Skiing the Bat Ears Couloir In Bear Basin, Madison Range, Montana
Location: Spanish Peaks, Madison Range, Big Sky, MT
Trailhead: Beehive Basin Trailhead and Parking Area – 7900 ft
Distance: 3.5 miles to top of Bat Ears
Time: 3 hours
Top Elevation: 10000 ft
Vertical: 2650 ft to top of couloir
USGS Maps: Lone Mountain, Gallatin Peak
Ever since skiing Gallatin Peak a few years back, I have been eyeing the opportunity to ski the Bat Ears Couloir in the Spanish Peaks near Big Sky, MT. Stable conditions, blue skies, and open schedules lined up so that Jeremy Wood and I could make it happen.
Fueled by Caliber Coffee and a bagel and egg sandwich, I picked up Jeremy and we headed to the always popular Beehive Basin Trailhead. Booted and fed, we clicked into our gear and hit the skin track by 7:30 am.
Cruising down the Beehive Basin superhighway, we made good time up to the Beehive/Middle ridge. Alpenglow and glittering surface hoar kept our enthusiasm stoked despite the cold temps.
We continued on the Beehive Basin/Middle Basin ridge for a bit. The views of Beehive Peak and the 4th of July Couloir in Beehive Basin were stunning. We also had a good chance to get some long-distance beta for our approach to the Bat Ears.
Eventually we found a good place to drop down into Middle Basin. I grabbed some water from my MSR Dromlite and ripped the skins from my Dynastar Cham HM 107s. Then we skied. The snow was soft and we quickly descended approximately 400 vertical feet to the valley floor of Middle Basin.
Once in Middle Basin, it’s easy cruising. The views of the Buttcrack were tempting, but our destination was the Bat Ears. We skinned as far as we could and then transitioned into bootpacking.
We cautiously proceeded booting up the west facing snowfield, digging hand shears along the way. The snow seemed stable, but we still climbed one at a time. We reached the col three hours after we left the car. The col sits at 10000 feet, approximately 2600 vertical feet and 3.5 miles from the Beehive Basin trailhead.
Peering down the Bat Ears easily upped the stoke level to an eleven. It appeared that no one had skied this line yet this season. It’s always great to be first.
The first obstacle was to manage the entrance. From our perspective at the top, there appeared to be a small cliff band about 20 meters down. We set up a rappel and cleared the top rocky section. Once down there, we realized that in a larger snow year, this section could easily be skied.
Once in the couloir, Jeremy gave the couloir a few quick ski cuts with no results. There were over 4 meters of snow – and this is a low snow year in January! We then dug a quick snow pit to test stability. The ECT propagated 20cm deep on the recent storm snow, but gave no further results. Sluff management was the name of the game.
As Jeremy cut to a safe zone, to give me the honors of skiing first, the recent storm snow cut loose – flushing out the couloir all the way to the apron. Game on.
The Bat Ears is a stunning 1000 foot couloir. It’s steep and the remaining snow was soft. I managed the remaining sluff on my descent to the apron, where I was able to open it up. Then is was Jeremy’s (aka The Biebs) turn.
Once we reached the safety of the floor of Bear Basin at 8950, it was time to choose our next adventure. Our plan was to head down the drainage and regain the Beehive/Middle ridge. Then we would ski the Going Home Chute back to the car. Our other option was to go up Bear Basin, gain the Beehive/Middle ridge, and ski out of Beehive. After a quick discussion, we stuck to our plan.
It was an easy cruise down the drainage. Then a bit of a gloppy slog up to the Beehive/Middle Ridge. The Going Home Chute was enjoyable dust on crust and the Beehive Highway was packed and fast. Before we knew it, we were back at the Tacoma.
All around it was a kick-ass day. The entire trip took us 7 hours, covered 8.5 miles, and totaled 4180 vertical feet. Spending the day in the Spanish Peaks Wilderness skiing the Bat Ears or a bluebird day is about as good as it gets. The Bat Ears Couloir is definitely one to add to your list.
Here are a few additional images from skiing the Bat Ears Couloir:
See our route on Hillmap.
Jeremy Wood and I skied the Bat Ears on January 29, 2015.