On Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012, Mike, Gary, Adrian and I headed out to the Coquihalla highway for a day of ski touring up at Needle Peak. I'd never skied in that area before so was excited for a day of exploring. I was also looking forward to a relaxed traverse of the mountains instead of the usual craziness of "bagging lines" that the boys normally want to do. I am 100% more into the touring side of backcountry skiing than the downhill, yo-yo skiing aspect of the sport. The area is described as "challenging" (or level 2) and we skiied about 2000ft of vertical to our turn around point, just shy of the first alpine bowl. We made conservative choices with regards to avalanche exposure and we were skiing with Gary who is certified to teach the AST1 with his completion of the CAA Level 1 course a few years ago. Skiing with Gary is always a great way to learn more about playing safe in the mountains.
After checking out the avalanche reports (described as 3-Considerable; 25 cm of storm snow on well bonded layers) and deciding we were all comfortable with the current conditions we headed out approaching the day with a relaxed feel from the get go with an 7:30am departure time from Coquitlam (not exactly an early start). We arrived at the pull out and were on our way at about 10:30 am. The area was pretty popular that day; we followed one group up a well traveled skin track, and we saw 3 or 4 other parties in the area once we gained the ridge.
The climb up to the ridge of Needle Peak starts out fairly gentle and about half way up starts to steepen with the trees tightening until you reach the ridge, where the trees thin out and the grade mellows out dramatically. Once you break onto the ridge the views of the surrounding peaks and alpine bowls show themselves and make all the hard work worth it. We spent the next hour or so touring along the undulating ridge line until we reached a high point before the ridge dropped down slightly and headed back into the bowls. We took a break here for some lunch and a chance to take in the view.
After lunch we decided that we weren't really into yo-yo skiing in the bowls with the other parties so we reversed our route along the ridge back to the tree line where had originally gained the ridge. From here we ripped our skins, got into downhill mode and made some spectacular powder turns through the open trees back towards the highway. We skied a variety of open trees, tight trees, survival skiing terrain and undulating flats, all in shin to knee deep awesome powder! Finally we popped out of the trees and skied our way right back to the edge of the highway, a 5min walk back to the car.