storm, Ben and I happily noticed that a certain line high in a mountain pass of Vermont which we had had our eye on for several years was receiving copious wind loading, and might almost be ready to go. My interest in this line dates back to Sam’s several-year-old Big Game Hunting TR, which inspired me to look around and find options for skiing in places I might not have previously considered. After viewing that TR, I went to one of my favorite viewpoints and essentially just stared at the mountain, until suddenly the line simply presented itself. Tracing its way down off the ridge, from high to low the line includes all the types of skiing that Vermont has to offer: a dense “bushwhacky” orienteering challenge; several tongues of snow hanging precipitously above sheer ice cliffs; a rappel over a chossy mixed climbing route; ski chuting ice flows pinned between rock walls barely wide enough to fit one’s shoulders through; thrilling powder turns hanging between mandatory technical ski maneuvers; a 15 foot mandatory boulder huck to an “eagle-eye” landing adjacent to a cliff wall; wide open alpine powder skiing; and finally a perfectly nestled window in the forest in which to make a few glorious turns. Indeed, this line has it all.

Last season, we waited the entire year but the line never came in as fat as we wanted. Instead it seemed like its neighbor wanted to collect all the snow. This year however, we have been eagerly watching as the wind loading appeared to be favorable during each winter weather event. This week it was finally ready.

As you might have guessed, based on my rough outline of the…line(? gee that sounds awkward)… there would be little room for snow instability once off rappel. The only reasonable option once the rope was pulled–as the snow pack itself knew–would be down. To reascend the rappel route would have taken us near the edge of our climbing abilities, and likely resulted in “type III fun.” As such, we decided to do a preliminary run on a similar aspect to check snow stability. It was stable, except it had a tendency to get in your face.
Ben doing stability testing

Sorry, I couldn’t resist putting a faceshot picture in a TR. Seriously though, we found some smaller terrain features that were of a similar aspect, and were pleased with the stability. We called Chris Nelson to get lined up across the notch, and then we set off to finally ski the line we had been dreaming of for several years. This got us some looks.
this got us some looks

We used alpine touring equipment to push our way out through dense bush, aided by the navigational GPS waypoints we had set for ourselves during the several summer outings we did to scope the line. Eventually as we pushed closer to the primary objective, things started to open up a little bit. Still, the skiing was tight and delicate as we hooked plenty of ski tips around krumholz and saplings.
things started to open up a little bit

After a careful descent through the trees, we came to a critical juncture. If we went down further, there would be no easy return. At this juncture we could still reasonably skin out (albeit over the course of several hours and through dense pine forest). However below the juncture the terrain became too steep to skin. Bootpacking up and through several feet of unconsolidated snow on steep terrain would be our only option if we had to turn around. Ben and I exchanged a few passing comments about the weather, and proceeded to descend.
Ben proceeds to descend

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Read about the author:   Greg
Enjoy this TR? Read another: TR: Baker + Wind = :/


  1. Lionel Hutz
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 10:32 am  

    Dude…you two just straight are KILLING IT!

    • Kate B
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 2:44 pm  

      as I was reading your TR Backcountry magazine arrived in the mail
      compare the picture of Ben rappelling to this months cover from Chamonix:

      + New England shrubbery
      + one helmet
      – one electric yellow rope

    • Kate B
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 2:45 pm  

      that was supposed to be a new line
      I don’t know how to use the interwebs

    • Greg
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 2:46 pm  

      HA… good eye Kate!

      if you want me to edit… make another ocmment here which says what you want, and i’ll fix it for you.

      do we get an equals sign there?

    • Kate B
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 10:07 pm  

      = gnar heli-ski terrain?

      = a secret French colony located deep in the mountains? Don’t let Quebec find out or it will be overrun with elk

      I just meant it as a new thread instead of a reply. You can change it if you like, no big

    • Greg
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 10:53 pm  

      heh…. i like it how it is at this point

  2. Talbert
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 11:31 am  
  3. Adrian
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 12:01 pm  


    Easily TR of the year so far. And some amazing photos too. Very strong, all around!

