Powell’s Prayer

How about a little time traveling today? We're setting the WayBack Machine for some skinny-ski fun in Northern Arizona's beautiful San Francisco Peaks. You might think I'm crazy, but the Peaks have some of my all-time favorite backcountry skiing terrain. Plus—as is so evident here—fantastically light and dry powder snow.

The San Francisco Peaks are the remnants of a big volcano that blew its top long ago. Geologists speculate the mountain stood around 16,000' high before the big boom. On the plus side, the explosion created Inner Basin, a giant, horseshoe-shaped basin which is what remains of the original volcano's crater.

Inner Basin is easily accessed via the Arizona Snow Bowl's main chairlift, which gets you within 500 vertical feet of the rim. Drop down the backside into backcountry skiing paradise, including Core Ridge, which features the steepest terrain on the entire mountain (for more color on this exciting part of the Peaks, check out Falling Headfirst Down an Ice Cliff ).

The video features me (red and blue jacket, teal pack) and friends skiing Inner Basin back in March 1990(!), including a traverse along Core Ridge to a steep north-facing couloir we named "Powell's Prayer" in honor of a big fall our friend took down it on what might have been the first descent. It's possible another Flagstaff skier beat us to it all the way back in the 1970's; however, there are many north facing couloirs off Core Ridge, so there was some confusion as to which one he'd actually skied.

During this trip I set my all-time Big Air record: about 30 vertical feet. I know—not much by today's standards. On the first pass, I approached the headwall tentatively and barely cleared the snow. So I hit it again, this time determined to take flight by ramping up my speed. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), I flew well beyond the landing zone and bombed into the flats.

This inspired two friends behind me to go big as well, with mostly similar results. After that, we traversed to the couloir, which probably averaged 45° in steepness and pinched down to right around 205cm at the choke point—coincidentally the length of my vintage Rossi GS boards. Ah, good times. Enjoy the video!

— October 31, 2009

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

Mike November 2, 2009 at 7:52 am

Blowin' cold smoke... Beautiful man.

Dan Conger November 3, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Cool video. One of the things about the southwest (I mean So Cal on into Arizona) is that there really is some fantastic terrain down there. But, at average snowfall less than 200" a year just doesn't provide adequate, consistent coverage for terrain like that ... especially when you couple that small snowpack with the intense sunshine that tends to burn the slopes to oatmeal in the afternoons even in January. I'll have to get down and do some hikers out of the Arizona Snowbowl sometime ...

Bill November 3, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Ah, man. Loved it.

Andy November 4, 2009 at 9:34 am

Dan, an El Nino year can put 400+ inches of snow on the San Francisco Peaks.

Bill, looking back at those shots of powder billowing up against the sky, I sometimes think I was crazy to ever leave that mountain. :)

Dan Conger November 4, 2009 at 9:56 am

Well, hopefully this year's El Nino pans out then. I'd love to hit Waterman, Baldy, and other southern spots during a year when the terrain is actually covered.

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