How to Drop Into a Couloir

Jackson Hole Alpine Guides’ head honcho Eric Henderson gives you pointers on how to safely handle a couloir.

There’s a reason Jackson Hole’s Corbet’s Couloir gets so much hype: Skiing into the mouth of a narrow slot isn’t easy. Approach the top of the couloir, then stop above to evaluate the way in.

Never step on an unsupported cornice. If a cornice hangs at the top, use your probe to search for where the ridgeline ends and the cornice begins. Probe straight up and down—not at an angle. If you feel open air below the cornice, stop.

Once you’ve found a good entrance, have your friend grab the tips of your poles and hold on. Turn perpendicular and stomp the cornice with your downhill ski. Repeat until the cornice fails. If it doesn’t fail, you may need to chop away at the cornice with your friend’s ski tail.

Talk to your partner about the snow conditions, the landing, the islands of safety (areas within the couloir where it’s safe to stop), and an escape route in case the couloir slides. Then dive in. Keep your hands out in front. Stomp your landing. Wait in a safe spot for your friend to drop in.

Once he enters, have him spot you as you descend the first pitch. Ski to another island of safety halfway down—tuck in behind a rock, hold on to a small tree, or find a ridge to stand on. Yell “Clear!” to your partner and get out of the slide path. Continue this leapfrog method until you’re both at the bottom.

Side Note: Say it It’s not a cooler. It’s a cool-whar. Best said with a French accent while wearing a beret.

Eric Henderson is the head guide for Jackson Hole Alpine Guides and the operations director for Valdez Heli-Ski Guides.