Adventurers make a rare descent of the North Gully thanks to their mischievous skills – and perhaps climate change.
It’s not every day you get to ski Siám’ Smánit (Stawamus Chief) before work, but that’s exactly what Paul Greenwood and his friends did last week.
While there may be others who have skied the North Gully under the radar or at the time, this is the first run Greenwood and fellow skiers Eric Carter and Chris Christie have experienced. (The South Gully is said to have been skied by Jean-François Plouffe.)
Like many local winter adventurers, the trio had long watched the leader and wondered if they could ever ski him.
Then came the big dump in early January, followed by more snow.
Experienced climbers, skiers and mountaineers started from the top of Second Peak and were able to ski down the ravine – between the rock slabs of the Chief – with some abseiling as they descended.
Inside the hallway, Greenwood, 34, said the cool factor of what they were doing had taken hold.
“You’re in there looking up. There’s big walls on either side. You’re like, ‘Whoa, man, where am I? That’s so cool… Where are we?’ It’s insane, “because usually we climb the ridges, look at this and now we’re like looking at where we would normally be climbing. So it was pretty amazing,” he said, adding the views of Valleycliffe, the Smoke Bluffs, Atwell and Nch’kay [Mount Garibaldi] were incomparable.
“It was kind of unreal. Like, before we even got there, you were looking at Howe Sound and you have your skis on. It’s kind of cool.”
how they did
Skiing the ravine required hiking, skinning, boot wrapping, and rock climbing, in addition to regular skiing.
The men hiked the back trail, which was a bit icy as is usually the case in winter, to Second Peak.
“We were starting from quite low, because there was a lot of snow… And then we had to put on a bit of boot pack, and it’s deep enough to get to the top of Second Peak. And then, a Once we were at the top, at Second Peak, we were able to rip our skins off and descend from the top of Second Peak down to the ravine, which is between the second and third peaks,” said Greenwood, a local chiropractor who is a former ski racer and racing coach.
Skinning involves attaching nylon strips to the bottom of the skis, and the boot wrap literally moves over your ski boots.
At the start of the ravine, they found bushes and rocks.
“So we found a tree, put a rope around it, and we attached belay devices, and then you lower yourself onto the rope, which is abseiling,” he explained.
The three were able to ski a bit from there, then reached another piece of rock that they had to rappel down.
All three adventurers have plenty of backcountry experience and training, including avalanche training, and they’ve considered their risks.
“We had climbing gear with us. We had ropes, we had harnesses. We were really ready for battle. We had ice axes, crampons. But we didn’t need a lot of that kind of stuff. But we were ready in case things went sideways,” Greenwood said.
They were a little worried about things falling off the sides of the ravine they were crossing on skis.
“We didn’t want any ice falling on us. We didn’t want avalanches falling on us from the upper walls. But because they’re pretty vertical, we thought…it’s probably coming off the walls from the top. ravine and entered the couloir proper, which will cause there to be a lot more snow to ski. And that’s absolutely what happened,” Greenwood said. “We were actually getting really good turns in the powder, which was pretty awesome.”
The whole thing took about five or six hours. They all had work commitments so were due to be finished by early afternoon, Greenwood said.
“I pushed a few patients away, and I had their numbers, so I messaged them, ‘A little tough adventure, right now, I might be a little late,'” he recalled, noting that his patients are accustomed to the adventures he gets up before work.
Since the feat, Greenwood said many people have reached out to locals to ask how they accomplished it.
The next day someone repeated it.
“Which is really cool,” Greenwood said, adding that since then the weather has deteriorated, leading to worsening conditions.
“It’s probably not the best idea to be in there. [now],” he said.
The bigger picture
As cool as it is to ski the Chief, the reason it might be done can’t be ignored, Greenwood said.
“When we skied out of it, you ski through where all those rock falls were [in] Summer. And it’s really interesting to think about the major weather extremes that we’ve had. The fact that it was so hot there this summer that the rock was challenged in such a way that it was failing and it had these huge landslides, basically. And then we’re at the other extreme, where it’s so cold that we get enough snow at sea level to ski on – like sharp turns in that area. So it was kind of bittersweet in that it’s super exciting that we did this, but it really highlights, you know, climate change and how those extremes play into how we interact with this space,” he said.
“What we did was super fun. It was a really cool novelty. But it just highlights these changes and extreme weather conditions that we wouldn’t really normally have here.”