Andrew McLean has made a career out of searching out steep skiing lines around the world. But instead of relying on guides and helicopters, he’d rather do the groundwork himself and hike for his turns. He has first descents on all seven continents, and returns to Antarctica this fall for the forth time. We had a chance to speak with him from his home in Park City, Utah to share a little about his affinity for ski mountaineering.
You’re kind of this world famous couloir chaser. It seems like it’s your favorite means by which to descend a mountain. Why?
I just like the aesthetics of couloirs. I grew up skiing at a really steep, rocky, and craggy area outside of Seattle called Alpental, and developed an early love of skiing couloirs.
When I moved out to the Wasatch there was all this great fluffy powder skiing but it didn’t have the same punch that the steeper lines did. It seems like steeper lines in the world tend to be couloirs, and I really enjoy the sensation of being inside these narrow, dark, steep and long chutes.
Has the technical extreme been eclipsed by the exploratory extreme? What are virtues of both, and which do you prefer? How are they different?
For a long time I was into going steeper and steeper. But it actually gets pretty hard, and you can waste a lot of time trying to squeeze out another two or three degrees of steepness, because, to ski a really steep line it has to be just right. It can’t be too icy, and it can’t be avalanche prone.
Just looking for steep lines all the time, it’s tough, and you end up not skiing a lot of them. You go out and easily waste a day trying to hunt down a line that doesn’t ever materialize. But in the process I’ve gotten into exploring more, going to new places, and experiencing the culture, discovering cool places where there is skiing to be had.
For me, having that experience in chute skiing, though, if I go to a place like Morocco I would be into the exploratory part of it, and also looking for steep chutes to ski. It’s kind of a blend. I like exploring, and if I can explore and find steep chutes, so much the better. Continue reading...