You know those trips where expectations are sort of at rock bottom, and then everything ends up being amazing? This was one of those. We had our minds set on the Chiwaukums, but upon getting home Saturday night and realizing there was way more fresh snow than we anticipated followed by a sunny day, we figured we’d hedge our bets and pick something less ambitious. The stoke was tempered, motivation was fading, we were pitching ideas like the Tatoosh for the 183498th time or Hyak laps. Guys. It’s going to be sunny. There’s fresh snow. Let’s explore somewhere new. I pitched Sasse Mountain, which honestly I had really only heard about snowshoers doing, but looking at caltopo, there were definitely some sweet bowls back there. And assuming those bowls were full of snow, that meant skiing.
- Distance: ~10mi round trip
- Elevation gain: 3600ft (5,700ft highest point)
- Weather: 50’s and sunny
- Commute from Seattle: 2hrs
- Did I Trip: Powder faceplant, yes
We met on Salmon La Sac road at 7am. There are two options to this peak: skin like 6mi up a road (boooo) that avoids most avy terrain and then go cross country at the end, or boot up through a forest (boooo) cross country from the start and negotiate some forested avy slopes. We chose the latter, because skinning roads is boring and booting straight up is fast.
Except we couldn’t find the trail. I’m still not sure where it starts, but we could see the old roadbed the trail follows for a bit from the road, so we just walked straight to that and followed it. It was dry. Really dry. We negotiated a stream crossing and started to gain elevation, only to find… more dry slopes. Where. Was. The. Snow. We started to worry that there wouldn’t be any good skiing. We started to lower expectations. “I mean, this is boney, but I’d ski it” “yeah it’s not bad” “dust on crust but mellow enough maybe it won’t suck” “it’s still a workout at least” “yeah better than staying in town” “all backcountry skis are rock skis right” and finally, FINALLY we got a glimpse of the views. Panoramic views of the “Snoqualmie Pickets” (heard that the other day and love it), aka the chain of Lemah/Summit Chief/Bear’s Breast, with Hinman and Daniel to the east. Okay, okay, so at least it’s freaking gorgeous here.
And then we rounded the corner onto the first sharp ridge. And BAM. Beautiful open ski slope, right in front of us. Dane did a quick shear test on the snowpack since it was a similar aspect, and about 8″ slid cleanly off. Okay, so we agreed that while we were all drooling at the prospect of skiing that face, we weren’t going to do it. And that was fine, because after a few more rolling humps and bumps and transitions from windblown pockets of powder to scoured ice and cornices along a ridgeline, we found out the face was frozen solid. Avy danger? Nah. Skiing? …nah.
My skis popped off twice traversing steep icy slopes as we sidehilled to avoid cornices, so I booted it the rest of the way up the ridge, postholing the crap out of Dane and Robert’s skin trail. “Why’re you setting such a shitty skin trail?” “Why are you so shitty at skinning?” Dane and Robert carried us along with their trash talk. We were almost at the top when I realized that we hadn’t gone nearly far enough to be at the true summit. Dammit, this was that knob on the way, Not So Sasse. Which was way sassier than Sasse given its ridges and cornices, and actually had better views due to the lack of trees at the tippy top. You could even see Stuart poking out over Jolly Mountain. We skiied down to the saddle between the two setting off some baby storm slab sloughs in the process, and quickly skinned up true Sasse, which was covered in burned trees, was far more mellow than it looked, and you spent like 15 minutes traversing 500ft to gain 10ft of elevation to get to the “summit.” But along the way, we were oggling the shady tree runs coming off to the west. And from the summit, we decided to ski directly down to the bowl through the trees. We started off on ice, timing turns for pockets of powder. But three or four turns later, we had PERFECT POWDER.
We giggled all the way down. HOW is no one else here?! Powder stash!! Bluebird powder day! Darting through open burn zone trees leapfrogging our way down we popped out into the bowl only to find… someone’s skin track. Dammit! It’s been discovered! But uh, should we utilize this and do another lap? No one protested. Back up we went. And the second run was just as good.
