Max slope angle
30-45 Degrees
Primary aspect
South facing
Vertical descent
3,000.00 ft (914.40 m)
12.00 mi (19.31 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Pinball Wizard is one of the classic ski lines in the Bitterroot, and for good reason - it features a 3,000 fall-line descent through a spectacular couloir with big views into the rest of the Bitterroots. While there's a long approach and deproach, it's absolutely worth the hard work.


The Basics

  • Seasonality/Snow: Depending on the snowpack, this south-facing line can generally be skied from December into early April, later if you're willing to boot out the lower couloir.

  • Snow Stability: Make sure to check Missoula Avalanche before you ski this line - you'll need good stability for this avalanche-prone area (especially the upper slopes off the ridgeline).

  • Add-ons:

    • For an even bigger day, you could link this up with a ski off the east face of Saint Joseph, the east bowls of Little St. Joes, or one of the other couloirs in the area - the Presidential Couloir comes straight off south Little St. Joe's.

  • The Approach: Bottom up or Top Down? Both have their merits, but either way it's a big approach.

    • Top Down -  Follows the ridgeline from the Bass Creek Trailhead all the way over Little St. Joes to the top of the line. Benefits = slightly shorter, more consistent gain. Less avy exposure. Drawbacks = Don't get to suss out conditions in the couloir. This approach is described below.

    • Bottom Up - Hike/skin up Bass Creek to the base of the line, then boot all the way up. Benefits = See the line as you climb it. Drawbacks = Longer, climbs straight up the couloir with big avy exposure.



  • The must-have avalanche safety gear: beacon, shovel, probe, and the know-how to use it!

  • A good pack for a long day of booting.

  • Traction: This is your call for this route and totally depends on the snowpack and your comfort on variable snow. If you're planning on booting up the couloir, probably worth bringing. If you're not, you could go either way, though the ridge between Little St. Joe's and the Pinball entrance is pretty rugged with some exposure if you were to fall while booting or skinning.

    • Gear to consider: Ski crampons, boot crampons, lightweight ice axe and/or BD Whippet.

  • Radios: Radios are becoming more and more common in the backcountry skiing world, as they dramatically improve communication and safety.

  • GPS/Navigation: Visibility can drop out pretty quickly in this zone, so even though the route is pretty obvious, it’s a good idea to have a GPS track just in case, especially for the long meandering trail on the exit.


A disclaimer on this description and included GPX track - this line was skied on a single day with certain snow and avalanche conditions. The track described is a reasonable way to move through this terrain, and the description below mentions some of the hazards found during the trip. However, conditions may be significantly different when you visit this area. The advice in this trip report is not meant to be followed perfectly - you will need to adapt the route for the conditions you find and for your party’s abilities.


The Trip

The Approach (approaching over Little Saint Joe's)

Start at the Bass Creek Trailhead. If you like, you can try to shuttle the road, but it's generally gated in winter only a few hundred feet up so it's not worth it. From the car, boot straight northwest up the lightly treed slope. You're aiming for the switchback almost 1,000' above you. Once you reach the road, walk on it for a third of a mile to avoid private property, then break off up through the woods to cut the next three switchbacks. You'll probably find a faint trail, follow it up past a Bass Creek Overlook at 6,800'.

From the overlook, you can start skinning whenever there's consistent snow. Make your way up the ridgeline (enjoying the big views to your left). After a long grind, you'll reach the summit of Little St. Joe's (9,033'). Enjoy the views before continuing northwest along the ridge, which gets steeper. Pass around two rock mounds on the ridge, either by scrambling over them or around them as seems appropriate. The ridge cuts southwest and broadens out - you're getting close. Continue just under a half mile southwest till you're at 8,800' and transition for the descent.


Skiing Pinball Wizard

This is a straightforward line as long as you enter the proper feature. Begin by assessing snow stability in the top bowls, then descend 600' down wide-open terrain to the opening of the Pinball Couloir at 8,200'. This couloir looks laser-cut and descends straight south, narrowing as you descend, but never gets too steep. Descend all the way to 5,800', enjoying your turns!


The Exit (out Bass Creek)

Begin poling and skinning your way out. If it's midwinter, you may be able to ski all the way back to the car, but if you waited for more stable spring conditions, you'll almost certainly be booting. It's a long slog out (almost 5 miles), but hopefully your descent was good enough that you won't notice!


Participate in your backcountry community!

Please consider submitting an observation to Missoula Avalanche after your trip, describing the travel conditions and snow stability you found! Submitting snow observations and writing trip reports on forums are great ways to contribute to the community and improve avalanche forecasts. It's also incredibly valuable to read the local observations and trip reports written by others, as they'll help keep you updated on what the mountains are doing on a day-to-day basis. This will help determine whether you have a fun time next time you get out!

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)


Parking Pass


Open Year-round



Beautiful couloir skiing near town.


Long approach.

Pets allowed


Trailhead Elevation

3,750.00 ft (1,143.00 m)

Highest point

9,033.00 ft (2,753.26 m)

Total elevation gain

5,600.00 ft (1,706.88 m)

One-way approach distance

5.00 mi (8.05 km)


Big vistas



Typically multi-day


Shuttle required


Terrain type


Snowmobiles allowed



Nearby Adventures


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