Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Starlight Couloir Ski - 5.14.2009

The other day while I was looking at some old pictures, reminiscing about memorable ski adventures, I came across my pictures from when Josh, Ethan, and I skied the Starlight Couloir on James Peak back in the spring of 2009. This line holds a special spot in my heart because it was clearly visible from my front porch growing up. I was surprised that I hadn't added it to the blog before. So here it is!

Like most adventures involving Ethan and I, we got off to a not so early start from the Saint Mary's Glacier trailhead:

A 20 minute hike brought us to the bottom of the glacier, and in another 45 minutes we were at the top. Ethan and Josh approach the top of a fat, springtime Saint Mary's Glacier:

After the glacier we crossed the long and very flat plain before reaching the base of the peak itself. This is one of my least favorite parts of James Peak: it is usually about half snow, half willows, and half grass(summing to 3/2), and so flat that skinning is not very efficient. But it provides beautiful views to the South. Left to right: Evans, Bierstadt, Edwards, Grays, and Torreys:

Fortunately the plain is only about a mile across and soon we were gaining elevation again.

The east shoulder of James Peak is generally about the perfect angle for skinning, and has great views into the Mammoth Lakes Basin and James Peak's eastern amphitheater. Ethan and I quickly reached the top of the couloir and marveled at the Superstar Couloir as we waited for Josh:
The top of the Starlight Couloir:
With the arrival of Josh we dropped into the couloir finding some great corn turns.
The top starts out nice and steep inside of tall granite walls. Photo: Ethan Vimont
Before long we were down into the apron, and I was able to open up some fun GS tele turns. Photo: Josh Nunnamaker
Carving through some spring roller balls. Photo: Ethan Vimont.

Stopping in the basin at the bottom of the line, my breath was taken away by the amphitheater above us. There are several cool, big lines I would like to ski here, especially the Superstar Couloir. Looking back at our line:
From there we decided to ski further down into the mammoth lakes basin before climbing back out towards Saint Mary's Glacier. After descending about 500 vertical feet we found ourselves in a long chute filled with rapidly softening snow. This led to some interesting maneuvers to avoid triggering a wet slide in said chute: 

And some hasty straight lining:

It was clearly getting late in the day; time to get moving. So, we turned south and booted the 800 vertical feet back to the plain above Saint Mary's Glacier. Next time I'll avoid this, there are few things as challenging as hiking in ski boots uphill through loose scree. Its like walking up a down escalator in ski boots...for a long time. Ethan glad to get that over with:

From there it was a quick ski back down to the car. We diverged from the traditional route back down through Saint Mary's Glacier and instead skied down through the largely failed Eclipse Snow Park:
The route:
Overall, Starlight Couloir is a great ski that I would recommend to almost anyone: its aesthetic, steep, has relatively easy access, and is in a beautiful area. Its steep enough that its fun for most, but not too steep or exposed for an advanced skier. If I were to ever actually get out of bed on time, skiing from the Summit of James Peak, then dropping into Starlight would be an added bonus.

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