#sendandreturn: Skiing the Gore Trifecta: Three Couloirs, Three Lines

By Mike Alkaitis

Can a #sendandreturn adventure be memorable and an amazing experience? I find that sometimes I have the ability to put expectations on certain outings. These outings are usually on my tick list of things I want to accomplish. One of these objectives we called the “Gore Trifecta” and simply consisted of skiing the Silver Couloir on Buffalo, the Big Bad Wolf on Red #1, and What Big Eyes You Have on Little Red. Each line is amazing and sought after by many a skier. The idea to ski all three in a day came from a buddy Jason and even though he is able to pull off super human feats, the Gore Triple seemed attainable for almost anyone. I also liked the idea of the skiing getting steeper and the line skinnier as the day progressed.

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Karl heads into Buffalo.

The day came to ski the Gore Trifecta and I was lucky enough to enlist two friends to come along (Sven and Karl). Both had a lot of backcountry experience and I had skied with Sven for a few winter seasons. I had not skied with Karl, but his experience was great and we had known each other for many years. We all agreed that at any time one of us could pull the plug on the outing if it felt unsafe. The CAIC avalanche report was in our favor with a Low (#1) rating for all elevations and aspects and no recent activity in the area. The route was loaded into my Gaia GPS app for my I-phone and we were set to meet at 4am with a trip plan to be done by 5pm.

Skiing up Buffalo was pleasant and the weather forecast proved to be accurate, bluebird with no wind. The sun came up as we ascended and it seemed like we were making good time and everyone felt healthy and fit. We skied the Silver in great conditions for most of it and a few spots of firm snow. At the bottom we talked and agreed we all wanted to keep going.

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Sven on Big Bad Wolf.

The slog from the base of the Silver back up the drainage to Red #1 is long and perfect for skinning. There was no reason to take our skins off and we were able to ascend to the top of the Big Bad Wolf in a few more hours of effort. So far the plan was working out to perfection. Perfect weather, low avalanche conditions, and ideal skiing. At the top of Red #1, Karl and I waited for Sven as he was beginning to slow down. After reaching us he stated he needed to hydrate more and refuel. We lounged in the sun and ate a few snacks to keep the energy flowing. We were a bit nervous about the descent as we had never been down the Big Bad Wolf.

This all dissolved the instant we were on the run after the first hundred feet or so of firm wind pack. Boot high powder with no signs of instability. It is truly one of the great lines in the Gore range and I recommend it to anyone willing to make the effort to get back there. With huge grins on our faces and only 3.000 vertical left to go up (the day is around 10,000 vertical up) we rehydrated and put our skins back on.

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Sven and Karl skinning up Red #1.

On the ascent Karl and I broke trail while Sven pulled up the rear. The travel was reasonable, but getting steeper as we skinned up. Soon we were faced with a section too steep to skin. We switched to some sweet thigh deep boot packing. While this was difficult, it was also a good omen for the conditions in What Big Eyes You Have couloir. After a few hundred vertical of this we crested a ridge and were able to put our skins back on. Sven had fallen a bit further back, however we were all psyched our final objective was within our grasp. We topped out on the ridge and had about twenty minutes of ridge traversing to get to the entry.

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Descent down the Gore Trifecta.

Karl and I decided to keep going as Sven had a BC Link radio on him and could contact us if he was dropping any further back. After about two thirds of the ridge traverse we decided to wait for Sven as we were moving pretty slowly and he was not catching up. We contact him via radio and he said he would reach us in a few minutes. There was still plenty of daylight left (it was only 3pm) we were about 10 minutes from the entrance at an easy pace with only 50 or so feet of total elevation gain to get there.

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Sven again.

Sven showed up and informed us he was not feeling well. He said he was light headed and had almost fallen over backwards on the steeper part of the skin track and boot pack.

We discussed our options at this point. Go over and ski the What Big Eyes Couloir. The upside of this was we would achieve our goal and ski the sickest line of the day. The downfall was there was a good chance Sven would not be able to self arrest a fall, or would hurt him somehow. The second option was to ski down the low angel ridge and traverse over to the normal ascent/skin line for What Big Eyes You Have. The upside of this option was it was low angle and any fall would result in simply laying in the snow. The downside of this decision was we would not be able to ski our final objective. We asked Sven to wait for ten minutes and see if he felt any better so we could see what choice to make. After ten minutes he still felt light headed with a headache and we made the decision to ski down the ridge and normal ascent line.

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Karl in the Big Bad Wolf, sweet.

The descent was interesting in that it was more breakable crust than I have ever skied before. The good side was, Sven felt better and better as we descended and we all arrived back at the car safe and sound. What would have happened if we tried to ski What Big Eyes? We will never know, but the line will always be there and we now know what it takes to complete the Gore Trifecta. As we sat drinking beer on the tailgate, relishing a great day in the mountains with friends we gazed up and appreciated our great #sendandreturn adventure.

Until next time!


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Mike is the general manager of the Colorado Mountain School, and the Boulder Rock Club. He is an experienced mountain guide, and is the former executive director of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). He is certified as a rock guide, a wilderness first responder, and a ski mountaineer.