Allison Clay

Dave Braun and I took a spring break trip to Flagstaff, Arizona this past week to ski some of the big lines on my hometown mountain, the San Francisco Peaks.

Initially I was concerned there wouldn't be enough snow, and then a series of late-season storms hit, so the concern shifted to too much snow—or rather, too much instability.

As it was, we worked our way around the volcano over the course of the week, trying to time the aspects for snow quality and safety. Ultimately we didn't get to ski everything I was hoping for, but we did enjoy a fine sampling of the Peaks' ridiculously good backcountry skiing.

"Allison Clay" is a big, classic avalanche path on the mountain's west side.

Though this line doesn't tend to slide all that often, don't be fooled by that western aspect—as you look up the hill, the right ridgeline creates a northeast slope that wind-loads.

In fact, a skier triggered a large slide in exactly that spot during yet another storm a few days after we skied it.

You are looking at one of the sites of my earliest backcountry skiing adventures. My little brother and I did the long out-of-bounds traverse several times from the top of the Arizona Snowbowl's chairlift way back in the 1980's.

At the time we just called this the "west chute." As far as I can tell, the slide paths were named during a survey of the mountain's avalanche paths by NAU researchers and then compiled into a map by geologist Leland Dexter.

Allison Clay was a Scottsdale teen who died of exposure in an unexpected New Year's Eve storm in 1972 while camping with her mountaineering club somewhere near the top of the slide path that bears her name.

As chutes go this one is surely a beauty, a long, exquisite, symmetrical hourglass, roughly 2000 vertical feet high. I'd stay away from it in storms.

(Note: for a good overview of the mountain's west side, see my Kendrick Peak video)

— April 5, 2024

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

Norman Clyde April 8, 2024 at 8:53 pm

awesome, bet baden wow is in good shape now. supposed to be more snow this weekend!

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