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Anatomy: Alpine Meadows' Estelle Bowl

While technically inbounds, Estelle Bowl feels as close to backcountry as you can get at a ski resort. Ride the Summit Six chair, then take the ridgeline traverse to the north past two other bowls to reach Estelle, which offers sheltered north-facing trees, wide-open powder shots, and 45-degree spines.

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Beaver/Estelle Ridge

After Beaver Bowl, this prominent north-facing ridge is the first part of Estelle you’ll reach on your traverse from the chairlift. Find day-old powder, widely spaced trees, and short 45-degree rollovers. Exit the bowl by traversing skier’s right or left above Estelle Lake, an alpine pond that’s frozen and snow-covered in winter. Hit this area early or late in the day—the northerly aspect keeps snow cold while other terrain gets sun-hammered.

Estelle Gully

Keep traversing north past the Beaver/Estelle Ridge about 300 feet, and you’ll find this obvious gully. Drop in off the ridge but watch for the small cornice—you can either slip down or send it. Once you’re in, bomb 500 vertical feet’s worth of surfy turns until you reach the traverse above Estelle Lake.

The Castle

The highest point on the ridge is Estelle Peak, which marks the beginning of the Castle, a steep face filled with spines, cliffs, and heavy snow deposits. Start on Dead Tree: From the peak, spot a 50-foot-tall dead tree on a 45-degree spine directly below. Drop skier’s right of it for less exposure, skier’s left for more. The Castle extends another 300 feet to skier’s left, but be sure to scout the cliffs and cornices before you attempt them.

Estelle Saddle

For the easiest way down, traverse past Estelle Peak another 400 feet onto the lowest part of the ridge, Estelle Saddle, a wide-open 30-degree face. The cornice on the ridge can get as tall as 25 feet, but patrol usually cuts a clean entry. When you get to the saddle, ride an untracked lane 450 feet to the lake, then cut skier’s left just above the flats.

North Estelle

Sidestep 300 feet beyond the saddle for south-facing North Estelle. It’s wide-open except for some exposed rocks below the steep rollover down to the lake. The sun bakes this area in the afternoon, so get here early on powder days. Late in the season, you’ll find some of the smoothest corn on the mountain here.

Alpine Meadows: At a Glance

—Some of Alpine’s best hike-to terrain is hard to find. If you don’t want to spend all day searching for the goods, hire a half-day or full-day guide for up to five people through the new Alpine Resort Guides program. [from $259; 530-581-8329]

—Alpine’s patrollers use the term “cornology” to describe their process for cultivating perfect corn snow: (1) Close runs when they get too soft, to prevent ruts. (2) Open runs only after they’ve had a full melt/freeze cycle. The result: smooth corn.

—Although Estelle Bowl feels remote, it’s only the halfway point between the top of Summit chair and the resort boundary. Keep traversing north to reach Bernie’s Bowl and The Buttress—terrain that’s been used for big-mountain comps.

—The back side of the ridgeline traverse out to Estelle Bowl along the ski-area boundary is part of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile summertime hiking trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington.