BEST SIDE-COUNTRY AND UNMARKED LINES | CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN
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1. BRAIN DAMAGE
This iconic and challenging couloir is for experts only
This iconic and challenging couloir is for experts only. Starting at the summit of the King, Brain Damage is the obvious steep couloir to the right of a north-facing rocky buttress. At 800 vertical feet from the summit to the bottom of the upper basin, Brain Damage is relentless. The couloir starts steep. Watch for cornices at the top, especially just to the right of the center. The easiest entry is on the left, but is a no-fall zone at it hangs above the rocky buttress mentioned above.
A few turns in, this chute narrows down to about a ski-length wide. Control your speed through here as it steepens up below over a rocky band. Work the sides of the chute (which are not as prominent below the upper choke point) to avoid a sloping rocky outcropping that often plagues this otherwise spectacular couloir early season. Below the chute widens a little for some steep, consistent north-facing snow. The snow here can often be creamy and soft when the rest of the ski area is baked or slushy. Watch for avalanche debris at the base of this chute.
FATMAP RATING: ★★★★★
Difficulty: Very Difficult Seriousness: Quite Serious Max Gradient: 44° Total Vert: 227m Distance: 0.4km Aspect: N
Difficulty: Very Dificult Seriousness: Quite serious Max Gradient: 47° Total Vert: 142m Distance: 0.3km Aspect: E
2. LITTLE AK (a.k.a A. BASIN BUTTRESS)
A prominent rocky buttress offering numerous lines, mostly requiring mandatory air
A prominent rocky buttress offering numerous lines, A-Basin Buttress, which locals call Little AK for its similarity to large Alaskan spines, is for experts only. The top of A-Basin Buttress is guarded by a few trees, which protect the entrance from cornice build up. The steep run falls away over the edge, with only the tops of small alpine firs visible from the entrance. In good snow conditions, it’s possible to ski vertical spines over this rollover.
A narrow couloir runs diagonally along the bottom of the buttress, and can be accessed from the upper left. Access from either Southback gate along the Throne ridge boot pack. Traverse around the back of the Throne to Avalanche Basin (A-Basin). Continue along the traverse behind this prominent feature and sidestep or boot pack through the thin trees to the top.
FATMAP RATING: ★★★★★
3. THE NOSE
This popular, short face offers great turns at the terminus of Lizard’s Back Ridge
This popular, short face offers great turns at the terminus of Lizard’s Back Ridge, which starts at the summit of The King and separates Silver Basin and Avalanche Basin. Access from the summit of The King, following the ridge until it fans out to a steep open face. Watch for cornices along the ridge. The Nose starts shallow and quickly steepens near tall trees that mark its entrance. This slope avalanches regularly; watch out for wind-loading. At the bottom, work your way left to Elizabeth Lake and back to Queens Run.
FATMAP RATING: ★★★★
Difficulty: Difficult Seriousness: Quite Serious Max Gradient: 38° Total Vert: 449m Distance: 1.6km Aspect: E
Difficulty: Difficult Seriousness: Serious Avg. Gradient: 43° Total Vert: 1701m Distance: 4.4km Aspect: SW
4. The Doors (aka Tree Run)
A series of steep, open glades
A series of open glades, The Doors is thus named for its various “openings” in the trees. Officially this area is called Tree Run, but that name is losing popularity. Each “door” reveals another long open slope through this otherwise heavily treed slope. This is a great place to find good snow on a powder day. Once Green Valley and the Frontside are tracked up, head to The Doors and work the edges of the trees. You can often find a few fresh lines, but this popular run gets skied out by mid-morning.
The first two doors offer the longest vertical, but end up in the tight trees above the Sunnyside Road. Watch for the transition onto this cat track, especially early season. The two right-hand doors offer more options, as you can head right into more open terrain above Lucky Shot when the trees tighten up. Either way, end up on Lucky Shot and continue to the bottom of Rainier Express for another lap.
. FATMAP RATING: ★★★★★
This north-facing basin holds powder for days after a storm. It’s straight forward pitch and easy uptrack make for a fun day
This north-facing basin holds powder for days after a storm. It’s a straightforward pitch and easy uptrack make for a fun day. Avoid traversing below avalanche slopes. This is true backcountry. Carry proper equipment and ski or ride with a partner. Once you arrive at the bottom of the basin, set your skin track on the climber’s left side of the bowl in the small trees, attaining the ridge before it gets too steep.
Watch for cornices along the ridge as you make your way to the top of the bowl. Multiple lines abound, getting more challenging on the skier’s right. Early season, individual chutes are apparent, but with more snow the entire basin fills in. Watch out for avalanches, cornices, cliffs and tree wells.
FATMAP RATING: ★★★★★
Difficulty: Very Difficult Seriousness: Serious Max Gradient: 44° Total Vert: 398m Distance: 1.6km Aspect: N