Dead Squirrel Couloir 3.3.16

(Last Updated On: March 13, 2016)

In mid-May of 2012, we skied the four couloirs that drop into American Basin from American Peak. And every time we summited, it was impossible not to take note of the skinny couloir that was melting out just to our southeast.
View from American Peak

Like so many other lines, we filed this one away for another day. With avalanche danger minimal throughout the second half of February, this line started to climb its way to the top of my list in the upcoming days. Then I was talking to my friend Cory, who had just been climbing an ice climb called Open Casket in the area. And as luck would have it, he even had a photo of the line, and it was in!!
dead squirrel couloir

I knew a handful of other people had skied it, and at least one group had ascended the backside and dropped in from the top. We decided to do the same, since we would lessen our exposure to both rockfall and other hazards that way. On top of that, my hand is still in a cast so neither an ice axe or a whippet are currently ideal. We found the top of the line on Google Earth, and marked the top of the line on our Gaia GPS app. For those of you who haven’t discovered Gaia, it’s $20 well spent, at least on Android. I don’t know if it’s on Apple as well. Anyway…

We followed the well-travelled climber’s trail through the forest, with views of Sunshine Peak behind. Too bad this South facing line seldom goes to the valley.
Sunshine Peak

Once we made it to treeline, we were on terrain I know well- my favorite bike trail on the planet, Cataract Ridge.
Cataract Ridge in winter

We passed this sweet mini-golf zone of spires, though it’s a long way to go for such short lines.
san juan skiing

We found the top of the line and admired the Jones/Niagara/American/Handies group of mountains.Jones Niagara American Handies mountains

Enough scenery, time for the 150′ downclimb into the belly of the beast:
dead squirrel downclimb

The Dead Squirrel couloir offers nearly 3,000 vertical feet of couloir skiing, and we were excited to see what was ahead. Brittany:

san juan couloir skiing

susan mol backcountry snowboarding

backcountry near Lake City

The couloir was both wider and less steep than it appeared from American. The entertainment factor was off the charts, however, with twists and turns and rolls on what felt like a neverending line. Brittany:
Best couloir in the San Juans

backcountry snowboarding san juans

backcountry lake city colorado


Conditions were what one might expect after a long dryspell- variable. Still, there was enough snow to move around, especially in the last quarter of the couloir. Frank:
Frank Konsella couloir skiing

couloir skiing san juan range


Finally, we neared the bottom of the Dead Squirrel couloir. Brittany:

Dead Squirrel couloir

Here’s what the couloir looks like from the bottom:

Knowing that others had skied the line before, we posed the question, “Does anyone have a name for the line?”. Unless the skiers who made the first descent want to chime in, we’ll call it Dead Squirrel. Chris Miller and Scott Krankkala skied this line a couple years ago and found a frozen dead squirrel near the top of the line. Their slough kept pushing the squirrelsicle down the line, so at least the little guy got a good descent. So until someone comes up with a better name, we’ll stick with that one.

Those of you paying special attention may have noticed that I’m using next year’s Tecnica Zero G boot. I’ll get a review out of it soon. In the meantime, check out the Zero G 108:

Frank Konsella

Frank loves snow more than anything... except his wife.  He ensures his food is digested properly by chewing it 32 times before swallowing.He is a full-time real estate agent serving Crested Butte and Gunnison and would be honored to send you his monthly newsletter.

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Dead Squirrel Couloir 3.3.16
Backcountry skiing the Dead Squirrel Couloir near Lake City, CO, a 3,000' gem of a line in the San Juan Mountain range.

Frank Konsella

Frank loves snow more than anything... except his wife.    He ensures his food is digested properly by chewing it 32 times before swallowing. He is a full-time real estate agent serving Crested Butte and Gunnison and would be honored to send you his monthly newsletter.

4 thoughts on “Dead Squirrel Couloir 3.3.16

  • March 15, 2016 at 1:39 am

    Awesome descent! Wish I could have joined you guys for that one! Enjoyed to tr

  • March 16, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    Thanks Zach!

  • November 29, 2020 at 9:25 am

    On 11-28-2020 two skiers tried to run this line, at 6pm a call came in to search and rescue about being cliffed in, they were cold and wet and had to be retrieved by Western state search and rescue with technical climbers and lowered at 6 am the next morning, 20 people spent a miserable night for some not looking ahead to see if the snow had filled the holes and cliffs.
    Be considerate of where you are and plan and verify your route before you drop in, it could have been FATAL!

  • December 5, 2020 at 10:04 am

    Sorry to hear that, that’s not a great line choice in November of a low-snow year, at all!

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