Sunday, April 29, 2012

Coon Hill Ski - 4.28.2012

Since returning from Alaska a week and a half ago I've stuck around the Front Range to look for jobs and spend some time with my family. As a bonus, I've had the chance to ski a couple lines that I've eyed for years. Coon Hill is one of these lines.

At 12,750 feet, Coon Hill is barely a bump on a topo map, but its relative relief from surrounding terrain, interesting north face, and proximity to Loveland Ski Area made it something that I have always wanted to ski.

On Saturday, Brennan, Grete, and I parked at the West Portal of the Eisenhower Tunnel and headed to the basin below Coon Hill. The almost instant access to this basin, available mid-winter as well, is one of best parts of Coon Hill. Brennan on the mini-approach:

After a quick skin up the valley, we headed west towards the south ridge of Coon Hill.

Just like the skin up the valley, the skin to the ridge line was quick, but the forecast of high winds had me anxiously awaiting its arrival. Luckily, the winds were just strong enough to keep us cool in the bright April sun. Soon, we were finishing off the short ridge to the summit.

The summit brought the usual beautiful views of any bluebird day in the Colorado high-country. Buffalo Mountain in the foreground with Mount of the Holy Cross anchoring the horizon:

Brennan enjoying the views from the top:

After a blustery break on the summit we headed towards one of the many lines available on the north face. As the chute directly off the summit was not in, we dropped into the prominent chute just to the west.

Concerned about wind loading from the previous day's storm I ski cut the slope, finding 10 inches of well bonded creamy powder. Brennan dropped first, and watching him ski the upper 1/3 of the line I was stoked, the snow looked incredible.

Grete followed, skiing past Brennan into the gut of the line:

As Grete passed Brennan we could hear the unmistakable sound of ice. The next 1/3 of the line was rock hard.

But, somehow, by the bottom 1/3 of the line, the snow had turned back into creamy spring pow:

Any day in the mountains is a good day:

Protected from the consistent summit winds, we ate a quick lunch and enjoyed the beauty around us:

Then headed back up:

Just like the descent, the snow on the climb alternated between deep drifts of soft snow, and nearly impenetrable ice. As none of us had bothered to bring our crampons or ice axes, these hard sections slowed us down a bit. Brennan did his best to avoid the ice completely:

Despite the hard snow, we soon reached the upper chute:

Finishing the climb within the rock walls of the chute:

Back at the top we had 1600 vertical feet of creamy snow to look forward to. Because of the low snow year the main summit chute is barely in, but we found entertaining terrain just down the ridge:

After the upper pitch our routes diverged, I found a skinny choke to straightline, while Grete and Brennan picked this zone:

The snow and coverage remained great to the valley floor,

before quickly disintegrating (insert ex-stream skier joke here):

As always I'm happy to check out a new area, especially with two great friends. The access to Coon Hill is nearly unbeatable, and there is steep and interesting terrain on the north face, I'm looking forward to coming back here in the future.

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