  4. Roger Kappe
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 12:07 pm  

    Looked up at that cliff line from the pow-fields below last weekend thinking to myself you would have to be nuts to try and come down that. I was right. Great Pics, Glad I know now where the tracks are that i should be avoiding…

    We thoroughly enjoyed the “easier” access to the lower line last weekend hiking from the bottom, Must’ve been awesome after this weeks snow.

    See you guys out there.

    • Greg
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 3:31 pm  

      stuff is shaping up nicely Roger!! Glad you guys got it… between you and chris we were feeling pretty good on teh shape of the lower parts

  5. Porter Haney
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 12:26 pm  

    Excellent work, Gents.

    Any front flips?

  6. angry swede
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 12:30 pm  

    +1 for TR of the year/season. Faceshot pics not necessary(blasphemy?) when lines are this serious.

    • Greg
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 3:30 pm  

      Thanks Jackson! I guess the faceshot pic probably wasn’t necessary… I really have a weakness for them though.

  7. Peter
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 12:48 pm  

    high fives all around.

  8. Skimohr
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 12:57 pm  

    Awesome. Nice work guys! What snow!

  9. baconeater
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 1:10 pm  

    That there is some well-executed, no-mistake skiing. Way to make it happen, AND be calm enough to capture it so eloquently in pictures.

  10. Eric
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 1:51 pm  

    Awesome, just awesome.

  11. Scotty D
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 2:42 pm  

    Glad the trip to the hardware store worked out for Ben.

    • Greg
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 3:29 pm  

      HA! So true. almost forgot about that…

      who’d have thought “this TR was brought to you by a .99$ M5 button head from true value”?

  12. JJ
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 2:56 pm  

    This TR confirmed why Ben is the “other picture” on all our Stowe season’s passes

    • Greg
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 2:57 pm  

      in fact your season passes are all his ;)

  13. Marc
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 3:54 pm  

    BTW, you wrote:
    “…a rappel over a chaussy mixed climbing route;…”

    The climbing term is “chossy”.
    Chaussy is a commune in the Val-d’Oise department in Île-de-France in northern France.

    • Greg
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 3:58 pm  

      Thanks Marc! I have actually wondered about the spelling for a while. Kind of like, how to I spell “wuss”… w. h. u. s. .s? IDK…

      anyway, it’s fixed now. appreciate it.

    • Could Be Buggy
      wrote on February 8th, 2011 at 6:32 am  

      He was referring to the commune. The section stunk.

  14. Harvey44
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 4:41 pm  

    For some reason my interwebz won’t load page 4. Pages 1-3 = mind boggling. I’m betting even the “nervous bumbling” took courage. What is the pitch of that chute?

    • Greg
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 4:52 pm  

      Hey Harv. Thanks for reading! I looked into it, and our server did go down for a few minutes. Some power issue on their end. They promise it’s back up now though. If you still can’t read page 4, let me know so I can probe further.

      As to the nervous bumbling… yeah I had to focus to keep getting stuff done. I personally enjoy the feeling of “needing to execute,” but it is surely not for everyone.

      Not sure on the steepness. It’s similar to a chute Sam measured a few years back at the upper 40s (degrees). I’ll check with him and see if he has any measurements from in this chute as well.

      As a side note, since the snow was basically piled in at the top of the snow tongue (bottom of the rappel), it was as steep as it could hold itself in. Any more snow would pore over the ice bulge, and any less and it wouldnt’ have been skiable yet. I’m not a snow scientist by any means, but I’m sure based on the density and flake type of the snow, someone could tell you how steep the snow can possibly “sandpile (verb)” itself in a situation like we found it in…

  15. efoxx
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 5:05 pm  

    Awesome TR. Great form on that last huck. Did you stick the landing?

    • Greg
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 5:08 pm  

      I’ll out myself. I did NOT stick the landing. Had some…um…ski lamentation issues on impact, and as such ended up auguring in a little bit deep to pop out of it on my feet. I think I executed a perfect tuck and roll however :D

  16. Jesse
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 5:10 pm  

    Thanks for taking me along on that ride, Greg. Looked ballsy and wicked fun!

