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Backcountry Ski Tour to Snow Lake

Snoqualmie Pass, WA

May 13, 2011


Andrew Marvel and I got out backcountry skiing today and made a tour around Snow Lake. We met at 7am but it took us a little longer to get out of town because I had left my roll of duct tape on my front porch when we were loading up. Duct tape is always a useful thing to have with you but in my case it was a necessity.

Earlier this week I purchased a pair of Dynafit 7 Summit skis. I had been looking at this model all season long so I was very excited to find a used pair in good condition at a great price. At this time of the season (late spring) Dynafit bindings are hard to find, but my friend Ian Maple had a pair sitting around that he wasn't using so he let me borrow them. Thank you Ian! At the end of the month I'm participating in the Bellingham Ski to Sea relay race, and for my leg (Downhill) I get to run (hike) up the Mt Baker Ski area carrying my skis, and then ski down. Skins are not allowed so my new lightweight ski/binding setup is ideal. Thursday night I realized that while I didn't need skins for the race, I definitely needed skins for my planned ski trip with Andrew....hence the duct tape to make an old pair of skins I had laying around work.

Andrew and I arrived at Lot 3 of the Alpental parking lot around 8:30am and we were the second car. As we were leaving the trailhead another car pulled up with two skiers. They had skied Pineapple basin earlier in the week and were headed higher up today towards Chair Peak. We wished them a good day and headed up the cat track trail. Andrew has been using Dynafit bindings on his Atomic Kailus setup so he gave me some tips. This was my first experience with Dynafit bindings and I must say I was really impressed with how efficient this system was. The fact that these 170cm Dynafit skis are about half the weight of my 191cm Atomic R:EX's was a bonus as well.

We were amazed at how much snow was still at the pass. I would bet that Snoqualmie Pass has a significant amount of more snow now then it did in January or early February. Driving in we couldn't see any bare spots at Alpental. We had been planning on skiing Alpental on Cinco de Mayo when they offer $5 lift tickets but we (and alot of other people) were disappointed when they closed operations the week before. I was second chair on May 5th three seasons ago. Good times!

We made good time skinning up the boot track/skin track towards Source Lake. We stopped at the frozen lake to take a break and the other two skiers caught up to us and continued up towards Chair Peak. Andrew and I had never skied the back side of the ridge that divides the Alpental valley from Snow lake so we decided to follow them up. We could see numerous debris fields so we initially tried to stay to the right near the trees but it was slow going so we cut back left and made our way up through the avalanche debris to Thumb rock below Chair Peak.

We made our way up the gap that cuts through the ridge extending down from the Northeast buttress of Chair Peak and were treated to a spectacular view to the Glacier Peak region. It was a beautiful sunny day and things were starting to warm up so we quickly took off our skins, locked in our heels, and skied down to the lake. We followed the other skier's tracks as they made a traversing descent towards the north end of the lake. The best part came early as we skied down a steep gulley. From there we traversed under Chair Peak to another debris field which we had to pick our way through.

As we got closer to the lake the snow was much softer and we kicked off a few wet slides. A hundred feet above the lake we spotted the other two skiers skinning across the frozen lake. While skiing down a steep pitch, Andrew almost slid into a bergshrund and had to take his skis off to negotiate his way around it. Once down at the lake we put our heads down and tried to ski as quickly as we could to the other end. Being on a frozen lake on a warm day in mid May did not make us feel very comfortable.

We skinned up the short ridge to where we could ski back down to Source Lake and then back out to the parking lot. It was about 3:30pm by this time and the snow was like skiing through oatmeal. Not the instant kind, either. Even through the trees we kicked off numerous wet slides that carved troughs 100 feet down the mountain. Once we reached Source Lake we felt a little more easy.

Thanks, Capt'n, for a great day ski touring!