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Anatomy: Squaw Valley's Palisades

Locals have a mantra for the Palisades: “When in doubt, air it out.” This granite block has cameoed so many times in ski-porn that its 60-footers and vise-grip couloirs are as familiar as Glen Plake’s mohawk.
posted: 10/27/2009
The topic of extreme skiing is a much debated one. At the Epic Ski forums, one user talked about the allure and difficulty of Schmidiot's. "Schmidiot's very rarely gets skied, first [Scot] Schmidt skied it, then it took about another few years before it even opened and when it did open Eric/Rob Deslauriers tried it and was unsuccessful, a few more years later Robb Gaffney skied it successfully. From what I have heard there have only been a handful of people ever to ski down Schmidiot's. As it is rarely open due to snow coverage and then when it is open, the skier must have the ability to ski it and the cojones to do it is another thing all together." The skier has to huck himself 80ft down just to even get in the chute. Jumping is one thing, skiing is another as no-fall zone puts it lightly.

To see a video of people launching themselves off of Schmidiot's, Click Here.
by Scott Gaffney

Chimney Sweep
Air 15 feet off the cornice onto a four-foot-wide, 60-degree ramp and prepare to hit the next 25-foot cliff at roughly 40 miles per hour. Then it gets hard. Palisades legend Scot Schmidt described it best in Greg Stump’s License to Thrill: “What’s tricky about this thing is the bottom part. It’s like a 90-meter jump.” Failing to stick the landing results in a violent beating.

Schmidt dropped into this 67-degree, 100-foot line and made ski history in 1983. Watch it in Warren Miller’s Ski Time. Schmidiots involves shooting the snow ramp, jumping over five feet of granite, landing, and immediately airing 20 feet. Keep your tips up, touch down in the two-foot-wide slot, and duck right (this is crucial) before airing again. Feel free to fist pump if you stick it.

Main Chute
Steep but docile, Main’s a 53-degree chute that quickly opens into Siberia Bowl. The first turns tip you on edge, but there’s very little exposure. Fall and you probably won’t die. Then again, just straightline it like a local, and avoid sliding out, going over the handlebars, or getting hung up on rocks.
The Tube
If looking into the Chimney gave you vertigo, hit one of the Tube chutes for a slightly easier route. The skier’s left Tube is a three-foot-wide, 60-plus-degree shaft. Point it, and ollie over exposed rocks into the bowl below. Too easy? Skier’s right Tube is a shoulder-width, ice-coated sluice. Weight one ski at a time to avoid peppery rocks. Arc down the line, air over a patch of granite, and ride into Siberia. Plot your line before you leap, and stick to the plan. Once you roll in, there’s no time for thought.

Extra Chute
Shane McConkey has spent two decades back flipping for the camera off Extra’s cornice, and younger stars make easy work of the 50-foot huck skier’s right. The 55-plus-degree chute is your landing strip. Sidestep down an exposed spine and traverse left to align yourself. Then drop the steeps.

National Chute
In 1959, National Chute was the start for the national men’s downhill competition. Almost 50 years later, this cliff-lined 40-degree gully is training grounds for the Palisades’ higher-consequence lines. Feeling strong? Burn a few 50-degree turns along the left wall at the top.


Weekend warriors are out of luck—patrol closes the ’Sades Saturday and Sunday so the run-out doesn’t get dangerously crowded.
Hump 10 minutes from the Siberia lift (not shown) to the cliffs and do your pride a favor: Carry your skis. If you strap ’em to your pack, you’ll look like the biggest backcountry wannabe this side of the Continental Divide.

In 1962, the Federal Aviation Administration blew 95 feet off of Squaw Peak’s domelike summit to install an airline navigational aid. The result? An 8,900-foot top that’s flatter than Grace Jones’s ’do.

Pete Bowers nailed what became For Pete’s Sake in 1995. He crept onto dry rock, dropped 20 feet, skipped off a tiny snow pad, and boosted another 40 feet. The line hasn’t been skied since.

Greg Beck dropped 100 feet off the right side of Beck’s Rock in the 1975 classic Daydreams. Thirty-one years later, while filming for Matchstick’s Push, Mike Wilson launched an 80-foot double back flip—twice—off Beck’s in consecutive runs.

For more tips from brothers Scott and Rob Gaffney on skiing Squaw, check out Squallywood, a detailed guide on skiing Squaw's most legendary lines, now its second edition.

I never had the nerve to hike up the ridge and try the chutes, but I still loved Squaw. Siberia Bowl is fun from the Head Wall or Siberia Express chair. They have tons of uphill capacity at Squaw and absolute world class skiing. When I was there I almost cried, thinking I should have made it there years ago. Sell your car if you have to, but get to Squaw!
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