    • Greg
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 10:36 pm  

      thanks for reading Jesse! How are your mosaics comin?

  17. Allen
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 6:40 pm  

    I eyed up that line more than a few times back in the day, good work.

    • Greg
      wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 6:41 pm  

      so what you’re trying to say is: “I totally considered that first” right? ;) (end inside joke)

  18. Mom
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 7:00 pm  

    Glad you guys made it. Remember your mother–you too, Greg! We don’t crave excitement but we do like to see your pictures.

  19. christian
    wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 8:44 pm  

    the second to last shot is out of control

  20. Pete
    wrote on February 8th, 2011 at 3:43 pm  

    OK, I’m jealous but thoroughly enjoyed the ride along with you. Nice job!

  21. Hammerhead
    wrote on February 8th, 2011 at 6:54 pm  

    That kicks some serious cAss! Some seriously committing terrain. Did that runnel of ice at the top go top-to-bottom? Did it look protectable?

    • Greg
      wrote on February 9th, 2011 at 7:20 am  

      I assume you’re talking about the one that we rapped over?

      The ice under the rap did no go cleanly to the top. Became mixed and pretty chossy looking. I’m a wuss of a climber though, so I’m easily scared by that sorta stuff. I will say that little bit of ice that is visible seemed pretty strong. Not sure it’s worth the effort though

  22. powhounddd
    wrote on February 8th, 2011 at 9:40 pm  

    You guys rock!

  23. marc
    wrote on February 10th, 2011 at 9:44 pm  

    that looks hairball. well done

  24. Mark
    wrote on February 11th, 2011 at 7:11 pm  

    I was going to leave some snarky comment about how you just managed to do a boring ice route backwards, but instead: holy crap. Awesome, awesome skiing.

    • Greg
      wrote on February 11th, 2011 at 7:23 pm  

      ha… thanks Mark. It is a rather tame ice route i guess. ;)

      is this Ben’s friend Mark btw?

  25. sfmornay
    wrote on February 14th, 2011 at 12:07 pm  

    Hey Greg; Great huck! Recognized the rock on skier’s right. Like Roger Kappe, I hiked up to below that rock last Wednesday with Brendan, who was visiting from DC. It was his first off-piste experience – I lent him my AT gear and I walked. The climb up was a wallow in waist-deep snow, largely on all fours with skis in one hand and crossed poles in the other. Snow was stable and DEEP. I’ll post some pix on T4T when Brendan sends me his set. Maybe I’ll reverse the images to confound the haters :-)
    Cheers, Mike

    • Greg
      wrote on February 14th, 2011 at 4:28 pm  

      cool beans Mike. Looking forward to those pics. How’d Brandon like our BC?!

    • sfmornay
      wrote on February 15th, 2011 at 10:25 am  

      He was impressed by both the aesthetics and the hard work of the experience. I think he enjoyed Cabot cheese and Ben & Jerry’s on the way back almost as much :-)

  26. Ben C
    wrote on March 1st, 2011 at 7:37 pm  
  27. steve
    wrote on March 10th, 2011 at 11:51 pm  

    Just wondering…how come you guys didnt climb up the line? It would have been super fun and you would no exactly what you were getting yourselves into.

    • Greg
      wrote on March 11th, 2011 at 12:28 am  

      just what we felt like doing. this was plenty of fun. don’t worry about it.

  28. steve
    wrote on March 12th, 2011 at 8:54 pm  

    yeah, well awsome job guys…it’s stuff like this that gives me pride for the east coast!

    • Greg
      wrote on March 12th, 2011 at 10:15 pm  

      cool thanks for the comment.

      it is not uncommon for folks to climb up this gully from the bottom and stop below what we called “the boulder huck” and ski down from there. In fat years it’s not a big ordeal to get up to the bottom of the rappel… but when we did it I think it would have been a stiff 4th class climb, and more likely a 5.low to get up the boulder huck if one wanted to ascend…

      always a throw of the dice to figure out what one wishes to do in the mountains… this time we chose what we did for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was for several years we all had been saying “let’s do that one from the tippy top!”…

      thanks for checking in Steve

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