Aemmer Couloir Early-Early Season

A fairly honest look at what it's like to "ski" lines early season or even pre season.

Nov. 11, 2010 there was not much snow, but Martin Lefebvre and I headed up the Aemmer Couloir on Mt. Temple anyway. Here's the story from that day as a warning to those thinking about getting out there early this winter.

aemmer couloir, cody townsend, chris rubens

The north face of Mt Temple. Aemmer couloir is to the left.

In this story our protagonists take their gear for a 26 plus km walk. Half way through they take a ski break then continue marching. There is very little snow in the Rockies and most snow-covered faces have windslabs waiting to slide. One of the only lines we could think of that might be skiable in these conditions was the Aemmer Couloir. It holds snow year round and is generally protected from wind.

4:30am – I get my daughter back to sleep for the second or third time (who can remember?) and nap until Martin Lefebvre picks me up at 5:30. Not a great start to my day. Martin and I patrol together up a Sunshine Village and there isn’t enough snow to open the hill today as planned so we have the day off to go exploring…

6:45am – This feels ridiculous. We leave the truck in the dark at the Morain Lake Road gate. The road is closed for the winter so we have to walk the extra 3ish kilometres on completely dry pavement to the trailhead. A skateboard would have been nice.

8:45am – We’ve made it the roughly 12km to Lake Annette and there isn’t skiable snow anywhere in sight. The hiking was easy, with minimal snow on the trail but now we have to walk up moraines of boulders with 20cm of snow coating them and very little hope of any skiing in our future. We’ve come this far though, might as well walk the gear further.

10:30am – Things are looking up! From the base of the chute we can see the whole line is well covered in white. A slide has ripped out a lot of the fresh snow in the middle of the chute but above that looks great, so we finally put on ski boots and crampons and up we go. No need for skins today. The only snow below the chute is the debris from recent slides.

martin lefebvre climbing aemmer couloir

Martin Lefebvre climbing Aemmer couloir, Nov. 2010

11:30am – What are we doing here? The soft snow lower down has turned to the summer snow/ice left behind by the slide. We’re front pointing and wondering if we’ll even be able to ski this section on the way down. With no rope, down-climbing might be the call.

1:00pm – Lunch time. Sitting atop the chute we get the only direct sun we’ll see all day and even though the wind is cold, we enjoy a 15 minute lunch and rest. The snow on the top half of the chute is well bonded, boot-top powder that’s begging for us to drop in, so that’s exactly what Martin does. His first turns of the season are these steep, sluffing, committing lefts and rights. Way to start the winter off right Marty!

1:20pm – Slough! After skiing the top with smiles we are pondering how to approach the ice. With ice axe in hand Martin edges out for a test. Before he can decide if it’s skiable he’s hit by a river of spindrift cascading down from the wall above. By the time it stops and I can see him again, he’s almost completely covered in white, bent over his axe holding on. His edges are holding though so away go the ice axes and we make careful turns and sideslips down a couple hundred feet until conditions improve.

As we pass the small cliff at the bottom of the chute, all the hazards are behind us and we can finally open up our turns and enjoy the soft snow that drops down the fan and ends abruptly on the flats.

kevin hjertaas above aemmer couloir

Kevin Hjertaas getting ready to drop into Aemmer couloir. pic: Bjarne Salen

2:00pm – High-fives. Then we start the treacherous descent through the rocks with skis on our backs again - where they belong.

4:00pm – How many km to go? In hiking boots again, we sip water from the creek and start the romp down the trail as fast as we can.

6:00pm – Finally. We hike the road in the dark for the second time today and I start to wonder if it was worth the effort.

2:00am – The premiere and party for MSP’s newest film is winding down and I’m a little tipsy. I find myself spraying to some stranger at Aardvarks Pizza about how great Aemmers was and how rad I am. He seems impressed and I feel like it probably was worth the effort after all.

packing for aemmer couloir

Starting and ending in the dark. November days are short!