Broken Top 2-for-1: A la Mode and 3 O'clock Couloir

Just the facts: 

Lines: A la Mode (650', ~40°) and 3 O'clock Couloir (500', ~40°) 

Mountain: Broken Top 9,175', Oregon Cascades

Terrain skied: 2,440' of elevation, 5.0 miles.

Taken from the opposite side of the Crater Bowl, Dec. 2022. 


Broken Top is central Oregon's steep skiing playground. She's relatively accessible and holds an incredible density of lines throughout her crater and outer flanks, from the fairly relaxed to ones that make my sphincter slam shut just thinking about them. Add to that the fact that she's just goddamn beautiful to look at. 

Told you. 

When I say relatively accessible, I'm comparing Broken Top to her cousins that are set deep into the wilderness, such as Diamond Peak or Mt. Jefferson. Broken Top is still a solid 5-6 miles from plowed pavement. That's why its super neat that I got hit by another driver in November and had a little insurance money burning a hole in my pocket, which I decided to spend on a Moonbike. For those not acquainted, its essentially a way dorkier, electric Timber Sled. So while I might still be having back pain from the crash, at least now I don't have to camp overnight to ski Broken Top like last year!

Just two ingredients guarantee a successful ski mission. 

Just a few inches of snow had fallen since a multi-day rainstorm in the mountains that had turned most of the snowpack bullet-hard, so neither of us were too optimistic about what the snow might hold. At least the corduroy on the snowmobile trails allowed us to cruise on the Moonbike. 

Moonica Lewinsky, everybody. 

As we started skinning towards Broken Top, the fog gave the impression that I was looking  at the mountain through a foggy shower door. 

No, I didn't forget to de-fog my lens this time. 

The defining feature of Broken Top is the U-shaped Crater Bowl, a powerful reminder of the violent forces that shape the geology of the Cascades. Most lines in the crater obey nomenclature based on a clock: the true summit at the northern end of the crater is 12:00, and the rest of the lines take their names from their position relative to that. The entrance to the crater is at 6:00. Our original plan had been to ski High Noon, the face directly under the summit headwall. However, from a distance we can tell that the rain runnels lining the run were quite deep, and we decided to find something with fewer booby traps. 

Fortunately for us, on Broken Top one is never more than a few hundred feet from a great line. A la Mode, just off to our right, looked enticing. Neither of us had ever skied it. This rig always caught my eye due to its interesting funnel shape and prominent position at the entrance to the crater. 


As we skinned, the snow would go from soft, wind-blown pow to icy crust and back again over the course of 20 feet. Through the miracle of self-deception I was convinced that our descents today would hold nothing but the former. Soon after starting to actually climb we switched to bootpacking. 

Ball Butte on the left, Mt. Bachelor on the right. Photo: Axell Beskar.

The easiest way to approach this line would be to follow the tail end of the fairly gentle ridge that eventually becomes the crater rim, but we were already too far into the crater and so we went straight up through the small trees.

Check him out. @volcanoskier

 Not too long after we reached the corniced ridgeline and could see over into the No Name Lake basin, a slightly surreal landscape of sweeping volcanic rock of snow. The upper bowl of A la Mode spread out in front of us, and it looked amazing!  

Picking my way towards the upper bowl. Photo: Axell Beskar.

We booted up to the snow saddle at the top of the bowl and found a small moat up against some rocks to transition. Neither of us were in any hurry to get out of there, so we just enjoyed the view. 

Imagine being stuck on that turd pile on a day like this lmao.

Axell transitioned first and immediately started making tight turns through the first few rocks, and then carving big arcs once he was out in the open. 

I'll go ahead and apologize now for how many photos are going to be screengrabs of video. 

He entered the choke and was out of sight. A minute passed, then I heard his voice come over the radio, saying that the camera was rolling and it was my turn. 

As my edges first bit the snow I could tell that it wasn't going to be quite as great as I had told myself it would be, but it was still pretty damn fun! You had to keep your eyes peeled for what was going to be soft snow and what was going to be rime on crust, but if you timed it right you could cut all your turns in pow. Gathering some speed on such a long, open descent felt incredible after skiing mostly short, treed-in runs all season. You could tell that the snow line from the last storm had sat right at the height of the choke point, because as soon as things got tighter and curved to the right, the crust got a whole lot nastier. It wasn't tight or steep enough to be scary, but my quads weren't loving it. 

Photo: Axell Beskar

We took a long break in the bottom of the crater. I had forgotten my sunglasses at the car and only had the clear lenses to my goggles. At this point I was glad just to have the chance to cover my eyes with my hands for a few minutes. By some energetic alignment deep in the steering currents of the universe, Axell and I had both ended up Kanye West stuck in our heads during the last run. We decided that the situation called for some 808s and Heartbreak as we made our way towards the 3 O'clock Couloir. 


3 O'clock is deeper into the crater than A la Mode; the two are separated by a huge cliff band that stretches from the crater rim down to the bottom. We didn't even bother to throw skins on, opting for crampons instead. The climber's right side of the chute was still in the shade, glorious shade, which was a welcome relief for my eyes. Kanye was playing on Axell's phone but we were far enough apart that I couldn't really make it out. Luckily for me he would blurt out a chorus every now and then to let me know what song we were listening to. 

Photo: Axell Beskar

3 O'clock wasn't as steep as A la Mode, but being hemmed in by cliffs on both sides gave it a wild quality nonetheless. The top of the run is a corniced saddle between cliffs without a great spot to transition, so we each chopped out a small platform to stand on while we delicately tried to click into our bindings. Chopping out a step wide enough and long enough for two skis takes a long time, longer than I felt like dedicating to the task. I paid for my laziness a minute later when I nearly dropped my ski while trying to put it on, hunched over and cursing myself as I tried to use my hand to put enough force on the bottom of my ski to get the springs on the toe piece to engage. 


I won't ever get tired of this. 


Oops. Photo: Axell Beskar.

My turn to drop first. Once again, the snow was a perfect 50/50 split of soft snow and rime, layered across the slope by the old rain runnels. Despite the skiing not being the best, the position was too amazing not to have a big grin the whole way down. 

Axe man styles it!

We regrouped at the bottom and then skied the rest of the way out of the crater. My legs were absolutely cooked by this point, and sometimes it felt more like a fight to just stay upright than real skiing. The elevation gain for the day, just under 2,500', really wasn't much, but the fact that it all came as steep bootpacking took it out of me. 

Looking back on a great day. A la Mode is the funnel-shaped run on the right face. 3 O'clock is tucked out of sight just past it. 

I came to a stop outside the mouth of the crater and looked back. Axell wasn't far behind, laying arcs on the low angle rollers. The whole crater spread out before me, with the tracks we had laid on A la Mode shining where the sun caught the upturned snow. Seeing your own tracks finally grace a face that you've spent so much time gazing up at, wondering what it would be like to ski it, or to even just exist up there, is something I'm not equipped to put into writing. Guess you'll just have to go do it for yourself,  for the first time or for the 1000th. 

-Will Gattiker

Comments

  1. Beautiful trip report! That Moonrider is sicccck. And sphincter slammer is my new favorite adjective.

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    1. Thanks you two! Been loving the NZ updates.

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