Type: Alpine, 1500 ft, Grade IV
FA: unknown
Page Views: 5,249 total · 28/month
Shared By: Willie Mein on Jun 8, 2003
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

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Access Issue: Seasonal Closures Details


This is one of the most spectacular ski descents in RMNP.

Although this is a climbing site and many people think of the Y couloirs as snow/ice/mixed climbs, the left Y Couloir (climber's left, skier's right) is most remarkable as a ski mountaineering adventure.

Typically the best time to catch this East-facing couloir is in the early morning, in the early spring. One can either approach from the Lawn Lake trailhead (below), or from the Alpine Visitor Center (above). The complete tour, starting from Trail Ridge Road/Alpine Visitor Center and coming out at the Lawn Lake Trailhead is an awesome ski mountaineering experience; however, it is dependent on the opening of TR road. The approach from below is straightforward and allows one to assess the conditions before dropping in on skis.

A single alpine axe and crampons should suffice for ascending the couloir. Many climbers may feel comfortable without a rope.

With many miles, a lot of vertical, high summits, insane exposure, and wicked skiing, this is a very big day under the best circumstances.


Self arrest.


Willie Mein
Willie Mein  
The top of this couloir is barely visible in this photo.Conditions were rough on 6/9/03, with very little snow below treeline. There was a very prominent (6'x6') runnel that ran the length of the couloir and there is still a huge cornice at the top. The SW face of Yipsilon looked good, and would have been a better ski.Although I didn't see anybody all day, I did have cellular reception from TR road to the Lawn Lake trailhead. Jun 10, 2003
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
Curious, how can "very little snow below timberline" translate into "rough conditions". I would think no snow would make the approach easiest!

In my experience it's best to wait until July for the Y-Couloirs, as their cornices fall down by then ... Jun 10, 2003
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
Duh, I get it now, you were skiing! I imagine this always involves lots of walking as the Lawn Lake trailhead is so low ... Jun 10, 2003
Willie Mein
Willie Mein  
Exactly. Also, down low, where there was any snow, it was patchy and not continuous enough to ski. On foot, I was postholing. Threcher conditions for some of the approach and descent. I came in from above (from Trail Ridge) and nearly found myself stuck wallowing in poor conditions from the start. I must have taken my skis on and off at least twenty times throughout the day. For skiing, go early spring. For climbing, wait a little longer till the cornices drop. For a good workout, go now. Jun 10, 2003
This is one of the best ski runs I've found in the front range. Snow on the approach is always thin, so plan on some hiking regardless of the season. This line can be skied mid-winter with stable conditions which makes the approach/egress a little easier. Cornice danger is an issue. The fastest way to gain the couloir is to climb snowfields on the south face. May 4, 2007
Please let me know when someone gets a look at the left arm. I have a climb planned for early July 09. Any condition report would be helpful.
Thanks so much. May 29, 2009
Scott Matz
Loveland, CO
Scott Matz   Loveland, CO
I have plans for tomorrow up the left branch I will leave a condition report. If any one wants to team-up for an early start, email me @ smatz@hettingerllc.com. Jun 26, 2009
The exit cornices haven't dropped, but they've melted out quite a bit and are fairly stable. The sun hits the left branch exit cornice around 8AM. Smaller cornices left of the Left Branch exit could still drop and funnel into the main coulouir/runnels (a few up to 8 ft deep).

We hit one melted patch of scree about 20-ft long 3/4 of the way up. Otherwise, awesome icy snow and AI (mid-foot to front points) up to 60 deg, perhaps short steps of 70-80 deg depending on how one crosses the runnels - a second tool was handy.

I enjoyed Left Branch far more than Right Branch w/ 5.4 bypass in late June conditions. R may be better when the ice is in, which seems to be before the cornices stabilize or drop. Jun 20, 2016