One interesting thing about this area is that it was part of a massive wildfire called the Jolly Mountain complex back in 2017. Not So Sasse and its ridgeline as well as some of the lower glades look like they were spared, but it is always fascinating getting to a view point and seeing blackened toothpick trees for miles. This is the same fire that affected Hex mountain, a very popular snowshoe slightly further south. Towns to the south of here had to be evacuated for almost a month until the fire was contained and naturally put out by the first rains in fall.
We decided to follow the mystery skin track on the way out so we could avoid regaining elevation and skiing mediocre ridges. We figured worst case scenario we could traverse waaay south to meet our skin (or boot) track. I was cruising and about to thread the needle through two trees and WHAM suddenly I was face down in the snow, mouth stuffed with powder, blinded by snow, skis still attached and still perpendicular to my body. Like the skis had stopped and my body kept going. Turned out I wasn’t as deep in the snow as I thought, I just had eaten a bunch of it and my sunglasses trapped quite a bit against my eyes. I oooohed and ahhhed and groaned while Robert shouted “Are you okay!” and I figured well he can hear me so he knows I’m breathing, and eventually got enough air to respond “yes I’m in one piece.” Feet of powder (or slush) tend to be quite forgiving. But then I had to wrangle fully buried skis out of extremely heavy snow, which required more core strength than I’ve developed or maintained during covid.
I popped around the corner rght beyond that sneaky patch of sticky snow only to find Dane patiently waiting above a second bowl! I don’t have an excuse regarding why we didn’t ski this bowl… we should have, just to tag it. But we were focused on adventuring our way out, and so we traversed to another mellow ridge, where we found….
…a THIRD bowl, this one with mellow glade skiing with another party doing laps on the perfect soft snow. We could see the road across the bowl and below us, and skiied straight to it, which snuck out a few more turns. Rather than regaining lost elevation, we followed the road for a bit until we could cut switchbacks and ski straight to the next stretch of road below us, though more low angle glades. Careful of gullies if you cut the switchbacks, though, there are some nasty gullies and some sneaky cliffs. But we had heard if you followed the road the whole way, you had to put skins on for some uphill, and we weren’t having any of that. Sidestepping and switchback-cutting forever.
The theme of the day was variable conditions. Crust to powder on crust to powder to ice to the stickiest shit I’ve ever skiied, and the road was no exception. In the shade? Zoom zoom. In the sun? glop glop walk whine paddle with your poles. The trees soon got too tight so we committed to skiing the road until we were at the switchback closest to our bootpack, and then we’d switch to boots and hoof it back through the woods to the car. You can follow the forest road all the way back to the main road, but it would have been a mile or two away from where we had parked, so we went back to the “trail” we took up, and were still back at the car pretty quickly.
All in all, it was about an 8 hour tour in a completely new area with a TON of terrain and routes you can safely follow even on big storm days. I’m amazed this isn’t talked about more. And it was even better by how low our expectations were around 9am that morning as we booted crusty, patchy snow in the trees telling ourselves it was better than nothing and I reassured myself that they’d still hang out with me and take my future recommendations despite this shitty one (though secretly I was just relieved to not be at Hyak or Castle).
We had a great dinner(? it was like 4pm) at “the brick place on the right when you’re driving back to i90 through Roslyn” where we all crushed burgers, fries, beer, and water. Turns out it’s literally called the Brick Saloon and despite stopping there most of the times I’m in the area, I never remembered the name. Definitely worth giving them a visit when you’re starving and parched after a trip, and I’m so happy that things are starting to open up again. This time last year, we were sneaking around, even minimizing trips to gas stations. Feels pretty good to bring some business to the nearby towns, and to wreck a burger when I’m starving instead of driving straight home, opening the fridge, being disappointed, closing it, lowering my standards, opening it again, reconsidering… you know how it is. Here’s to many more ski tours and burgers!