Homepage photo and photo above by ckindel. Thompson Pass, Valdez, Alaska.
North America has a predictable stash of snowfields every summer season.
You’ve probably passed right by them on road trips this month, wondering what it would be like bust out a pair of skis or snowboard and schlep your way up–and then down–that mountain.
Don’t just imagine, get out there and ride!
The following is a sampling of some of the best North American places you can either still make turns right now or plan on them for next summer.
Thompson Pass, Valdez, AK
Alaskan natives define Chugach as “The mountains of the people.”
Now home to the World Extreme Skiing Championships, the Chugach have become a mecca for extreme skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts.
With winters receiving an average 1,000 inches of snow, and marine conditions off the Port of Valdez that cause that snow to grip to the steep 40-50 degree terrain, you’ll be blessed with conditions like nowhere else on earth.
It’s also a safe bet that after the official “ski season” ends, the Eastern Chugach will be primed well into summer. Off Thompson Pass, some 20 miles outside of Valdez, skiers can choose from day long ski tours, cat skiing or big mountain heli-skiing.
With single runs ranging from 3,000-5,000 vertical feet, it’s possible to bag six runs and 20,000 vertical feet in one day. My advice? Make the most out of this experience by booking a room at Thompson Pass Mountain Chalet B&B, conveniently situated at the base of the pass, and hire a professional guide.
Check out some of these sources for more information on:
Snow Dome, Mt. Hood, OR
High above Mt. Hood’s superpipes and lap parks and summertime snowboard camps, you can enjoy the terrain above Timberline Lodge sans summer crowds by skiing/boarding Hood’s Snow Dome.
Most of the skiable routes off the summit are steep and exposed, however Snow Dome is more mellow, a Mt. Hood summer ski tour favorite. And with an average 500-600 inches of winter snowfall, good conditions last well into summer.
Keep in mind, Hood’s exposure as the highest peak in Oregon makes it prone to big storms. In June 2008, three climbers got caught in a late season snowstorm and never made it off the mountain.
Minimize your risk by checking local weather forecasts and wearing a satellite beacon while climbing.
Rock Creek Headwall, Beartooth Pass, MT
If you’re following the masses to Yellowstone this summer, take a detour out of the park’s northeast entrance on Highway 212.
Between Cooke City and Red Lodge, you’ll find yourself winding up the gnarly switchbacks of Beartooth Pass Road to a lofty 11,947′ elevation.
Rock Creek Headwall will beckon you to get out of the car, grab your board and boot pack your way across the plateau at the top of the pass to Rock Creek. With access to high elevation snowfields and numerous snow covered chutes, Beartooth offers steep and challenging terrain right off the top of the pass.
Get in a quick summer shred sesh or maybe a few; stick out your thumb and shuttle back and forth for several runs in one day. Here’s one cowboy who has Beartooth dialed. Check his site out for detailed info about the pass and surrounding areas.
Muir Snowfield, Mt. Rainier, WA
On a clear day in Seattle, or from any elevated point in the state of Washington, Mt. Rainier’s 14,411′ snowy cone glistens in the distance.
Located in the Central Cascades of Mt. Rainier National Park, Mt. Rainier is the highest point in the state and is a popular training ground for mountaineers getting ready to trek the Himalayas.
For those wanting an introduction to ski mountaineering, the Muir Snowfield is a classic trip, skiable year-round between 7,000 and 10,000 feet.
Check here for photos and a story of a summertime descent of the Muir snowfield.
Dead Dog Couloir, Torrey’s Peak, CO
Any top dawg’s legs are as good as dead after tackling Dead Dog Couloir on Torrey’s Peak this summer. At 14,267′, Torrey’s is the only peak of its gargantuan size on the Continental Divide. Its sheer height alone makes it a magnet for mountaineers, climbers and expert skiers who scream down the 45 degree pitch of Dead Dog Couloir.
Locating the line is the easy part. It’s right in the middle of Torrey’s Peak and splits it in half. Getting up and back down is another situation altogether. Ice axe, crampons and a helmet are a must.
And the narrow rock choke up top, with runneled-out moguls, lots of rocks (plus lots of people looking to bag a 14er), make this a difficult route to maneuver. But if you’re up for hiking 1,500 vertical feet and combining that with no-fall zone turns, this will be the perfect mental and physical challenge.
As always, do your research before you go and learn from the dudes who have done it before you.
North Couloir, North Peak, CA
Ditch the hordes of Yosemite day hikers and head up the 12,242′ Eastern Sierra peak, known as North Peak. North Peak is located in Yosemite’s neighboring Inyo National Forest and has a number of gullies with excellent ski descents.
North Couloir, in particular, is highly desirable come summer. With approximately 2,000 feet of skiable vert at a challenging 45-50 degrees, any backcountry skiers or boarders will get what they’re looking for.
