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Urban backcountry skiing photos from rugged Northeast Seattle
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This is a gallery of photos which appeared on the Turns All Year home page in the past. Thumbnail images on this page can be clicked to view the full-sized photos, and lead into a slide show sequence for the gallery. The photos are from an urban backcountry skiing trip to the NE 90s Couloirs, located in the picturesque Maple Leaf Range of Northeast Seattle, Washington. At just an hour's drive from the burgeoning Snoqualmie Pass area, these four couloirs are readily accessible, but never have the coverage to all be skied on the same day. This day, however, was to be different...
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from January 19, 2004:
Urban Backcountry Skiing, NE 90s Couloirs, Seattle, January 6, 2004
Sledder descends a NE 96th side chute
Sledder descends a
NE 96th side-chute
More side chute action
More side-chute action
Looking up the defile of the NE 96th Couloir
Looking up the defile
of the NE 96th Couloir
Out of control in the NE 96th Couloir
Out of control in
the NE 96th Couloir
Charles avoids a blocky outcrop
Charles avoids
a blocky outcrop
Charles rippin' it in the NE 96th Couloir
Charles rippin' it in
the NE 96th Couloir
Photos by the Eldridges
Trip Report:
   "Four gleaming east-facing chutes, clustered closely together in the Maple Leaf Range of Northeast Seattle: the NE 90s Couloirs. I have had my eyes on these four lines for a long time, just waiting for them to all be "in". Sure they've been skied, but never all four in a single day - coverage is always a problem, and it is a lot of vertical. With the snow level well below sea level and snowfall all morning, however, today was the day.
   Each couloir is nicely narrow, hemmed in on both sides by large, blocky formations (which some call "houses", I think), and with open moats (referred to locally as "drainage ditches") between the runs themselves and the blocky formations. In addition, smaller formations (fondly known as "horseless carriages") clutter the edges of the couloirs in many places.
   I started my trek about 1 pm, after the heaviest snowfall had ended. The sky was overcast with flurries, temperature in the upper 20s. I first headed for the NE 96th Couloir, which features the steepest pitch, but short and broken by a ledge about half way down (I have heard this called an "intersection"). After some steep trailbreaking, from the top (350' elevation) I could see that the snow on this run had become compacted in the middle, almost like a groomed run (I think this was due to the activities of persons called "sledders"), but there was fresh powder on both edges - about 4", quite light and non-cohesive. Avalanche stability didn't seem to be an issue, so I went for it, starting off in the compacted middle for a few turns before plunging into the untracked powder on the edges. Big mistake! The surface underneath the light new snow was incredibly firm and rough (I have heard this surface called "pavement", but I think it's really the French "pah-vay-moh"), and instantly snagged my edges. I narrowly avoided doing a head-over-heels into a moat, but did recover and finished the run a little bit wiser about route selection. Good thing I had choosen my favorite rock skis, Karhu XCD GT waxless 210s (I like these skis for this kind of skiing due to their large sidecut).
   Next up: NE 94th Couloir, almost as steep as NE 96th and also with a ledge part way down, but much narrower due to blackberry brambles overhanging the moats into the edges of the couloir, and with a fall-line that pushes skier's left. Having learned my lesson, I stayed in the compacted middle part of the chute, but still managed to catch an edge on the "pah-vay-moh" due to hard edging on the steepest part. I stayed upright, though, and had no more problems on the fast ride down to the bottom.
   The NE 97th Couloir was next on the list: not as steep, but longer, of consistent grade, and unbroken by any ledges. This was one fantastic run! The compact snow down the middle was very uniform and provided for great turning (I even threw in some parallel turns), and because the run was not quite as steep, I was able to swoop into the powdery edges without incident (the quality of this powder, I must say, was a close second to what I had skied two days earlier in the Cascades).
   The grande finale: NE 98th Couloir. Four consecutive drops broken by three ledges, by far the longest continuous run in the area. An added bonus is the presence of both "chicanes" (that's French too) and "traffic circles" (British) along the whole length of the chute. Heavy "sledder" traffic had compacted the snow in this couloir perfectly, and I enjoyed turn after thigh-burning turn until I hit the flats at the bottom.
   All-in-all, a day of backcountry skiing in the rugged heart of Northeast Seattle which may never be matched for either the quality of the snow or the "in-ness" of these four fine couloirs."

    Charles (and thanks to Lowell for ideas and help with pronunciation!)

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