Photos by Michael Aasheim

I’m drawn to super tight, pinner couloirs. So much so that I’ve dedicated a large portion of my life to finding, traveling and shredding them. And while an open powder field, waist deep blower in the trees, or an untouched bowl is enticing, they don’t capture my mind the way a rock walled, narrow couloir does. I’m guessing many of you reading this feel the same way.

For those of us who live in Salt Lake City we are greeted daily with eye candy on our morning commutes. The Salt Lake Twins, Medusa Face, Cold Fusion, Coalpit Headwall, and if you look close enough you can see the NW Couloir of the Pfeifferhorn from I-215. One line that I had stared at for years, been close to more times than I could count, but had never ridden was The Notch on the west face of Lone Peak. It’s not the longest or most dramatic line, but it’s like a gunsight staring right at the heart of South Salt Lake County, which upped the intrigue factor for me.

So never having ridden it, and with 12” of new snow on a stable base, Michael Aasheim, Justin Morgan (Jamo) and I decided it was time head up and have a look. We met well before sunrise and parked right off of Wasatch Blvd. at a trailhead in the city. As we climbed towards the Big Willow Cirque, the homes that stood as the gateway to our ascent became mere flickers of light. 3800’ into our 5400’ ascent, the Notch and the striking walls of the Cirque came into view. Our approach took us along the northern flank of the cirque to avoid the avalanche prone NW facing powder fields. As we took turns breaking trail I couldn’t help but stare at the gorgeous granite and the numerous smaller lines on the SW facing walls, none of which were continuous…, or so I had been told. As we passed the centerline of the that wall, I thought I saw a sliver of light in the shadow, possibly indicating a continuous line. The sliver of light only lasted for a brief moment as we pushed on towards The Notch.

I cached that vision in my memory bank as we switched from skins to Verts and began our knee bootpack. We gained the col, hydrated, and switched to ski and board mode for the descent. There was no need for ro-sham-bo on this trip, the boys let me drop first and wow was it good! Each turn in the steep couloir threw rooster tails of pow as I screamed down onto the apron below. Jamo dropped second, Mike third and they both ripped the line in perfect conditions.

We met in the flats below the apron for high fives and a victory sandwich as we were thrilled at how good the snow was! While eating I brought up the sliver of light on the middle line on the SW facing rock wall again. After some discussion, we all agreed we’d go in and have a look.

We transitioned, and headed up. As we got about half way up the line, it didn’t look overly promising and I started feeling bad for the misguided attempt. As we rounded a corner, on the lookers right the regret passed as a perfect pinner couloir, a mere 200cm wide, emerged with passage to the top. It wasn’t as long as the infamous Heart of Darkness Couloir two canyons over, but held striking similarities. We chuckled as we entered the line because it felt too good to be true. Hidden in plain sight, the walls were so vertical and equidistant in width, that from almost any angle besides directly in front of it, they superimpose making it look like a uniform wall. As we transitioned we joked that we’d call it the Heart of Happiness because of its similarities to it’s sinister sister to the north, and how happy I was that I didn’t lead the group astray.

Jamo dropped first, put in a couple of jump turns and then let loose. I followed suite, put one jump turn to check snow and then pinned it. After putting away the camera, Mike jumped turned through the slot, exited and put in super-g turns all the way down to us. We proceeded to ride powder for another 2k until we hit the trail. Here is when we would usually switch to hiking boots, but because of the big snow year in the Wasatch we were able to ride / ski all the way to the car. Then in proper SLC fashion, we caravanned to our favorite Mexican restaurant for a late lunch and geeked out over the incredibly fun day!

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Mike Meru

What do you think the coming (Covid) winter will look like in the backcountry?

My hope is that with all the outreach Avalanche Centers have done, that the influx of backcountry newbies will get the proper tools, education, and start in mellow terrain. As for me, I’ll be venturing deeper to avoid the crowds!

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