Summer Skiing the Bloody Couloir in Mammoth CA

Posted by dan on June 20, 2022 · 7 mins read

I had made it a 2022 goal to ski 3 of the Classic North American Ski Descents and the ski season was rapidly coming to a close. After turning away from the summit of Mt Hood earlier I still needed that third descent. I was making my way down from San Francisco to Los Angeles and had seen one of the famous lines was located “sort-of” along the way near Mammoth Lakes, CA. After consulting my Sierra Ski Book and a few ski blogs 1 and 2 I figured I’d give it a go.

The Bloody Couloir is one of the most accessible of the classic descents (Probably aside from the Silver Couloir) IF you have a very rugged vehicle to get up the road. I soon realized that while I thought I had an “adventure car” my 2008 Honda Pilot was no match for this terrain.

Laurel Lakes Road is Treacherous

So I set out on foot and headed up the road eager to get a better glimpse at the couloir in the morning sun. The mind games are always at play on an early approach hike like this especially when you’re solo. “Do I really need to be here?” “Is this even skiable?”, for me personally there’s a moment where I really commit to a trip and it doesn’t usually happen until I’m about 25% in. Fighting these mind games is a necessary and sort of carthartic experience for me and I think the best skill a person can have in the mountains is the ability to separate irrational fear from legitimate risk. Eventually after pushing through my “agony in the garden” moment I arrived at the base of the couloir and knew that the third descent was in the bag.

The line is in!

The snow was covered with a layer of sand but the snow was firm near the bottom as I started up the apron. The biggest issue on my mind was the time, it was mid morning and I knew I needed to hurry to get above potential rock fall areas. The approach hike had taken two hours and I promised myself I’d get a lift kit installed before next time. I hugged the lookers left side of the couloir and climbed into the lower opening.

Climbing into the bottleneck

The mountain is named “Bloody Mountain” because the rocks are a deep red color like blood. I remember reading about this but it was very cool to see in person. It gave the area a distinct character and contrast. I had turned of my music to be hyper aware of any movement above me and could occasionally hear little bits of sand shifting. The rushing waterfall near the base of the couloir told me a lot was going on underneath the hard snow surface I was hiking on.

Eventually I reached the upper rock tower and had to decide which way to go around it. Lookers right offered a steeper pitch but a more straight shot up to the ridge. Lookers left seemed to require a few lateral moves to get around rock ledges where the snow had melted away. Opting for efficiency, I very carefully had a snack then proceeded up the right pitch.

Once I got to where the snow ended, it looked to be about 10 more feet through loose rock to the ridge. I was happy just to start the ski down and skip the ridge as I didn’t feel too comfortable scrambling up steep loose rock with my skis packed up. The snow near the top was very slushy and this worried me as I punched through in my crampons. I knew the route I had just come up was not skiable and would need to navigate the narrow snow paths on skiers right to descend.

Tricky Descent

I didn’t want to get to the opening to the line on my skis and realize it wasn’t didn’t go so I downclimbed to the rock ridge to get a better view and could see a nice route all the way down to the apron. It would be tight skiing at the top but the once past the top choke point the line got wider and wider.

Staring at the route

Previously I had been a little spooked in my crampons, I felt top heavy and was punching deep into the snow while downclimbing. As soon as my skis were on I felt much more comfortable on the slope. I took care and the first few turns, making sure to be balanced and feeling ever inch of the ski. Soon I was below the rock towers and in the wide chute heading towards the bottom. The snow was soft but very choppy, making it difficult to string together more than a few turns. Looking back I could see my skis were carving a white line through the sandy snow, like I was wiping my finger through a dusty windshield.

Towards the top of the apron I was able to do a bit more aggressive skiing, finding softer continuous snow. I was thrilled to be out of the rock fall zone and skiing a classic in June. When I reached the bottom my feet were grateful to get back into my wide running shoes and I turned to look back at my line down the Bloody Couloir.

White line in the sandy snow

I’d love to come back and do this line again when it can be skied from the ridge but I was glad I had knocked out my 3rd classic and happy crushed the 2hr walk back to the car in solitude.