January has had lackluster snow production here, as usual. A warm storm dropped a few inches followed by a sharp temperature drop off. With Sunday free to ski, Logan and I decided to check out the north slopes of Snoqualmie Mountain. We figured they might hold untracked powder, whereas something like the north slopes of Chair were probably already tracked out. Logan has also never skied anything in the Commonwealth, so it would be a good opportunity to see some new lines.
Since I was going to a Chinese New Year’s symphony in the afternoon in Seattle with Kelly, we got an early start at first light and enjoyed the crisp temps and changing light as we entered the Commonwealth Basin.
We traveled up towards the base of the Cocaine (not a) Couloir. The snow was crusty and frozen, but at least it made for fast skinning. I first skied the Cocaine as part of the Commonwealth Triple Double a few years back. While it is a fun line, it seems to be typically covered in avalanche debris, as it was this time.
Ahead of us I saw a group that must have gotten started very early. The pink pants looked familiar… It was Andreea! Along with Ilia, Jeff, and Priti. They were going for an ice route on the back side of Lundin.
The best part of the day was certainly the vivid beam of light coming down vertically from the sun as it reflected off of the ice crystals in the air. Usually, these “light pillars” or “sun pillars” are reflecting off of ice crystals in high clouds. But on this cold day, they were reflecting off the ice crystals in the air around us.
It appeared that the overnight wind had done some damage to snow surfaces. We found varying pockets of nice powder, sastrugi, and windboard.
We skinned to the east summit of Snoqualmie Mountain. A bitterly cold SE wind caught us at the ridge and it was an easy decision to bail on skiing the north slopes, which looked a bit wind affected and just miserably cold. Today was a rare day to ski sunny powder at Snoqualmie. Or, at least, sunny dust on crust.
We took one short run off to the south and found pockets of good snow.
With some clouds passing by, the sun pillar became even more intense. You could see the individual sparkles floating in the air, suspending in the light. It felt like I could reach my hand out and touch them. It was mesmerizing.
We skinned back to the east summit. Sunlight was now on the SW slopes of Red Mountain. The face looked remarkably smooth and free of avy debris. The SW face of Red is my favorite run at Snoqualmie Pass proper, and Logan had not skied it. I had never skied it in powder. We decided to make a break for it.
Down at the lower Cocaine, we encountered Andreea and company, who had bailed because they got too cold at the Lundin saddle. I could not blame them! The lower Cocaine was terrible frozen avy debris, but we got through it and ended up at the base of Red, starting the long 1800 ft climb to the summit.
Our timing was impeccable and we caught up to some parties booting up the face. We followed them all the way to the summit and let them take first tracks since they put in all the effort.
On our descent, we tried a gully on the skier’s right part of the face, instead of the natural open line. Then we traversed back onto the main face and ripped some wide open turns. It was a few inches of dust on crust, but still the best conditions I have ever skied the face in! I’ll take it!
We found the skiing to be remarkably fun in the lower Commonwealth and made it back to the car with plenty of time to spare. The skiing was mostly mediocre, but it was a fun morning showing Logan around more pockets of Snoqualmie! And a bluebird day in Snoqualminix is always beautiful!