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Backcountry Skiing in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains

03.21.17

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Backcountry Skiing in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains

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  • Gaining the ridge to Aneroid Peak.- Backcountry Skiing in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
  • Aneroid Peak (left) overlooks McCully Basin.- Backcountry Skiing in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
  • There's a good mix of alpine and tree skiing in McCully Basin.- Backcountry Skiing in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
  • Sunrise on the private Aneroid Lake cabins.- Backcountry Skiing in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
  • Plenty of tight chutes and colouirs surround Aneroid lake.- Backcountry Skiing in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
  • Splitboarding back to Aneroid Lake.- Backcountry Skiing in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
  • Strong winds are common in the Wallowas.- Backcountry Skiing in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
  • The Wallowas are known for their dry and light snow.- Backcountry Skiing in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
  • Phat Ridge, a small ridge coming off of Wing Ridge, provides a consistent skin track.- Backcountry Skiing in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
  • Skinning under a clear blue sky in the Wallowas.- Backcountry Skiing in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
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The Wallowa Mountains, often referred to as the “Alps of Oregon” or Oregon's "Little Switzerland," are nearly 40 miles long and feature year-round outdoor recreation opportunities accessing towering granite peaks and pristine alpine lakes. The warmer months can draw very large crowds to this beautiful area, as hikers and backpackers alike explore the stunning landscapes. As soon as the snow begins to fall, however, these mountains see very little traffic and become the perfect escape into snow-coated wilderness and rare solitude; for a backcountry skier, this place becomes heaven on earth in the winter. 

The Wallowas have long been considered the underrated little sibling to Oregon's better-known Cascade Range. There's no denying that the Cascades offer dramatic volcanic peaks and great year-round skiing, but the Wallowas' vast terrain offers backcountry skiers with the rare opportunity to be enveloped by the mountains and get away from it all. 

Rugged terrain, long runs, incredible views, and consistent snowfall make the skiing here top-notch. All ability levels will leave here smiling ear-to-ear with low-angle options, wide-open powder bowls and non-technical summits, as well as more challenging, steep lines and creative routes for the more advanced skiers.

This terrain requires some effort to reach and necessitates experience to travel through safely, but this winter backcountry wonderland opens up a new world of skiing and splitboarding possibilities. Many of the deeper routes require a snowmobile to access, but the following list will help orient you to some of the great options out there. 

Access via Salt Creek Summit Snopark in Joseph, Oregon

  • Aneroid Lake Ski Tour: With a longer approach that leads to more solitude, Aneroid Lake is great for overnight trips and is known for bowl and chute skiing.
  • Big Sheep: Wide, open runs boast great glade and forest skiing.
  • Chief Joseph Mountain: This ascent is a physically demanding, mile-high climb, but it isn't technical.
  • McCully Basin: McCully Basin has a short and relatively easy approach with both low-angle and bigger line options on the downhill.
  • Wing Ridge: Great views, easy access, and great snow - but watch out for tricky snowpack, wind loading, and dangerous cornices. 

Access via Halfway/Carsen, Oregon

Snowmobiles are recommended for very long approaches.

  • Cornucopia Peak: This area is known for high avalanche danger, but it offers fun and varying terrain for all abilities.
  • Norway Basin: With a variety of steepness and difficulty as you approach, there are a vast ski options in many directions.

Backcountry Safety:

While winter backcountry adventures can be a fun and intriguing way to explore the winter wilderness, they can also quickly become dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant and life-threatening risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snow pack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities, each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions (including knowing when not to go), and be prepared/equipped for backcountry navigation and to employ avalanche training and tools. Expert backcountry guides are also available throughout the state to help you get oriented and travel safely. There is an etiquette to backcountry travel that helps keep yourself and others safe. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more. Experience, knowledge and informed and safe decision making are the means to a long-lasting and healthy relationship with the winter backcountry.

 

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