The Out of Service Couloir goes by many different names mostly to keep people confused as to its true location. It's not really a secret, but invites to the uninitiated are rare. Fortunately, my friends are not very good at keeping secrets. This after work special is close to town and is the perfect option during breakup.
Breakup is the time between winter and tourist season. Most people write it off, but breakup can deliver the best corn skiing of the year. Daytime highs climb into the 40s and nights drop into the 20s. It is generally the first consistent above freezing temperatures of the year, so the snow that has been piling up around town pools in the day and freezes at night. A slushy, dirty, splash fest in the afternoon, and gnarled frozen mess in the morning. The banks shrink and the standing water drains. First the highways dry out, then the main roads, the side streets, and last the alleys. The process takes about 2 weeks.
But back to the skiing...
This year the snowfall around Anchorage has been above average, but along the Seward Highway between Anchorage and Girdwood snow is well below average. There was never more than a 6" base on this stretch all winter. Every time I drove by the Out of Service, my neck craned trying to determine if there was enough snow to ski it. The top top half would be well filled in, but the bottom half kept me wondering.
It must have kept most of the skiing community wondering because info on the Out of Service was non-existent in our circle. So with a great deal of skepticism, the Noodler and I decided to give it a go.
The bottom 200 vert was mostly frozen creek ice with 2" of rapidly melting slush on top. Footing was tenuous at best and downright scary at worst. We scrambled through open water, ice, slush, rocks, and overgrowth until it began to open up. At about 400' we were free from the encroaching vegetation and began to boot in earnest.
The first section of the couloir is in the low 30s and the route is obvious, but that changes at the half way point. At about 1,750' it appears that you are almost at the top. The shot gets wider and the angle eases. This is where you take the improbable left. It doesn't look very promising, but if you climb a narrow steep spit of snow you are quickly rewarded with a skier's dream.
You are suddenly in the high alpine with no vegetation and the Turnagain Arm is in your lap. The angle increases into the high 30s with steep, jagged, grey-orange walls devoid of vegetation. No more shadows, no more gully, no more wondering why you brought a helmet and whippet. Or in my case: wondering why you left your helmet and whippet at home.
|Booting Above the Crux|
|Getting Ready to Drop In|
|The Noodler in the Upper Half|