Mt. Sneffels Birthday Chutes Ski

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The South Face of Mt. Sneffels aka the “Birthday Chutes” as seen from Yankee Boy Basin.

Partners: Brian Miller, Glen Maxson
Route: Approach from 9,300′ in Yankee Boy Basin, ascent of Sneffels’s Lavender Couloir/South Face, summit descent of South Face (aka “Birthday Chutes”)
Stats: 10 miles, 5,100′ climbed, 5,100′ skied, 9 hours RT

Brian, Glen, and I caught a few hours of sleep at the gate closure prior to our 4:30am start. Lucky for us, it was still early enough in the season to have continuous snow from the gate. It was also evident that the area had received a deep overnight freeze, all good omens. After an hour of gliding across a firm crust the sun crept it’s way over the eastern horizon and began to light up the surrounding peaks. Of all the basins I’ve explored in this state, Yankee Boy is by far and away the most spectacular, especially this time of year.

Glen was having fun pointing out all of the alpine ice climbs as we made our way through the basin, and Brian was drooling nonstop over all of the ski potential in the area. You can literally just close your eyes and point and your finger will land on an aesthetic ski line.

The Saint Sophia Ridge at dawn.

Volcano Hoodoos.

Brian pointed out a line to our south that was reminiscent of our recent ski of Holy Cross. I’m not sure what the name of this peak is, T something? An interesting Dave Cooper article on climbing the San Juan’s version of the Cross Couloir can be found here.

The other Cross Couloir. Photo by Brian.

Resident 12er, Stony Mountain. Looks like some cool ski potential on that one. Photo by Brian.

We took a long food break near the Yankee Boy/Blue Lakes trail sign and made sure to lather on the sunscreen. Already it was upwards of 45 degrees out, but the South Face was being kept cool by a stiff southeast breeze.

Gilpin across the way.

The rock formations in upper-Yankee Boy are certain to catch your attention.

We rounded the corner and the South Face of Sneffels came into view. Just as we began discussing our choice of ascent routes a few rocks came flying down the central gully. A few minutes later several more surface to air missiles whizzed by, which was enough to convince us to take the standard route up the peak. It’s officially rock calving season.

Looking up the Birthday Chutes.

We kept the skins on until they finally stopped adhering, then switched to booting. The Lavender Col, our new objective, can be seen top right in the photo below:

Photo by Brian.

A half hour of kicking steps had us to the top of the col, where the views opened up to the north…

Cirque, Teakettle, and “Coffee Pot”, “Kismet” in the right foreground, Uncompahgre back left.

Dallas looking gnarly.

After another food break on the col, we strapped on crampons and started up the Lavender. Rather than climb the entire couloir we elected to jump out onto the South Face early and survey the snow. This required a small technical challenge; some spikes meet rock action.

The snow seemed to be warming nicely for our descent. As we neared the summit the winds completely died off.

Climbing on the summit ridge, Glen is already on top. Photo by Brian.

Sneffels has a relatively small summit, which adds to the spectacular experience of standing on top. Brian and I didn’t waste much time getting geared up as, without the helping hand of the wind, the snow was getting baked. We did pause to take a few photos however. I wish we could have hung out longer, Sneffels’s summit is a real treat. I can certainly relate to those who claim it as their favorite of the Colorado 14ers.

On the summit, gearing up. Uncompahgre dominates the skyline to the east. Photo by Brian.

Glen started back down the South Face (having stashed his skis atop the Lavender Col) while Brian and I clicked in and skied off the top. The first hundred feet or so are respectably steep, jump turns were mandatory…

Brian lands a jump turn off the top.

Heading on down the upper-face. Photo by Brian.

Ski conditions were a bit soft for our tastes, we later discussed how had we hit it 30 minutes earlier it would have been perfect. That said, it was still pretty good…

Heading on down this classic route.

Near the top of the route we were forced to negotiate a cliff band by heading skier’s left. As a result we ended up a little too far left on the face to ski into the central gully, which is what we were initially aiming for. What we ended up skiing was the far looker’s right chute, and though it’s not quite as aesthetic as the main line, it still made for an awesome ski. As Brian later pointed out, that’s why the term “Birthday Chutes” is plural.

Photo by Brian.

Around the corner, we had a straight shot down to the lower-South Face snowfields.

We skied out the remainder of the face and stopped to wait for Glen, who was just strapping on his skis at the top of the col. It was literally scorching out, I had to tear off every layer I could as soon as we stopped to take a break. I think the high in Montrose for the day was 84 degrees.

We enjoyed an easy ski out, but not before regaining some elevation on the south side of the basin in order to squeeze a few more corn turns in. We skied a slope that appears to get used by Telluride’s heli-skiing operation every now and then.

Down lower, the overhanging shelf road section was covered with refrigerator sized ice blocks. You wouldn’t want to hang out here for too long.

Things are melting out pretty fast!

We arrived back at the car around 2pm for a round trip time of just over 9 hours. Sneffels is currently in great condition for spring climbing and skiing, and it doesn’t seem that the dust events have affected the area too much.


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