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Seductive Sherwins keep drawing us to the backcountry magic

March 12, 2011

The narrow trail known as the Hose is adjacent to the distinctive Avie Chute in the Sherwins in the center of the photo. Mammoth Times Photo/George Shirk

Try a trip down ‘The Hose’

As if you didn’t notice, spring skiing more or less opened this past week, with warm temperatures and longer hours of daylight.

For backcountry skiers, it is the best time of the year. The gullies and canyons are filled in with about as much snow as they’re going to get, making the steeps a little less steep, with wonderful corn snow on the way shortly.

There are hundreds of great spots to ski in the spring around here.
But the Sherwins keep drawing us in.

Partly it’s because they’re so darned accessible – right out our back door.

And it’s partly because they’re so much fun.

But not so fast.

Here’s a caveat right away:
BE SAFE.
This isn’t Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, which is always patrolled. Out here, you’re on your own. Always go with a partner. Everyone should bring a beacon, shovel, probe (and know how to use them) and a cell phone.

Make sure someone knows your planned route, when to expect you back and at what point should they call for help if they don’t hear from you.
Having said that, among the most fun runs off the Sherwin crest is the Hose.

You can’t go wrong with Tele Bowl, the Fingers and the daunting Rock Chute, which backcountry author John Moynier once called a “rite of passage” for the Mammoth set.

But it’s the Hose that lures.

Looking upward from Old Mammoth Road, adjacent to the massive Avie Path (or “Dempsey Don’t” back in the day) is a very narrow line that begins at the crest and ends almost on top of the Snowcreek development.
It’s also steep, though a good dose of spring powder will mitigate some of that.

“When it’s powder, it’s good,” said backcountry skier extraordinaire John Dittli.

“It’s probably the best line up there that begins off the ridge.”
On any trip to the Hose, all ski skills are tested, most especially the tight turns, with forest on both sides.

Way back in the day, one of the best skiers on the Hose was Fred Feldman (a bona-fide character, incidentally, who invented studded tires for mountain bikes so he could use them on the early-season ice on Lake Mary).

Andy Selters says that he could recognize Feldman’s distinctive tracks on any powder day – perfect Figure-Eights from the ridge on down, straight down the Hose.

The problem with the Hose used to be that there was a stand of trees blocking the bottom of the run, so skiers used a couple of even narrower chutes above Mammoth Rock to get down – “The Poop Chutes.”

Then one day, after a storm dropped some considerable pow on the Hose, backcountry aficionados noticed that something was missing. A tree here, a tree there, at the bottom of the gully. Gone.
When the next storm rolled in, more trees disappeared. And so on, for a couple of years.

Someone had used the storms as cover to begin (illegally) clearing public land of trees.

That was in days long gone, when things were considerably more lawless around here. So the story never really got out much, and many backcountry types (secretly) cheered the effort. Nowadays, it’d be a different story.

(By the way, the identity of said tree cutter is a closely guarded secret around here, so don’t even ask.)

Bottom line is/was that the Hose had a skiable exit.

Getting to the top of the run is fairly straightforward. The approach is from the back of the range – the Lakes Basin.

Take the road up to the Mammoth Pack Station and follow the old mine road to the red cliffs. A shorter route is to find that nice little boot trail that also ends at the old gold mine in the cliffs.

A short gully leads to the ridge crest at a bit over 10,000 feet. It is a wide, lovely plateau, and the runs off the top are obvious.

The Hose isn’t as obvious as most, though, so bring a GPS device and/or a good map.

And enjoy the skiing.

This time of year, on a nice day, it’s bound to be perfect.

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