Ski Mountaineering

Skiing Mt. Ritter

May 27-29, 1995

Reiner Stenzel

Seven enthusiastic telemarkers met Sat. 7am at Mammoth Mtn. to ski Mt. Ritter on the Memorial Day weekend. These were Mark Bailey, Duncan Livingston, Peter Mason, Jim Valensi, Ray Smith and his friend Robert, and Reiner Stenzel. The road was still closed beyond the skilifts. Thus, we first skied up to Minaret Summit (9,175'), then down to Agnew Meadows (8,600'), after a minor detour we made it to the bridge crossing the San Joaquin River (8,100'),

then ascended past Shadow Lake to Ediza Lake (9,250') where we made basecamp. It was an 8 hour day to cover the 10.5 mi, +-1100', mostly XC route with full packs. Sat eve the clouds drifted around the mountain and we all wished for good weather on Sunday for our ski ascent.

We were lucky. On a sunny morning we ascended the broad 35 deg chute above Ediza and turned right (North) to gain the glacier on the South side of Ritter. Jim decided to stay back to enjoy the first turns on growing corn snow. The rest ascended a steep gully leading to the Southwest summit slopes where a cool wind greeted us.

We were already wondering about our descent on the crusty steep snowfield. But after a relaxed lunch on the summit (13,157') the snow had softened and the fun began. The upper snowfield was like a long version of Baldy Bowl, followed by a steep chute which was marginally skiable due to various rocks in the way.

Then came the main broad chute in the mid section of the mountain. It had the best corn snow the Sierra can offer. We left six sets of telemark tracks on this slope everyone was proud of. Before the steep drop-off we turned South back to the chute leading down to Lake Ediza. At 3pm on a sunny May day the snow on the lower slopes had turned into foot-deep mush.

Deep kneebends were necessary for turning. On the 30-40 deg slopes each turn released an oozing wet snow avalanche. Since they started slowly we first ignored them. But after a few turns the upper releases had gained speed and chased us from the rear. It is nearly impossible to ski through a sliding mass of sticky snow.

Separately, three of us had the first-hand experience to ride a few hundred feet down in a river of tumbling wet snow. The danger appeared minimal since there was a good runout and the avalanche depth was 1-2 feet. Nevertheless, the adrenaline flows as one tries to stay balanced on a river of rolling big snowballs. Within a few seconds after coming to a halt it was a struggle to get the skis out of the heavy, setting snow. We were totally wet. This experience taught us a valuable lesson: respect the big ones.

After arriving at basecamp, four of us decided to pack up and ski out to the San Joaquin River. Then, on Monday we had a shorter distance out via Agnew Meadows, Minaret Summit to the cars at Mammoth. It was my second year skiing Ritter and I again fully enjoyed it, especially in such good company.

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