Driving the highway corridor between Lake Louise and Golden I would always catch a glimpse of a nice looking couloir above the highway just as I passed Field. Generally the striking N facing couloir on Mt Dennis was the main eye catcher though and I would drive by without thinking about it. Last winter after many many years of driving past it I finally decided to pull over and actually take a closer look at it. On the highway you can only see different parts of it from different angles. Little did I know one only has to actually bother to pull into Field to get a clear look at the line. Still about 2/3rds of the way up a fairly sizeable cliff seemed to block the way, but google earth showed snow that tucked around behind it and It looked like you could most likely sneak past it on climbers right.
The rockies were in the midst of a unrelenting cold snap, bluebird skies unfortunately paired with brutal -30 temperatures. One can only spend so much time inside though(As I write this from quarantine this feels like a fairly ironic mindset). I had a thought that it could be a good window to have a run at the Mt Burgess couloir. A quick roadside scope showed that it had cleared itself out but I hoped that maybe there would be some soft snow once we passed the debris in the fan.
A couple messages that evening and I convinced Kai to join me to have a look. Unfortunately upon reaching the base of the line with a better look it was full of debris and rock solid. I scrambled over the small cliff at the bottom hoping to find some better snow but it appeared to be Jank as far as I could see. Motivation for grinding down the line in those conditions wasn’t there so we opted to head for Burgess Pass to make the most of the day and see the rest of Burgess.
Forward fast to summer 2019, I started a job working for Parks Canada and found myself working on a couple of staff accommodation renovations in Field, and conveniently from the deck of one of the reno’s I could stare directly at the SE couloir on Burgess. Even in summer form the line called to me.
Winter finally came and the season was off to a great start. After a short break from work I was back at it in January and consequently working on the same house in Field, and this year the Burgess line was PHAT. The cliff band at the bottom had fully disappeared by January first and the upper section looked dreamy. Staring at it each day it kept calling to me but every time the conditions were looking to line up I was either working or a massive storm would pass through and my window would pass.
The end of February was coming and the window for a S facing line like that was getting smaller and smaller when all of a sudden we had a solid high pressure system and some classic S facing objectives were getting skied and people were reporting good snow, my interest peaked for the line again and I hoped conditions would hold this time till my days off. The line had definitely seen some sun but for the most part the mountain had remained in a cloud for 4 days, with each day delivering a small but incremental amount of snow around 2-5 cms, I wondered if I would be lucky enough to ride the line in pow.
I messaged my good buddy Scott a few days before and while tossing around line ideas i threw out the Burgess couloir and it was not hard to convince him to have a go at it. I just hoped the day would line up better then the last attempt.
This time I decided we should get a proper early start meeting at the Field visitor centre for 4am. Off skinning by 4:15 ish we headed into the nasty bush that occupies the forests of Mt burgess. Aiming to pick up the Burgess Pass trail that crosses nicely at the bottom of the couloirs runout we managed to miss the first switchback in the dark and climbed almost a bit to high in the forest before traversing over to almost the top of the fan of the couloir. A few switchbacks and we swapped over to boot packing, I optimistically put my billygoat plates on hoping that I would need them and not be bashing suncrust for hours. This time I was prepared to ski the line in any condition if we had to.
The fan was nice powder but fairly easy boot packing with plates, A little further up the line firmed up for about 100m before transitioning back to pow, as we reached the base of the mid line cliff a beautiful chute went up right, almost completely unaffected by sun or sluff we could barely contain our excitement on the excellent snow conditions in the line.
At the top of the chute you traverse back into the main chute and are now above a fairly consequential amount of rocks and badness, the slope angle is also not that steep and the bowl is a very serious avalanche hazard. The storm snow was well bonded to a rock solid suncrust underneath though and we felt confident to continue upwards. The final 100-150m narrows into more a couloir again and shortly there after you are on the ridge staring over at Emerald peak and Canarvon which Scotty had skied a beauty line on just a few weeks previous. Switching over at 7:30 am in classic spring fashion it was hilarious to think we’d be done skiing before the ski hill even opened.
After transitioning in a light breeze I dropped in first, a couple cautious ski cuts to see if any of the windslab at the top would go but nothing moved, still skiing cautiously due to the slight exposure i skied down and cut left at the bottom of the upper chute and yelled for Scott to rip down. he made his way to me and then fired the open bowl to the top of the chute blasting some massive powder rooster tails until he tucked away on top of the money chute. I skied down to him and then ripped through the chute on amazing surfy pow well down the chute until my legs screamed at me to pull over. I tucked into a little cranny and pulled out my camera and Scott confirmed that the snow was indeed very good.
What the couloir lacked in steepness it made up for in its sheer length, 800m of being walled in snaking through this wonderful corridor. I was beyond surprised to have such great ski conditions even to the bottom of the fan. I would highly recommend repeating it with considerations that it has a ton of hangfire that catches sun at first light and that if its sat in the sun for a few days the riding quality will be anything but desirable, that said if you have the skills and wit to make good decisions and bide your time its an excellent ski descent with an approach that ranks amongst the shortest in the rockies.
Im sure this line has seen many sets of ski tracks over the years but I figured Id give it the handle of the Reno Couloir or the Renovator. 800m in length with an average pitch of 35-40 degrees with a few sections maybe rearing into 45 degree range.