Preparing to Drop Into the Big Couloir
By Dan Egan
For skiers and riders looking for an adventure that is a uniquely Big Sky experience, dropping into the Big Couloir is on top of the list. The mystique associated with this classic North American ski descent abounds far beyond the resort, as skiers worldwide have “The Big” on their bucket list.
The question most asked about the Big Couloir is: “How hard is it?” and “Am I good enough to try it?” These are wise questions to ponder because one bad turn off the top or anywhere on the descent could mean a fall and potentially a slide down the sometimes-slick surface to the bottom of the Couloir.
If you are determined to test your skills here at Big Sky, there is plenty of terrain to build the skills and confidence necessary to ski the Big Couloir. Advanced skiers who are comfortable in bumps, powder, and steep terrain may want to try the following terrain progressions as you ski your way around Big Sky and eventually into the Big Couloir.
Head up the Challenger lift to ski Moonlight and then cut into Big Rock Tongue. On your next lap, look slightly to your right and study the route into the Big Rock Tongue Main Chute.
Once you have tackled these two runs, head back up the Challenger lift and off to the Headwaters zone, taking the traverse under the Headwaters lift to Cold Spring. Ski Cold Spring at least two times, stopping in the middle to gather your wits and study the terrain. If you are feeling confident about navigating these narrow areas without falling and can link three or four turns at a time, then it is time to head up the Lone Peak Tram.
On the way up the Tram, study the conditions in the Big. Start to see yourself in it and contemplate the moves you would make once you get there. Head to the Ski Patrol outpost at the top of the Tram to get a sign-out time and check your beacon. There are limited sign-out times each day, as two skiers are permitted to descend every 15 minutes. Feel free to ask Patrol questions about how the snow is, and if there are any points of concern on this day. Feel free to ask as many questions as you wish, as the patrollers have tremendous insight into the terrain and conditions that exist every day on Lone Peak.
Once you have your time slot, head towards the gate at the appropriate time. Go slow down the ridge to the entrance of the Big Couloir. The entrance of the Big C is easily identified with a sign. Once on top, slide down to the lowest traverse entrance into the couloir. Traverse into the chute and stop, get settled, take a deep breath, and check in with your partner.
Start your descent and enjoy one of the most classic runs in North America. Because of the sign-out system, you will enjoy a rare experience of skiing on the side of a mountain alone, feeling small among the towering rock walls of Lone Mountain. Oh, and yes, stop and enjoy the view every step of the way.
Remember that you need a partner to join you when dropping into the Big Couloir. If you don’t have one, hire a Tram Guide through Mountain Sports School. This is a great option for exploring the black diamond, double diamond, and triple diamond terrain at the resort while getting tips needed to safely navigate the hikes, routes, and sign-outs to get there.
Alternatively, skiers can attend one of my Dan Egan Steep Camps each season at Big Sky Resort. Each three-day camp focuses on developing strategy and tactics for skiing the steeps while teaching skills that will expand the terrain you regularly ski.
Extreme Skiing Pioneer, Dan Egan coaches and teaches at Big Sky Resort during the winter. His 2022 steeps camps at Big Sky Resort run Feb. 24-26, March 10-12 and March 17-19. His newest book, “Thirty Years in a White Haze” was released in March 2021 and is available at www.White-Haze.com.