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Orient Express Couloir


This giant couloir is one of Denali's great ski lines

Ski Touring Severe

4.1 km
110 m
1.9 km
1-2 hrs
Low Point
4.4 km
High Point
6.2 km
Orient Express Couloir Map

Along with the Messner Couloir, the Orient Express is the best way to descend Denali on skis. A fantastic natural ski line, it is sustained at 40-45 degrees for more than 1,000 meters although it is slightly less steep and serious than the Messner.


In the 1970s, several Korean and Japanese climbers slipped and fell to their death while using it as a descent. This is how its politically incorrect name came to be. First skied in 1996, the Orient Express typically sees a handful of descents each year.

Like the Messner, it is never extremely steep. It is unusual however to find good uniform snow top to bottom and in hard snow conditions it is a no fall zone.

The line can be climbed from 14k Camp or skied onsight as for the Messner. In soft snow conditions and given the altitude, it will be exhausting to climb so many teams opt to climb the West Buttress and drop in top down. The Orient is an awesome way to make a complete ski descent off Denali starting from the summit.

The steepest section is at the top, and it is not always evident where the best point to enter it is. Being predominantly west facing, both the Orient and Messner get the best light mid afternoon through the evening. Once in the couloir the route finding is very obvious. For an alternative and slightly more serious route, it's possible to drop into the West Rib from halfway down the Orient and then cut hard skier's right at the exit. The best snow conditions are often found in June.



Steep skiing at 38-45 degrees. This requires very good technique and the risk of falling has serious consequences.

Medium Exposure (E2)

2 out of 4

As well as the slope itself, there are some obstacles (such as rock outcrops) which could aggravate injury.


3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

between May and June


  • Face
  • Alpine
  • Cliffs
  • Couloir
  • Ski Mountaineering

Equipment required

  • Rope
  • Ice axe
  • Crampons
  • Glacier kit

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area