Monday morning, I glance at my phone. Vinny has gotten back to me.
“FOD being the funnel of death I’m guessing?”
“Yup. That’s the one.”
“Yeah, got it done two winters ago towards the end of the season from 20m under the cornice…”
So we weren’t the first snowboarders to ride the Funnel. But, as far as we know, we were the first to drop in from above the cornices. If Vinny hadn’t made it over the bus-sized cornices at the top of the line, I wondered how many of the handful of us to ride the line had.
Brandon Hartwig had slept only two hours for two days in a row. However, the temptation of riding a line like FOD was enough to get him into the car early Friday afternoon. I drove and stared at the peaks around the Bow Valley as he did his best to nap. Staying asleep might have been an option for him had I not demanded a warm-up run in the dark. I wasn’t about to drive to the mountains and not ride something both days.
The Flower Couloir was a nice warm-up. Less than an hour from the parking lot and we were standing in the dark above the line, trying our best to grab photos of the night sky despite the clouds that had filled in as we skinned from the car. Thirty minutes of photos and the wind and cold took its toll. My second time dropping down Flower couloir, both times in the dark. This time I had a headlamp that worked and the snow was soft. Cruisy turns and we were soon back at the car.
Saturday morning I made coffee and paced while Brandon caught up on sleep. I would take a slightly later start over having an exhausted partner. Breakfast and coffee consumed, bags packed, and we were headed into the woods by 11:30. A late start; but the day was cold, the sun had only been up for a couple hours, and this wasn’t going to take long.
It didn’t take much more than an hour to make it to the base of the line. Small releases from the past few days were evident from the faces around the fan. Looked like FOD had cleaned itself out a little, but the upper section still looked to be holding snow. One last pause as we put boards onto bags and put on verts. And then, axes in hand, it was time to start moving up.
Bootpacking has a rhythm to it. Time seems to lose any context as you move up through ever-narrowing walls. Snow changing from powder to debris, to hard, and back to powder. The movements pull you into the moment and the only thing that breaks up the sound of your own breathing is the occasional pause to banter.
Climbing a line that has about 50m of board width riding, with bus sized cornices hanging a couple hundred metres above you has a quiet desperation to it. You have to keep moving, even though your brain is trying to scream at you that this is a bad idea in terms of self preservation. Yet the movements and the effort drown out the voice, and you kick in steps, punch in axes and work your way upwards. Narrowing walls start to widen, and you start to claw your way up through the funnel and towards the summit. Always above you, always further out of reach.
We climbed over the top about three hours later. It would have been faster if the snow hadn’t been so deep.
The movements at the top were mechanical. The wind took free reign once we stood on the summit. No protection, and despite the fact that it wasn’t a cold day 3300ft below us, it was brutally cold up there.
Brandon grabbed some photos, I drank a Redbull and stared down the line. Sluff management was a given. If the top 80m below the cornices popped, we figured it would sluff out to the left.
Grab the high point, and it should flow by you. Pause there, roll over the nose and drop through that steep section that had a few sharks hiding just below the surface. Flow a few turns and then there’s another point of safety to let anything moving go by.
Then it’s just the narrows.
We checked the radios, I fist-bumped Brandon and pushed through the hole in the cornice. I gave a few tentative bounces to check the snow, and then the internal noise shut off. All that was left was movement. Beautiful creamy turns in deep powder with a world of consequence rushing beside me as the snow flowed with me down the slope.
Legs cramping from dehydration and the kilometre of bootpacking, but it didn’t matter.
The line was awesome. Other than a few spots in the choke which had sluffed out, the line was stable, fluid, and entirely worth the effort.
Laughing like a pair of lunatics we dropped with abandon down the lower slopes. Easy flowing turns in great powder, until we finally slowed to a stop.
5.5 hrs car to car. 7km of distance travelled, and 970m of elevation from the top to the bottom. Not sure how many others have had the pleasure of riding Funnel of Death, but both Brandon Hartwig and I are stoked to have had the chance to ride it.
Vinny Villemain beat us up it, but I can settle with the first snowboard descent from the very top. Not sure if the others who have ridden it have made it over the cornices, not to make any great claim of getting the full descent first, but just curious as to who else has shared the pleasure of riding such an aesthetic line from the top.
-Ian Holmes @irrationalcarny and Brandon Hartwig @freeluftsliv