The Emerald Express Couloir has to be one of the largest and most aesthetic couloirs in the South Western Sierra.  I first saw this magnificent line en route to the Pear Lake Ski Hut:

Emerald Couloir as seen from the "Matterhorn"
Emerald Couloir as seen from the “Matterhorn”

But in recent years, the lack of snow left this line mostly rock and totally unskiable.  Unsure if the line went or not, Zack Fisher and I made the 5 mile skin to Emerald and Aster Lakes basin from the Wolverton parking lot.  Arriving after dark, we awaited anxiously for first light in order to see if it was skiable.  To our surprise and delight, the line was totally ridable, with about a 6 foot wide choke-point at the crux.  The easiest and safest way to access this line is from above: Skin up the wide ridge that separates the Heather Lakes basin from the Emerald and Aster Lakes basin.  From the top of this ridge (also known as the ‘Soccer Field’), the couloir drops east down to Emerald Lake.

We knew the line went, but we had no idea what the snow quality would be like.  It had snowed about 18 inches about eight days prior, but it had been warm–really warm–this week.  But the line is also partially in the shade and doesn’t receive direct sunlight this time of year.  Given that it’s February in the high Sierra, we had no idea if we would find powder, ice, corn, or a little bit of everything.  To our surprise, the cold snow had been protected from wind and sun!  We found consolidated powder ranging from 3-8 inches deep in the couloir!

Knowing that the line went and the snow was good, we dropped in:

IMG_0755-1
Zach Dropping into the Emerald Couloir – Sequoia National Park
IMG_0776-1
Zach about 1/3 of the way down the Emerald Couloir
IMG_0870-1
Looking over my OZ OZSym board while I wait for Zach to safely pass the choke-point

 

Zack riding the Apron
Zack riding the Apron

Before you go: If you’re not sure the line goes, it’s best to skin out and around to the south-eastern corner of Emerald Lake first and get a look up the couloir.

Caution: the line is a bit off camber, so a fall may slam you into the rocks on the skiers left slide.  Also, sluff management can be an issue if there’s powder or boot penetrable corn.

Maps:

Route up the "Hump" and "Soccer Field" in red; Couloir in green
Route up the “Hump” and “Soccer Field” in red; Couloir in green
Route From the Wolverton Ski area in red; Couloir in Green
Route From the Wolverton Ski area in red; Couloir in Green