To access North Peak, go to Saddlebag Lake off of Highway 120 on the Tioga Pass and take the water taxi service to get across (or hike the 3.5 mile approach around the lake).
For detailed instructions, visit www.summitpost.org. Keep in mind that in late summer or fall, the snow hardens into ice and becomes more appropriate for ice climbing.
Even though North Peak is easily hiked in one day, making it a somewhat popular backcountry route, the 360 degree view of the parks below will more than compensate for the people you pass on the way up.
Chockstone Couloir, The Grand Mogul, ID
Redfish Lake, once known for its red-scaled sockeye salmon that used to spawn in its waters, is now a popular fishing and boating retreat where people come to enjoy its serene mountain atmosphere.
From the patio of Redfish Lake Lodge, which was built in 1929, tourists marvel at the spectacular peak at the northwest end of the lake, the Grand Mogul.
At 9,733′, Grand Mogul is one of the Sawtooth’s most prominent peaks and is home to the Chockstone Couloir, a moderate snow climb that’s skiable well into summer.
From the lake, Chockstone is the obvious couloir that splits the Mogul in half. A 15-20 minute shuttle boat across the lake is the best way to approach. But like North Peak, the 40-50 degree pitch and 1,000 vertical feet of skiable summertime terrain makes this a technical run.
Check out this powdermag.com first hand account of skiing the ‘Tooths in July for more info.
Balu Pass, Connaught Drainage, Rogers Pass, BC
Driving up the Trans-Canada Highway between Golden and Revelstoke is like venturing into the French Alps; jagged peaks and massive snowfields characterize the high alpine corridor of Rogers Pass.
But while most folks will patiently wait for winter’s snowfall, sticking to Kicking Horse or newly opened Revelstoke Mountain Resort, backcountry enthusiasts can veer off the beaten path at Rogers Pass Interpretive Centre and pick their way amongst wildflowers to the snowy Selkirk Mountains of Glacier National Park.
Following a trail head located directly behind the Best Western, there’s a gradual climb from the valley bottom, past large slide paths, to a broad col on Balu Glacier. Head straight up the incline and find 32-37 degrees of effortless sloping snowfields to take you back down to the bottom.
Plan for at least four hours up and check with locals at Revelstoke Alpine Equipment for current conditions.
Tuckerman’s Ravine, Mt. Washington, NH (until mid-summer)
Unless you’re from there, the East Coast is one of the last places you might think of for planning a spectacular backcountry adventure, especially in the summer.
But for those who are willing to hike, the Head Wall of Tuckerman’s Ravine in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest has been a hot spot for over 60 years.
Thanks to last winter’s hearty snowfall, the glaciated Tuckerman’s was blessed with ample snow coverage well into summer. The hike into the base of the Ravine takes over two hours. Avalanche danger is at a minimum in early June, and snow is stable, but the terrain is still steep with 50 degree chutes.
In addition to the Head Wall, Hillman’s Highway, Right Gully and Left Gully are some other options that will keep your thighs burning. There’s even moderate terrain lower down for the less adventurous and plenty of hootin’ and hollerin’ from Lunch Rocks, where hikers gather to cheer their fellow shredders down from the top.
For detailed directions to get there visit here.
West Hourglass Couloir, Nez Perce, WY
It’s hard to resist that photo op under the antler archway in Jackson Hole. But considering three million other people visit Grand Teton National Park every year, save the urge for later and head straight into the park and over to Lupine Meadows trailhead.
You might find a full parking lot here too, since Lupine Meadows provides access to all major peaks in the Central Tetons, but if you hike your way out of the masses, about three hours up a dirt trail to the base of Nez Perce’s many couloirs, your camera will be thanking you.
One boot pack up West Hourglass Couloir and you’ll be situated at 11,901 feet with a panoramic view of the Grand and Middle Teton.
Skiing down may not be easy at 40 degrees but the surrounding rock walls sure are beautiful. While conditions hold nicely into the afternoon – the couloir doesn’t see much sun until later in the day – this slope is an active avalanche path. Make sure you have proper knowledge of conditions beforehand.
Checke here for details on getting to the trailhead.
Note on Safety
Please use this guide responsibly. As with any activity, your best bet is to venture out with local experts, and please help preserve the fragile ecosystems above treeline by minimizing your impact, always.
Keep in mind that while summertime is less prone to avalanche danger, rock fall is just as abundant. Prior snow safety instruction and extensive experience in the backcountry are a must.
Check with local guides, keep your guidebooks handy, and refer to a local avalanche forecaster before hitting any alpine slope.
Rescue beacon, crampons, harness, rope, ice axe, and medical supplies are some of the essentials you’ll need during your ascent/descent, and early morning (before sunrise) departures should be a no brainer. Double check trailhead fees in local wilderness areas and find out if you need a permit.
Like the idea of hitting one of these places but have no idea where to begin? Check out out our First Timer’s Guide to Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding.