Skiing Corbet’s Couloir is like booking a one-way ticket to South America (or actually pursuing a career in sports writing). The idea sounds nice. Someone or something piques your curiosity to give it a try. But then you’ve got to do it. And the execution is much harder and much scarier than you’d ever thought.
It’s aesthetic is intimidating when you’re watching videos of lunatics throwing backflips into the chute. There’s the cornice, which is menacing in itself. There’s the cliff on skier’s left, which those hucking into the chute seem to hug (again like lunatics). There’s the fact that generally conditions are adverse with poor visibility and strong winds.
I studied the top of the run on YouTube and Instagram. I wanted to understand how people approached the entry, how they jumped in and how they landed it. And ultimately, that research led me to the conclusion that I would not be able to huck the cornice. But I could probably tuck my tail between my legs and ski into the run by dropping into the steep and fairly technical spot on the left side.
Skiing with a handful of friends, I took the tram to the top of Jackson Hole.
“Let’s just take a peak at Corbet’s,” I said.
My friends agreed to look.
We wouldn’t have to commit if we were just looking. But of course, I wasn’t planning on just looking. Soft, feathery snow was falling — it was the best conditions I skied during my trip in Jackson. We got roughly 12 inches on every day I was there — except this day. On this day, we only got four inches, but the storm raged throughout the day and the snow didn’t grow dense. Instead, it rested lightly on the snow that had come earlier. The result was a bouncy and soft snowpack. It felt like two feet of new snow.
Just as we approached the run, I got a look at two skiers who dropped into the spot where I’d planned on entering. They took the ski-in spot on the left, where you can jump-turn and bypass the challenges of hucking (and probably eating shit in a bone-breaking way). After they did it, I knew there was no turning back. So I dropped in with the intention of hitting the jump turn and cruising into the chute.
I didn’t hit the jump turn, scraped into some rocks and stumbled into the run. It wasn’t an ugly or painful fall, like the many that fell before me. It lacked grace and style. It lacked the requisite respect for the run — you shouldn’t just scrape your way into Corbet’s.
I found a way to make the epic look mundane — and not in a good way.
Once I got past the cornice, I hugged the cliff face on the skier’s left, and bounced from turn to turn with the powder at my waist. On three turns, I got blasted with faceshots of snow to the point where I couldn’t see where I was going. I felt like I was skiing through the world’s softest ball pit.
At the bottom, everyone’s goggles and beards were coated with snow. No one could stop smiling. We were hooting, hollering and high fiving. I just wanted to shout it from the top of a mountain, but I wasn’t at the top of the mountain, so I had my newsroom and a computer. (Anchorman reference.)
Two days later, I returned, thinking that I was ready to huck the cornice. On the tram ride up, I looked at the face of the cornice and cliff and swore loudly. When I saw the drop from the top of the cornice, I knew. I just knew. I was too big a baby to make the drop. So for the second time, I tucked my tail between my legs to ski into the run. This time, however, the ski-in option had grown steeper and higher, because of the combination of heavy wind and snow. I told myself that I would try the jump turn, but as I fell into the drop, I knew that that was all I could do: fall.
Just like last time, I ate it.
This time, I wasn’t rewarded by steep and deep conditions. The new snow had frozen into a clumpy crust. And after I fell my way into the run, my friends decided it wasn’t worth it. (In other words, my fall looked so stupid that my friends wouldn’t even join me.)
I’m sorry that I suck, Corbet’s Couloir. I didn’t ski you well.
Even worse, I didn’t have a fall that was worthy of posting on social media. I didn’t make it epic. But trust me you, I’ll be back. I’m certain that I’ll huck the cliff and stomp the landing (or break my leg trying). Next time, Corbet’s, I’ll treat you right or you’ll treat me very, very wrong.