Skiing Mt. Washington's NW Bowl: Another Unemployment Line
Line Skied: NW Bowl of Mt. Washington (Oregon). 1,200', 39° max.
Total Distance: 11.7 mi, 2,900' vert.
January 24, 2023
All good things must come to an end, and after depleting my savings to a nail-biting level I was finally forced to get a job. Blackstrap, a local ski wear manufacturer here in Bend, was kind enough to offer me a position in their warehouse. After nearly three weeks of loyal service, I made plans to start at a different company in mid-February and we parted ways. Midweek skiing was back!
As Zach and I drove up towards Santiam Pass, our stomachs dropped as the temperature on his truck's thermometer rose past freezing. Inversions are a fairly common occurrence here in Central OR, but when checking weather forecasts we had missed the signs that one might occur today. A quick look on our phones at the weather reports from nearby Hoodoo Ski Resort revealed that it had not frozen overnight, making us quite concerned that we could be heading into serious wet avalanche danger up on Washington later in the day. Expectations lowered, we decided to ski in a few miles anyway to sus out the snow conditions and at least get eyes on the NW bowl.
We left Ray Benson Sno-Park around 7:15AM and headed south, scoping some skiable chutes on Hayrick Butte. I pray that when my life finally flashes before my eyes, I get to skip all the time I've spent skinning on USFS roads and snowmobile trails. After passing Big Lake we briefly joined the PCT and then cut off through a burned area, headed directly for the NW ridge. This ended up being a great decision, saving us 1.5 mi compared to staying on the PCT longer and then heading for the bowl.
|Skinning through the remnants of the 2011 Shadow Lake Fire.
After working our way up endless wind-lips on the heavily forested shoulder of the ridge, we popped out on the NW ridge and finally got a good look at the NW bowl. We soon switched to bootpacking in crampons to make navigating the rocks and wind-lips easier.
Working our way up the ridge provided fantastic views, but more importantly it gave us the chance to finally evaluate the snowpack at a similar aspect and elevation to the line we wanted to ski. The snow on top wasn't slushy, nor was there a melt-freeze crust, so we decided that the snow had not received enough melting from the sun to destabilize anything. The NW bowl was a go!
We decided that when we arrived at the rock band near where the NW ridge flattens out, we would traverse out under it and then up into the notch in the ridge. The other option would have been to go up and over these rocks and back down to the notch. The summer trail follows this path, and it probably goes in the winter as well, but booting up the final section of our line allowed us to examine the snow more closely, which was a confidence booster.
We could tell that the wind-packed powder was going to feel incredible on the descent, although it made for some tough trail-breaking for Zach. Thanks dude! I measured the steepest section of the run, about 200' long, to have a slope angle of about 39°. When we arrived at the notch in the ridge where we planned to transition we found a brilliant little flat spot along a cliff and popped our skis on. The winds that had been present ever since getting above tree line were hammering us now, so we didn't waste much time.
|Voile: their skis are just as good as their straps.
I dropped in first, and just as predicted, the skiing felt incredible! Consistently steep, soft turns on reliable snow. Very pleasurable. I stopped and waited for Zach near a stand of trees, then we finished the run together.
Instead of skiing all the way to the bottom of the bowl, we stopped near the edge of the NW ridge and booted back up to it. Right as we hit the top, the sun came out and we enjoyed the warmth while we refueled. We began to reflect on the day, agreeing that it vastly exceeded our expectations. We were thrilled with the snow, weather, and even our own level of fitness for once.
|Photo: Zach Smith
Booting back up to the ridge allowed us to ski out our skin track for about 1.4 miles, saving us more time and energy as opposed to skiing to the bottom of the bowl and then skinning from there. The rest of the skin out was uneventful, and we made it back to car around 3PM.