Trip Report    

Crystal Backcountry - Pickhandle

Great day out in excellent early-season conditions.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles

We skinned from behind where the chapel used to be at Crystal Mountain up to Bullion Basin along a well-established uptrack and then took advantage of an existing skin track up toward point 6480 (AKA "Blue Bell").


We stopped for a group discussion at the point where we needed to choose between descending to Union Creek, descending to Pickhandle Basin, and continuing up to point 6480 to descend back to Bullion Basin.  We decided on taking a line called "AC/DC" down into Pickhandle basin.

The avalanche forecast gave us little concern from the start of the day, and the observations of other skiers in the general area (and multiple aspects) on the preceding days and our own observations of the snow on the way up gave us no additional cause for concern.  


The trip leader (with an air bag pack) took a ski cut across the top of the line and found the snow to be non-reactive and stable.  The group proceeded to ski the line one-by-one in pitches using radios to communicate.  (The line naturally breaks into pitches separated by chokepoints in the terrain/trees.)  There was one area of low coverage — "Tools not jewels!" — about 4/5 of the way down where there appeared to have been slides earlier in the season, probably over slabby or otherwise smoother ground, as evidenced by small humps that were likely earlier debris piles buried under fresh snow. 

After another discussion at the bottom of the line, the group settled on checking out some of the North-facing lines  in the bowl above Pickhandle Basin.  The group skinned out of the basin to the road at the top of the Gold Hills houses and then up through the trees and across the relatively flat terrain and then onward to the South end of the basin.  Snow conditions and stability kept our confidence high.  Trail-breaking in the deep snow was hard work as the terrain steepened, but the group gained the narrow ridge at the back of the basin and transitioned for the ski down.  (The group had hoped to be able to skin along the ridge to Pickhandle Point, but the combination of tree cover and narrowness made that impossible.)  Looking at the trees and snow surface, there was limited evidence at the ridge top of wind action that had been called out in the NWAC forecast as an area for caution.


The group again skied down one-by-one with radio communications and the trip leader taking the first run, regrouping in the flatter area at the bottom of the bowl and then following a drainage until terrain was fully flat.


The group put on skins again and traversed the flatter terrain, eventually rejoining our up-track and following it to the steeper slope through the trees.  The group navigated carefully through the trees to avoid or ski over logs and a few areas of low coverage.  ("Tools not jewels!")


The group skied along the road to the top of the Gold Hills lift and then opened the throttle for a last run down to the base lodge in boot-top powder.

The group debriefed on the day out and then headed for the cars.  All in all it was an enjoyable day out in surprisingly great conditions for early December.