Ski Mountaineers Find Perfect Snow on Frigid First Descent in Canada

On Tuesday, February 22, three ski mountaineers captured the first descent of the east face of Mt. Ethelbert (3,180m) in Canada’s Purcell mountain range.

First ski descent of Mt. Ethelbert’s east face

Mark Herbison, Christina Lustenberger, and Sam Smoothy began their trek from the 1,200m mark in early morning conditions that Lusternberger described as frigid but ideal.

“Alpine low of -30,” she wrote, “ridge winds east 15km. But splitter.” Elevation and exposure gain ultimately rendered a -40°C windchill. Smoothy later said it was “the coldest day of my life.”

Herbison and Lustenberger had previously attempted the route a week earlier but intractable fog socked them in at the summit, and forced a bail.

The ascending line trended up the peak’s west face. They started by taking snowmobiles to the Templeton Lake trailhead, then broke a new trail to the base of the wall. Mountain photographer Jamie Tanner posted up on an adjacent ridge, documenting their effort via drone.

Sam Smoothy preparing for the ski descent, Feb. 22, 2022. Photo: C. Lustenberger

Sam Smoothy preparing for the ski descent, Feb. 22, 2022. Photo: C. Lustenberger


Instant frostnip

The team summited Mt. Ethelbert at 1:30 pm, amid high winds.

“Instantly Mark and Sam had frostnip on their faces,” Lustenberger reported.

Looking down from the top, they found perfect snowpack for skiing. They proceeded to cruise down Mt. Ethelbert’s east face, dividing the descent into three pitches. Per Lustenberger’s report:

Mark dropped first, leaving billowing snow in his tracks. We skied the face in three pitches, yo-yoing leads while Jamie reset the drone to capture the descent.

Skiing out the bottom and into the windless sun was a quick break from the chilly shade. We transitioned and [started] skinning back up the south aspect to meet Jamie on the ridge. After a quick high-five we skied a north couloir back to the valley we started in. 15min of skinning back to the sleds we then reversed our tracks back to the truck. Frozen, but enjoying the Arctic sunset over the Columbia Valley.

ski mountaineering Sam Smoothy, Mark Herbison and Christina Lustenberger making the first ski descent of the east face of Mt. Ethelbert (3,180m), Feb. 22, 2022. Photo: Christina Lustenberger

Sam Smoothy, Mark Herbison, and Christina Lustenberger made the first ski descent of the east face of Mt. Ethelbert (3,180m). Photo: C. Lustenberger

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life. She now works as a contributor, an editor, and a gear tester for ExplorersWeb and various other outlets within the AllGear network. She is based out of Austin, Texas where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.

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1 month ago

how the hell did Jilli find Spillimacheen BC? small world, Bugaboos must have something to do with this great accomplishment, from Golden BC