What's the difference between a chute and a couloir?

Ask Dr. Flake

A couloir (pronounced KOOL-whar) is a dreamy, skiable gully. A chute (shoot) is, according to mountaineering glossaries, "a very steep gully. So why is Mammoth's landmark dubbed Star Chutes, while Jackson Hole's Corbet's is a couloir? The "C words are similar, but not identical, in the lingua franca of all big mountain athletes. (FYI, saying "lingua franca scores Flake filthy amounts of tail.) Although Americans widely regard "chute as the English translation of "couloir, they're wrong: Couloirs are mountain passages filled with snow or ice that melt and disappear. Chutes, however, can peter out or turn into cliffs—which is why Flake prefers couloirs. And because saying "couloir is also a great way to score tail.

September 2005