After our foray into Falling Water Creek a couple weeks ago the idea to go back and try some other runs was kicking around with friends. We got shut down by foul weather a couple times but then last week saw a bit of wind, followed by new snow and sunny stable weather. So when J.T. sent out an email inviting a crew along to give Raina and Peeking a shot I jumped on the bandwagon. This time we opted to give Raina's NE couloir a try. We'd then cross over to the couloir Eric and I skied and drop the NW couloir of Peeking. This would then require a long slog out over a ridge and peak 5320 before we could drop into Falling Water creek.
A crew of us started at the trailhead around 10ish after stopping for a while to look at a very foreboding avalanche crown on Polar Bear Peak. And so we set off - unsure what conditions were like and thinking that we might reach the top of the run and turn around and head home.
We headed up Ram Valley on excellent crust, blue sky and in perfect temps - pausing briefly to watch 2 guys ski and excellent run off the NW face of Cumulous. They encountered perfect conditions so this cheered us up a bit and we began to think we'd get to ski the run we wanted.
When we reached the SE face of Raina the crust turned to powder and our leader set off at an insane pace breaking trail up the valley as I slogged along slow as always. We reached the top of the run at 2pm and marveled at the stellar view of the Chugach in all her glory.
And then it was down to business… Conaway dropped the couloir first - finding a little bit of punchy snow followed by perfect powder. We skied the 1500' run one at a time. The couloir starts with a drop in that is probably 40+ for a couple hundred feet and then eases back to around 35 for the rest of the way. It's a perfect couloir run - moderate, a good run out and with beautiful views.
After Raina we turned and headed up the SW couloir to the notch where we all stopped and stared down the NW couloir of Peeking. The top was steep! 50ish degrees and with a very obvious pillow that you are forced to ski cut. We hemmed and hawed - each of us finding excuses not to ski first. And finally after a long debate Eric stepped up to the plate, strapped on his board and dropped in. He disappeared after only a few turns and after a while we heard a (good) shout!
We waited a few more minutes and then I dropped in. Eric had traversed above and skiers left of the pillow but I found the snow decent enough so I skied right through it finding perfect turns on the apron. After the pillow the run dropped into a deep dark couloir that continued at around 40 degrees for a few hundred feet. There was lots of sluff so I was continually pulling over to the side to let it pass. I continued on - turn after turn when suddenly I heard the sound no one wants to hear… a deep whoosh. I turned my head to see a wall of powder blasting down to my left so I quickly turned and skied to the side of the couloir where I was able to tuck up against some rocks.
But by the time I reached a (somewhat) safe zone the wall of snow had passed me and I realized it was only a powder blast coming off the walls of the peak above me. (Nevertheless I skied the rest of the run with a very elevated heart rate!)
The rest of the run was as good as the start. After the first apron you drop into a couloir that necks down to perhaps a 100' feet wide. This drops around 40 degrees and then reaches a center point where 4 branches of the couloir lead off in 4 directions forming a perfect X. I followed Eric's tracks - taking the skiers right couloir which is the widest and easiest leg. The angle eased off after a while and after skiing through mounds and mounds of debris from our sluff I found perfect snow and blasted down to meet Eric.
The others soon followed and we hung out at the bottom in the sun enjoying our euphoria and looking up at the run.
In total the run is 2300' - we called it the "X Couloir" because of the perfect X it forms. We skied the steeper of the two entrances - but the easier of two exits. If you want the perfect hard line choose the skiers right entrance and skiers left exit. The exit on skiers left is steep and narrow with walls on either side... it would be a prize!
The bottom of the run pretty much dumps you out into the middle of nowhere - so to get home we had to go over a ridge and peak 5320 before we could reach Falling Water. So up and down the ridge we went - then up the peak and finally skins were off and we did turns all the way back to the car.
In total about 11 miles and 8700'… my legs were so thrashed I had to drink my beer in the hot tub.
Lots of people have asked about the X couloir so here are some tidbits. Below is a map embed (click here if you have the Google Earth plugin). Move the map around and you can see all 4 corners of the X couloir. The steeper entrance is skiers right (SE) - the steeper exit skiers left (NW). Keep in mind that to get to the top of the X you need to first either come all the way up Falling Water or go up and over Raina and then up Peeking. To ski the top right entrance go up Peeking's SW gully which is under a huge S facing rock buttress. Once you reach the top of the gully you're at the top of the X couloir and about 500' below the summit of Peeking. It is a steep run with a very obvious wind-loaded rollover at the entrance so assess the snowpack wisely. Skiers entrance right is steep enough to where it might be prudent to carry a rope and harness so the first person down has a belay for a pit or rollover stomp before committing to it. 30m should be enough but there are no anchors so one person will have to be buried in the snow on the S side of the gully holding the rope. Once you ski the gully the best way out is up and over peak 5230' (2 ridges west) and then down Falling Water.
Please keep in mind that access to Ram Valley is touchy and neighbors are not supportive of public access. There is legitimate access but you must take the Powerline right of way that leaves from the parking lot - not the road. Once above the Powerline right of way, take the trail through the trees - not the road. Parking is limited so car pooling is advised.
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