Mt. San Antonio – North Face
My history skiing Mt. Baldy's north face has typically run in one of two flavors: terrifying, or abominable. Okay, sometimes both. Baldy's north face seems particularly vulnerable to becoming icy, turning the entire north side of the mountain into a deadly-serious 40-45° skating rink. When the north side is icy (and sometimes it's hard to tell from above), your only choice is to stay away—it's not skiable.
But what happens when a January heat wave cooks all that smooth ice for a few days? How about a flawlessly smooth snowpack that hits the ideal combination of softness and hardness? DB and I peeked over the edge of the North Face last weekend (Jan 16th) and saw such a vast and inviting playground of perfect snow that I honestly think my brain tilted. Not only have I never enjoyed such perfect skiing on Baldy's north face, I don't think I've ever had such sweet turns anywhere in Southern California.
My expectations for the day were so low I didn't even bother bringing a real camera. This video was shot with my compact Canon SD940. Surprisingly, aside from autofocus issues, the video looks pretty darn good. I love that shot of me skiing off the summit, with the vast sweep of the north face in the background. What a mind-blowing bounty of backcountry skiing terrain! And check out how ridiculously smooth that snow is! Absolute perfection.
Concluding remarks: don't rush out to try this, please. With nighttime temps returning to freezing up there on Baldy, the north face is almost certainly once again a skating rink. You don't want to be anywhere near here unless conditions are just right. Treat the north face with all the respect you'd give an angry mountain lion trapped in your bathroom—stay away!
Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents
Colin January 24, 2011 at 11:51 pm
Andy, What time did you descend? 12:30? 1? Not that my (still-waiting-for-new-Intuitions-to-hopefully-relief-shinbang) shin is still in any shape to do it, but I'm just curious. Colin
Andy January 25, 2011 at 7:58 am
I think we were skiing right around 1-2pm. Face is probably back to ice now, but you never know when the next crazy heat wave will strike...
Colin January 25, 2011 at 1:09 pm
Gotcha. I figured it was somewhere thereabouts from the time of your photo of that slide. If you had to guess, how would you think the stuff off the Tramway is holding up? I'm thinking NE Face of Jean Peak and the N-facing low-angle stuff off Wellman Divide (if the latter is skiable).
Andy January 25, 2011 at 4:32 pm
Jean probably not a bad bet. This freakishly warm Jan has been annihilating the snowpack at lower elevations. Go high & pray for winter to return!
Colin January 25, 2011 at 4:34 pm
Yeah, I can see Baldy from the 55 on the drive into work every morning. A bit depressing to watch the snow retreating on a daily basis--in January. Thanks for the tip.
Dan Conger January 25, 2011 at 5:02 pm
That's frackin awesome!!! I've always wanted to ski the north face of baldy (plus a whole host of other mountains). When you start making plans to ski mountaineer the eastern sierra this spring, I'd love a heads up. I'd be willing to make the trip from the bay area and rent the equipment. No more MBA, so now I actually have time!!!
Kane January 27, 2011 at 4:05 am
Been waiting for the right conditions to drop the North face of West Baldy and will give it a go on the first of Feb. Hiked up there once already but the conditions were not quite right or I was a little nervous being solo, actually it was both. You guys looked like you had a good run congrats!
Bill January 27, 2011 at 8:49 am
Andy, I did NE side of Jean on Sunday (24th). Snow looked the same as your vid. Firm base with a nice light chalky 3 - 5 inches of snow on top. Just watch out for the fallen icicles around the trees. Went up via Wellmans Divide (crampons and ax advisable traversing east side).
Jeff January 28, 2011 at 8:30 pm
Looks awesome. I was on my way to Salt Lake that morning, and positioned myself on the left side of the plane. Too far away to see anyone, but I imagine you guys were in my field of view. Good to see that the snow pack is holding up better than I thought.
Jonathan L January 29, 2011 at 2:31 pm
Years back Mt. Baldy put together a north face OB ticket that included a guide, ski patroller, shuttle out of Lytle Creek and a bbq cooking lunch for waiting at the bottom. Best $100 I spent that year.
Bill Adams February 9, 2011 at 10:59 am
That (OB Ticket) would be great. I'd go for that in a heart beat.
Kurt February 17, 2011 at 10:01 am
Always fun to get some spring corn snow training in mid season!? Good to see you got out there for prime time conditions to schralp the gnar! Winter returns this weekend!!!!