Backcountry Skiing – Dana Couloir

Dana Couloir is a classic ski descent in California’s Eastern Sierra. It is a straightforward couloir that can be enjoyed by most advanced skiers and boarders. Due to its proximity to the road, some hardcore backcountry folks may not call it true backcountry skiing but in my opinion it offers spectacular views and great skiing. What more could you ask for?   

My favorite approach is the Glacier Canyon Trail (GCT) which starts at the Tioga Lake overlook. The overlook is outside of the Yosemite National Park boundaries so there are none of the NPS hassles you may find inside the park. Follow the GCT to the Upper Meadows and head up the valley to Dana Lake. From there the couloir is obvious and you can make your way the bottom without delay. Climbing the couloir is fairly easy in good snow conditions – 1,200 vertical feet of kicking steps. Top elevation is close to 12,500 feet so it can be a lot more tiring than it looks if you have come directly from the low country. It can get firm at times so either be prepared for some easy ice climbing (ice axe and crampons) or turn around if things get sketchy. It is also possible to hike up the ridge from near the Yosemite entrance station but then you miss the opportunity to check the snow on the way up. However, if you have reliable snow reports this option can save some time and maybe earn you an extra run.

Dana Couloir is about 1,200 vertical feet, straight, wide and about 40 degrees. The skiing can range from a cakewalk on nice corn or windpack to moderately challenging if things get crusty or hard. It is best skied in late spring and early summer when the snow is still in good shape. I really like the route because it is one that you can ski fast with big turns. You can really let them run and feel the wind in your face. It is a hoot on tele gear. Due to its proximity to the road, multiple yo-yo runs are definitely possible making for a lot of skiing for your effort. On a bluebird day with good snow don’t expect to have the place to yourself. It can get fairly busy, but I have found that the majority of people respect your line and you might make a couple of new friends in the bargain.

Don’t skimp on the sunscreen and make sure your glasses or goggles block UV. The sun can be brutal at this altitude and I have seen far to many lobsters coming down the trail. A helmet isn’t a bad idea either as you are likely to have people above you. 

Dana Couloir should be on everyone’s backcountry skiing short list. It is a true California classic!

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