The Slot Couloir
December 29, 2020
Okay okay, so...
I know some of you are reading this title here and thinking "uhg, a trip report for the Slot?! That's skied so much, it might as well be considered an Alpy resort run!" And yea, fair. It is a very well skied couloir. That said, just because something is skied frequently doesn't mean it is an easy pass or a no-brainer of a ski. I think this couloir deserves as much respect as the other ones I've skied this year, so here is my write up!
Awkward Phantom skinning.
My husband Dan and I had taken a week off of work to do some ski touring, and we were feeling pretty psyched by the weather up at Snoqualmie. Having skied another classic yesterday, I was feeling excited to tackle a back to back day of Snoqualmie classics. We packed our bags, planning on skiing all three couloirs, the Slot, Snot, and the Crooked. Since we wanted to rappel into the Snot. we packed a rope and harness, and started skinning up the Phantom Trees.
In talking to pretty much anyone who has toured up the Phantom Trees, they'll likely tell you "ya, skinning the phantom trees sucks". And what can I say, it does. This was Dan and my first time going up the Phantom Trees, and we thought we would be faster, but somehow trying routes for the first time can simply take longer than expected. We got up to the ridge after about 2 hours and 45 minutes of skinning, dropped our rope, and looked for the entrance to the Slot.
It took us some time to find the entrance, as it isn't super clear when you first get up there. However after walking around a bit, we found the entrance and started gearing up for the downhill. We knew we were heading up to ski this a little early in the year, however we also knew people had definitely been on it and skied it fine. Looking down to the choke, however, we saw a pretty icy looking drop off. Not exactly the most inviting entrance we've encountered.
As we were scouting around, we heard two guys coming up the slope behind us. They got up to us, chatted with us as we all transitioned to ski mode, and I was relieved to find that they were friendly skiers. We found out their names were John and Todd, and I turned to them and said "if y'all are going to style this entrance, you should go ahead of us! We are probably going to side slip most of it". They responded that they too would be side slipping, however, so Dan and I prepared to go down first.
Dan standing at the constriction, peering down at the steepest part of the couloir.
Dan skiing down the couloir after the steep constriction.
Now, I don't know about you, but before this I had never really experienced a descent where I thought "dang, I am glad to have my whippet out". But for the first time, I found myself thinking that sentiment staring down the icy constriction. I positioned myself facing skiers left, and started slipping/stepping down the icy slope. "Thank God I had inadvertently practiced this just the day before with Tessa" I thought as I took my time going down the slope, sometimes gently kicking my ski in to the hill to make sure I had purchase. I had my whippet in my left hand, and when it got steep enough, I would punch it into the uphill side, as a third point of contact, being careful to still keep my weight centered over my skis and not lean into the slope too much. The steepest part of the choke had bulletproof ice just skiers right. So bulletproof, that my tails kept threatening to slide out on me. When we were chatting with John and Todd, they had suggested that it can be better to slip this choke facing skiers right, and likely the super icy section here is the reasoning. If I were to do it again, I would probably take that into better consideration.
Right as the slope eased up, however, the ice eased up as well, and we found ourselves looking down a very inviting remaining descent. Awesome. I turned and jump turned my way down, one after the other. We found that the "bergschrund" that forms in this couloir during the warm season was almost completely covered. It was easily passible at least, so we skied on past it down the apron. We skidded across the icy chunder that had formed in the apron, and stopped at the base. Dan and I looked over at each other with faces that mostly reflected excitement, but also a tinge of relief that we had made it down that icy constriction. We slapped our skins back on, and took off up the exit, which is a col just to the west of Snoqualmie mountain.
Back at our stashed ropes, we decided to check out the Snot to get a feel of what the couloir was like. When we got there, we saw that a party was already down their rappel, and getting ready to ski the couloir. Awesome! But also, we decided that since the Slot was a little icy, we didn't quite want to risk going down into the Snot to just find poor conditions as well. We decided to just get beta for this one for the future.
Looking up the Snot after skiing the Slot. The exit to the other side of Snoqualmie mountain is the col on the right side of this pic.
A party of two at the end of the rappel, preparing to ski down the Snot. So epic looking!
After seeing what we wanted of the Snot, we turned our attention to the Crooked couloir. This couloir is commonly skied like the Slot is, which made us wary of the potentially icy conditions at the top as well. We also knew that a party had triggered a wind slab the day before. This didn't really bode well for snow conditions. We saw that weather was threatening to roll in, and decided to just call it a day. We figured the descent down the Phantom Trees wouldn't necessarily be easy as well, as we guessed that the there would be a lot of icy side slipping to get back to the car. One out of three goals was better than none, and we still had an awesome day getting to know these mountains better.
Total mileage of the day - 5.99 miles
Total elevation gain - 6,696 ft - (Maybe? I kinda think my gps freaked out and didn't give me an accurate reading...)
Total time - 7 hours 53 mins
Max slope angle of the day ~ 50 degrees? Caltopo lists 60+, however I don't think it is getting a detailed enough reading. I'll have to go back with my inclinometer to get a better reading!
GPS via Strava - https://www.strava.com/activities/4536705914
Song that was stuck in my head all day - "I Wanna Get Better" by the Bleachers. Dan brought it up because the lyrics apply to getting better at putting in a good skintrack up the Phantom Trees. Particularly this part of the song:
"While my friends were getting high and chasing girls down parkway lines
I was losing my mind 'cause the love, the love, the love, the love, the love
That I gave wasted on a nice face
In a blaze of fear I put a helmet on a helmet
Counting seconds through the night and got carried away
So now I'm standing on the overpass screaming at the cars,
Hey, I wanna get better!"
Here's to getting better at skinning up those nice faces ;)