June 1, 2010

U-Notch Ice Dancing

Here’s what I was thinking: I was nine hours deep on a ski attempt of North Palisade’s U-Notch Couloir, and all was going well until the easy snow I was climbing abruptly transitioned to ice thirty vertical feet or so below the top of the couloir. The ice was steep—probably 45° to 50°—and it definitely wasn’t skiable...but there was a patch of powdery snow immediately below, on a slightly flatter pitch, that could with some optimism be viewed as a sort of marginal safety net.

The prudent choice was to stop right there and ski down. Instead, I decided to keep climbing and try to manage the ice on skis. I knew there was a good chance my edges would break loose, but I also knew there was a good chance I’d be able to stop once I hit the powder pillow below. So...it’s possible to say everything went exactly according to plan.

On the other hand, when I did break loose, the speed and violence of it was terrifying. At a 45 degree angle, on ice, your acceleration is basically equivalent to free fall. When I started sliding my angular momentum caused my body to rotate so that my ski tails were pointing downward. This complication, as you might imagine, was not something I had anticipated. All in all, it was a sobering reminder, for those of us who practice the art (or madness) of high-angle skiing, just how close the edge is when you’re standing on skis, on a steep slope, deep in the heart of an icy wilderness.

8 Responses to “U-Notch Ice Dancing”

Leave a Comment:

more video:

Sunset at Plateau PointSunset at Plateau Point
What The Heck Happened to Windsurfing?What The Heck Happened to Windsurfing?
Olancha Peak PanoramaOlancha Peak Panorama
Summer Ski TipsSummer Ski Tips
Lounging on Hammock in FlagstaffLounging on Hammock in Flagstaff

Andy Lewicky

ANDY LEWICKY is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer who enjoys good books, jasmine tea, long walks in the rain, and climbing and skiing the big peaks of the California Sierra. email | follow