Presidential Status: Skiing Mt. Washington's President Chutes

The Line: President Chutes, 1,300', ???° 
The Mountain: Mt. Washington, 7,794', Oregon Cascades
Total terrain: 7.2 mi, 2770'
March 23, 2024

I'm poppin' tags, he poppin' tags, he swaggy and I'm flashy
I drive the Rover Moonbike like Denali, no exaggeration
Diamonds dancin' on my face and on my bezel face
Presidential status
    -Future, Oooooh feat. Young Scooter

Looking at a map, the east aspect of Mt. Washington looks like a cliffed-out horror show, but a drive up Santiam pass on a clear day reveals this isn't the case at all. Several white lines streak down the northeast side from the upper ridge. Flipping through Axell's copy of Oregon Ski Atlas, I learned that they are called the President Chutes. 

Yellow arrow points to our line. Photo from Oregon Ski Atlas from Alpenglow Publishing. Please don't sue me. 

The sky was completely cloudy, but the air was still just above freezing as we unloaded the Moonbike at Ray Benson Sno-Park. The predicted 4-5 inches of fresh had failed to materialize, but we were optimistic that the warm temperatures would keep the melt-freeze crust pleasantly soft. The groomed snowmobile trails (thank you Mt. Jefferson Snowmobile Club!) into Big Lake were the perfect venue for Moonica to show off her towing power. 

With the first 2.8 miles out of the way, we set off through the burn, pointed straight at Washington. The approach starts out with a gentle incline and then steepens when you hit the apron of the NW ridge. The skinning got a bit icy and spicy in the dense new growth. Once we had gained the ridge proper, we ran into the only other humans we would see on the mountain, two chaps with snowshoes who were up there to do a bit of climbing. 

Axell on the NW ridge.

We made a valiant effort to skin up the entire NW ridge, but just as in 2023, the frequent dead-vertical wind lips forced us to switch to bootpacking. It was mostly firm, with only the occasional hip-deep posthole to keep us guessing. We traversed into the NW bowl below the cliffs near the top of the ridge, then switchbacked up that to the obvious leftmost obvious notch. We didn't know if the any of the Presidents would be accessible from the notch, but it seemed like a good place to start looking. 

The summit pinnacle is in the background. 

We had found a chute alright! The first sight of it made us say "No way in Hell are we skiing that thing!" From our vantage we could see what looked to be an absurdly steep section beginning just above us and quickly dropping out of sight down and to our left. Axell remarked that if Pucker Up, a local classic on Broken Top, made your butthole pucker, then this line was going to do far, far more unpleasant things to it (paraphrasing). While we weren't feeling confident in our ability to deal with a descent like this, we were curious to lay eyes on the whole thing, so we continued up another 100 feet to the very top of the line. We dropped our gear in a moat and crawled, ice axes in hand, to the edge. The whole couloir unfurled in front of us. It was steep alright, but starting to look more manageable. Besides the angle, the rock steps lining the right side made us question ourselves even more. We slunk back to our bags and threw a few layers while we silently stewed. Both of us were thinking the same thing: we can probably ski this after all. 

This was the best visibility all day. Right after this, it got so socked in we couldn't see the bottom.

Axell spoke his mind before I could, and I agreed, thinking that would mean I wouldn't have to be the first to drop in. But in classic fashion, he also thought I had volunteered to be the first one down, or maybe that sneaky bastard tricked me, but anyways, I ended up being first in line. 

I chose a spot to enter about 20' below the top, where the cornice lining the edge mellowed out to less-than-vertical. I stood there for a minute, staring at my ski tips and then the slope of the chute directly in front of me. The angled surface looked so gentle in that spot, no different than the snow covering the flank of a large boulder in a meadow. Oddly enough, that was the final thing I needed, along with our assessment of the terrain, conditions, and our own abilities that day, to calm my mind and will my body into the gnar.  

Photo: Axell Beskar.

In the tenuous perch I found myself in, doing an actual jump turn felt out of the question with my low experience level. I meekly side-slipped backwards and across to the left side of the chute, right below where Axell was going to enter. With the cliffs no longer in my fall line, I could breathe and even ski.  Lesson learned. 

Finally ready to actually ski. Photo: Axell Beskar.

Now in the part of the couloir where the consequences were a little less drastic, I was able to make some of the first real jump turns of my life. Slowly I realized hey, this snow in kind of good, hey, this feels manageable, hey, I'm having fun!

We might actually make it!

I found a sheltered spot behind a protrusion in the rock wall and waited for Axell.  His entrance into the chute forced him to side slip down a section of near-vertical cornice but put him right in a good spot to start skiing, which looked more fun than the way I did it. We rendezvoused and I continued down, exiting the couloir and finally carving on the mellower slopes below. 

Both of us agreed that without a doubt, that was the wildest thing we have ever skied. I have no idea what the angle is, but looking at the photos it seems like it must be a good deal steeper than 40°. The great ski guide and educator Chago Rodriguez once told me that most people who say they've skied something steeper than 45° are liars. And just like George Washington, I hate to lie, so I'm going to throw a big ? on that sucker. Go find out for yourself. 

If you are interested in reading more, check out Axell's trip report at over at TAY.


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