The Backcountry Scene

Attempting the 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America

 

Last spring New Hampshire had a few sunny and powdery days, and luckily my quick trip from the Wasatch lined up perfectly on Mount Washington. I’d been emailing with local East Coast ripper Ben Leoni, who he was available and wanting to ski, so we spent a grand day skiing the Central Couloir in Huntington Ravine, the Diagonal Couloir, then after topping out on Mount Washington, we dropped into Tuckerman’s Ravine and finally finished the 7,000 foot day with a run down Dodge’s. Two of these lines are in the coffee table book Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North Americaand by sliding down them I finished off my 24th and 25th routes from the book. I’d been toying with the idea and exploring the daydream of skiing all the lines for the past several years, but such a massive and unlikely project made me reluctant to admit that this is what I was working towards. But, when I hit the halfway point it seemed like it actually could be possible, if still highly improbable.

 The start of this ridiculousness began before the book was even published. In the early 2000’s I skied my first “classic”—the south face of Mount Superior—and through the years I went on to preemptively descend Mount Shasta, Terminal Cancer in the Ruby Mountains, the Mountaineer’s Route on Mount Whitney and even the remote Polar Star Couloir in Baffin Island along with a few others. When the book, written by Penn Newhard, Chris Davenport and Art Burrows was released in 2010, I bought a copy along with every other backcountry skier who enjoys the steep end. I thumbed and drooled my way through it in awe of the incredible images and massive descents, but never considered ticking them all. I shelved the book where it collected dust and went skiing.

 Over the next few years I “accidentally” ticked of the Patriarch in Montana, McGowan, The Sickle in the Sawtooths and the Giant Staircase on Mount Williamson in the Sierra. After someone mentioned those lines were in the book, I took another look and realized of the 50 classic lines listed in the book, I had skied some of the more rare and difficult ones. This planted the small seed that just maybe, they could all be skied, or at least visited and given an attempt.  This was a natural progression after having skied all the lines in the Chuting Gallery, which holds many of the classics in the Wasatch. The hunt led me throughout the western U.S. enjoying great turns on the Devil’s Bedstead in Idaho, North Maroon Bell in Colorado, and Mount Tukanikavits in Utah.

 The last few seasons my focus narrowed and the intensity ramped up as I chased high pressure systems, avoided areas of avalanche hazard and with good friends and partners skied my way through to the halfway point. The Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America really presents a glorious challenge with unique adventures built into each attempt like the twelve mile approach and exit on Mount Stimson deep in Glacier National Park, a steep bike assisted entry to Mount Holy Cross in Colorado, the frozen lake crossing to access Mount Moran, and the dry-land hike required for entry on Mount Hood.

 I’ve been reporting on my descents here in Ascent Backcountry Snow Journalover the past few seasons, and this year they created and awarded me the inaugural Cutting Edge Ski Grant,given out to those attempting lines or skiing projects with modern significance. I’m honored and excited to have this support as I continue to line up conditions and weather on some of the most beautiful and prized ski lines in North America.

  I may be naive to think this project is possible—the real challenges still lay ahead in the Coast Range and Rockies of Canada, not to mention the expeditions to Alaska. However, the winter of 2019 is off to a great start and I’m planning to dive deeper into the pages of this adventurous volume of what to me is the greatest form of literature, the kind you can ski.

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Noah Howell

Noah Howell

This winter I...


This winter I hope to spend the early season gaining fitness and skiing powder in the backyard of the Wasatch. When mid-season is here I'll be traveling to Canada and a few fun spots in the lower 48 states. Spring will most likely mean another month or so in Alaska working on making turns on some big peaks.

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