Skiing The Chamonix Couloir in the Beartooth Mountains
Location: Chamonix Couloir, East Rosebud, Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Montana
Trailhead: East Rosebud Trailhead – 6250 feet
Distance: +/- 7 miles round trip
Time: 6-10 hours
Aspect: W – NW
Top Elevation: 10980 ft
Vertical: 4675 ft
USGS Maps: Alpine, Sylvan Peak
It was 7pm as we rumbled down the East Rosebud road toward Alpine, Montana. Jeremy Wood and I were set on skiing the Chamonix Couloir in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana. Nestled near the Doublets rock climb, I’ve heard this epic couloir called many things, but Chamonix Couloir seems to stick. It’s a stunning line that reminds me of the Super C Couloir in Chile.
As the sun set over the towering granite and gneiss walls of the East Rosebud drainage, we admired the perfectly carved glacial valley littered with couloirs. We quickly packed our bags so we would be ready to leave at first light. This was going to be a mighty fine adventure.
We crashed in the back of the Tacoma at the trailhead at 6250 feet. Before the sun rose, we were up and walking with fully loaded packs. We let loose plenty of bear calls as we made our way down the East Rosebud trail in the dawn light. We covered the first half mile to the Wilderness boundary in decent time.
As we entered the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness we began to parallel the East Rosebud creek. After a few miles and a series of switchbacks, we spotted the Chamonix Couloir cutting through the rocky walls thousands of feet above us. There was not much snow to be seen as we headed off-trail at around 6625 feet.
From what I understand, it’s very rare to ski the line all the way back to the trail, but it can be done mid-winter. Today, we had a long scramble across a seemingly endless boulder field to reach the snow line. Tiptoeing across loose rocks, we climbed steadily toward the couloir. I was glad for my grippy La Sportiva Boulder X approach shoes through this section.
At about 7400 feet, we stashed the approach shoes and bear spray. I slipped into my Scarpa Maestrale RS boots and clicked into my Black Diamond Sabretooth crampons. Let the bootpack begin.
For the next 3500 vertical feet, Jeremy and I bootpacked through all sorts of snow conditions – unsupportable mank, solid ice crusts, wet debris, and everything in between. No two steps were the same. It was entirely unpredictable and made for both a physical and mental challenge.
With the previous weekend’s late season storm combined with warm temperatures, the couloir was a disaster zone. Wet slides had left deep gouges in the snow. Ice chunks the size of lawnmowers had tumbled off of frozen waterfalls. Endless chunks of debris littered the couloir. It wasn’t going to be the world’s best ski conditions, but it was safe and we were committed.
We did our best to build a bootpack rhythm and eventually reached the top of the couloir. Our last challenge was to climb over a small ice bulge before we topped out. It had taken us longer than expected to climb the Chamonix Couloir, but we were here now. Welcome to the top of the world.
The Beartooth Mountains are one of the more incredible mountain ranges I have seen. The walls tower thousands of feet over the valley floor. There are couloirs, summits, and plateaus in all directions. It’s an endless playground of fun.
Peering down the Chamonix Couloir, we noted that this was one massive line. Standing at 10975 feet, we had booted up 3500+ feet. And now we get to ski it.
The top few turns rolled over steep. It was exposed and there was only a thin layer of snow covering rocks and ice bulges. This required aggressive sideslipping to maneuver safely. Below this we had a few hundred feet of route finding through rocks. Finally it was time to make some decent turns.
The snow was inconsistent at best. We had chalky turns, debris filled turns, manky turns, ice hard turns, and other turns I haven’t even figured out how to describe. It was adventure skiing at it’s finest. Even on tired legs, the turns were much better than we ever expected considering our analysis on the way up.
We worked our way down the Chamonix Couloir taking care to be as safe as possible in this deep and committing couloir. Expecting smooth sailing back to the shoes, we were unpleasantly surprised when it wasn’t. We quickly found ourselves in the middle of an adventurous down climb to avoid a rocky waterfall.
After spotting fresh bear tracks in the snow, it was reassuring to reach our shoes and bear spray. Dressed in winter attire and without a puff a wind, we weren’t to keen that the temperatures had skyrocketed. Even in the April oven, we still had the downclimb over the loose boulder field and then 2 miles down the trail back to the car to look forward too. At least we had a seemingly endless supply of water back in the truck.
Maneuvering the boulder field took longer than expected. It’s odd how things look so different when you climb down them. We finally hit the trail and made decent time back to the East Rosebud Trailhead. Besides being thirsty and flicking off an occasional tick, it was an uneventful walk back.
At the car we downed several liters of water and put on flip flops and shorts. The Chamonix Couloir is by far the coolest couloir I have skied in Montana. I’m already looking forward to going back in different conditions.
We covered 4675 vertical feet in about 7 miles to ski the Chamonix Couloir. It was an epic adventure up an endless bootpack. The reward was skiing 3500 vertical feet of deep, stunning couloir in late April. No one can complain about that.
I’ll be back in the East Rosebud soon.
Additional images from skiing the Chamonix Couloir in the Beartooth Mountains:
This trip report for skiing the Chamonix Couloir is from April 29, 2015.