All-Time: Italian Couloirs

Following Chris Davenport toward the light

Chris Davenport skied this colouir much faster than anybody else that day. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHRIS DAVENPORT

Chris Davenport skied this colouir much faster than anybody else that day. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHRIS DAVENPORT

As I went toward the light, it felt like I was emerging from the womb. Eventually, I came out of the huge, tight walls of the 750-vertical-foot couloir and entered a wide-open world of powder. A born-again skier.

It had pissed rain all day in Asolo in northern Italy the day before, and as we loaded vans at the SCARPA factory for the drive to the mountains that night, we learned the pass closed due to a fresh meter of snow and high avalanche danger.

So we woke early and made the drive to San Pellegrino Pass in the morning. The skies had turned blue. As the van drove higher, villagers pushed snow around, their Tyrolean towns recovering from the stormy night. We craned our necks awkwardly, peering up at the Dolomites, their massive, toothy peaks a startling kind of majesty.

The tram up Col Margherita at San Pellegrino Pass accesses a huge face with couloirs up high and fun tree skiing, pillow drops, and gullies down low. From the top, we made the 5-minute hike to the entrance of a couloir. I made a couple of hop turns and side-slipped through the teeth. Then I was in. The narrow confines of the womb kept my turns tight.

The snow wasn't deep, but soft and smooth. I banked the sides of the run for a couple dozen turns, then as I neared the apron, a field of pow, I pointed it, making a power turn and spraying up snow as I came out into the light.

The next day we took a tram to the top of Passo Fedai, near the town of Canazei. Chris Davenport noticed a tight couloir across the valley. It looked like it closed out, but our Italian guide insisted it was clean. So we skied to there. We took the tram to the top of Sass Pordoi at 2,950 meters, made a 4-minute bootpack, and arrived at the top of the Joelle couloir.

Midway down the 1,000-vertical-foot couloir, the run has a hard dogleg right and tightens up. The tops of the left wall come to within a couple feet of the huge, 100-foot right wall, closing off the light. It felt like skiing through a steep, snow-filled tunnel.

And then we popped back into the world.

Watch Chris Davenport ski the Joelle Couloir much faster than anybody else.