TAMING THE TUSK

Date: June 14, 2018 Author: Jeff Schmuck Categories: feature
Back

My alarm goes off, I hit the snooze button, and ask myself, “Why did I let Reuben [Krabbe] talk me into this?” What seems like only a few seconds later, my alarm rings again. I grab my gear, a coffee, and I’m out my Pemberton, British Columbia, front door. We rally to the trailhead and begin our long approach. It’s the middle of the night and it will be hours before we can see beyond the glow of our headlamps. Our goal is to ski a couloir on the iconic Black Tusk near Whistler. This line rarely, if ever, gets skied, yet it is admired by millions of people every year.

As the pitch black of night begins to fall below the twilight of early morning, we crest the ridge and get our first view of the Tusk. It’s there when a second line catches our eye, another hourglass couloir that lies directly below the Tusk’s main peak. I decide to give it a go.
 

The world's biggest thumbs up. Photo by Reuben Krabbe

Krabbe opts to shoot me skiing this one from afar, leaving me to climb and ski it on my own. As I make my way up, I get close to the choke of the line only to notice that it’s actually a six-metre vertical section of rotten ice. I think to myself, "If I can just get up this, I can air it on the way back down."

With aluminum crampons on my feet, a straight-shaft ice axe in one hand and the tip of one of my ski poles in the other, I move slowly and methodically. As I reach the top of the icefall, I feel a huge sense of relief. It fades as I spot more rotten ice and another narrow passage. My original plan of airing the icefall would mean straight-lining for 20 metres down a 45-degree ice slope before the drop. At speed, this would be a 12-metre air to hard pack. I would need to make a quick right turn before slamming into the rock wall.

I think to myself again, "Why did I let Reuben talk me into this?"

I decide to continue on, and as I near the top, the sun begins to rise and the snow-covered slope around me lights up with a pink glow.

Now I know why I let Reuben talk me into this.

Between a rock and a rad place. Photo by Reuben Krabbe

I drop in, flash a few turns, and just before the couloir gets too tight to do anything but straight line, I pull over. A moment later, a freight train of slough comes pouring past me down the icefall and slams into the rock wall below. Trying to ski any farther would likely lead to serious injury or worse, so I pull out my crampons and ice axe to down-climb. This proves to be far more sketchy than climbing up, so I’m careful not to make a mistake. I meet up with Reuben and we decide that there’s still plenty of morning light left to go for our original objective. We start up the glacial moraine to the base of the line, where we are met with another five vertical metres of rotten icefall, and then a straight shot to the top. But we are pleased to discover good snow throughout most of the line as we climb. When we top out, we get incredible views of the entire valley, as the Tusk, in all its glory, looms over our heads. I’m in awe of the unique perspective of a mountain that has been a pinnacle in the skyline since I moved to the Whistler area 17 years ago. One at a time, we make our way down the couloir to the edge of the icefall—an easy air to a soft landing on the moraine below. High fives and big smiles follow.

The dark side and the light. Photo by Reuben Krabbe

As we make our way back to the valley floor, I reflect on the day. We found adventure close to home, on a mountain we look at frequently. I’m not sure if we were the first people to ski these lines, but it doesn’t really matter, because for us it was a first. It was a reminder that adventure doesn’t have to be off in some faraway place. It can be right in front of you, you just have to go and get it.