Pastoral Peak (Fat Santa Claus Chute)

High pressure pushed over Southcentral Alaska so I rounded up a group and on Saturday we headed down to Turnagain Pass for yet another day of powder skiing. We started out with a large group – 6 in total – and headed up and over Taylor Pass. However at the pass Eric the Viking’s hip started bugging him so Dan (once again fresh from surgery) and Eric bailed and skied a run off Gold Pan instead of heading down to Pastoral.

Yvonne, Eric (Parsons), Bryce and I continued up towards Pastoral – eyeing the tracked up North face and the untracked West face. However once we reached the col, Fat Santa Claus chute beckoned. I dropped my pack, lead out and broke trail up to the high point to scope the route with Eric right behind me. The descent down to the col looked steep and exposed but doable so we turned around, consulted with the others, then grabbed our gear and started across.

The traverse was steep and exposed – but Sketchy Snow Eric plowed a nice path and spotted me while I downclimbed the crux. Yvonne and Bryce followed and I spotted them in a couple spots – the crux being a rock step in a no fall zone with snow pits for handholds. It took a while but soon we were across the ridge and down to the col.

Fat Santa Claus looked good – but Eric was already up on top of the dome scoping the south face. We joined him and dug a pit which resulted in a 4 foot column of compact snow. We couldn’t turn down the run – it being one that normally you wouldn’t dare ski so we dropped the steep dome; Eric zooming down with sweeping epic turns on his snowboard, followed by Byce, Yvonne and myself. Unfortunately the run looked better than it skied; 1500’of breakable crust, ice and muck. It sucked but Eric was at the bottom so Yvonne and I dropped the entire run. Bryce – the smart one – pulled out half way and booted back to the col wondering why we would consider the lower half!

At the bottom we tried to skin back up but the snow was sun baked, crusty and steep so we had to boot the entire run – an endless slope of step kicking with the sun beating down on us. It was bad!

Back at the top we dug another pit – this time in Fat Santa Claus Chute which is north facing. There was a layer of hoar frost about 2 feet down, but I had to practically jump up and down 10 times to get it to fail so we all felt pretty good about the snowpack. I got first tracks – which is nice but I tend to be chicken so I skied it slowly and kept pulling out to the side to let the sluff stream by. The others skied it a lot faster and better than me and soon we were all at the base exhilarated. Once everyone regrouped I continued on – the run dropping another 1000′ down a gully with perfect snow. Eric cruised down after me carving giant turns and riding the gully like a terrain park.

The euphoria was pretty high so before it wore off I suggested yet another run and without any discussion Yvonne put her head down and started skinning back up with all of us in tow. We skinned up to the bowl that is NorthEast of Santa Claus and then had a long run back to the creek, followed by a nice tour out Lyon to the col that drops you back to the Sunburst parking lot.

A 10 hour day with about 11 miles of travel and around 6000′ feet of skiing. We were all sun-burned and trashed!

Edit: Since I posted this I’ve had about 200 conversations with 200 people regarding where Santa Claus chute actually is. The Viking faction claims it is the large broad gully inbetween the two sub-peaks NE of Pastoral. The Ron faction claims it is the chimney-like drop just off the dump due N of the Pastoral col. Thus I have started calling the broad chute Fat Santa Claus and the thin chute Santa Claus.