Itty Bitty Couloir, Madison Range, MT


Skiing The Itty Bitty Couloir in Middle Basin Near Big Sky Montana

Location: Spanish Peaks, Madison Range, Big Sky, MT
Trailhead: Beehive Basin Trailhead and Parking Area – 7900 ft
Distance: 3 miles to top of the Itty Bitty Couloir
Time: 2.5 hours to top of Itty Bitty Couloir
Top Elevation: 9525 ft
Vertical: 2100 ft to top of couloir
USGS Maps: Lone Mountain, Gallatin Peak


Due to 85 mph gusts,  vertigo inducing cloud coverage, and active wind loading in the alpine yesterday, George Downing and I got shut down from skiing the Peruvian Face. Today, Jeremy Wood joined us and we decided to play around on some of the mini-golf lines in Middle Basin, specifically the Itty Bitty Couloir.

The Itty Bitty Couloir
The Itty Bitty Couloir

The Itty Bitty Couloir is a short, west facing line in Middle Basin. It’s a prominent line that can be seen while walking along the Beehive/Middle ridge after you pass the Going Home Chute. It seemed like a good technical line choice on a considerable day. I’ve never seen tracks in here, but I’m sure it’s been skied. Also I’ve never heard it called anything, so I’m calling it the Itty Bitty because it’s a short little guy.

Itty Bitty Couloir, Middle Basin
The Itty Bitty Couloir

Our adventure started out bright and early, as mountains are best enjoyed in the morning. The wind was howling and there was active snow transport off of Lone Peak and throughout the Spanish Peaks. Starting from the Beehive Basin Parking lot at 7900 feet, the stoke level was high as we hit the skin track.

We quickly cruised up the Beehive Super Highway and across Beehive Meadows. The three of us took turns breaking trail up the Going Home Chute ridge. After about an hour and 1300 feet we reached the Beehive/Middle ridge near the prayer flags. The wind was screaming and the constant kabooms from Big Sky’s aggressive avalanche control reminded us to play it safe.

Itty Bitty Couloir, Spanish Peaks
Skinning up the Going Home Ridge

As we skinned across the Beehive/Middle ridge, we happily kicked off some cornices to test the snowpack. No significant results. Finally we found some shelter in the trees where we transitioned. Then we chose a super fun line to ski down to the floor of Middle Basin.

Beehive/Middle Ridge
Cornice Kicking with the Bat Ears Formation in the background

I’m not sure the name of these small shots. Until I hear otherwise we’ll call this zone the Dynamite Trees due to the constant bombardment of sound from resort’s avalanche control as we skied. They have a nice consistent pitch and are sheltered from the wind. The snow was consistently soft and our route choice had us all pleased as punch.

Middle Basin, Montana
Beautiful Turns

We made a quick transition back to skins and made haste across the Middle Meadows toward the Itty Bitty Couloir. We eventually broke through the trees and stood directly below the Itty Bitty. From here we broke trail up to the Middle/Bear ridge through the trees on the looker’s right side of the towering rock walls.

The Itty Bitty Couloir

At the ridge we kicked some more cornices into Bear Basin and climbed up the ridge to the top of the couloir.

The Itty Bitty Couloir
Bear Basin Cornice Kicking

Things went smoothly. After about 2.5 hours and 2100 feet, we finally stood at the top and peered down the Itty Bitty. Whoa.

The Itty Bitty Couloir
Rappelling in

As we had suspected, we had to rappel into the couloir. I slipped into my Black Diamond Couloir Harness, ate a Builder Bar, and swigged some water from my MSR Dromlite. Then we rigged an anchor, threaded the 70m Beal Gully 7.3mm rope, and tossed it down the couloir.

George rappelled first as swirling spindrift funneled up the couloir. After about 18 meters he reached a safe zone and clicked his Scarpa Freedom SL boots into his Dynafit Radical bindings. I rapped down next. At the safe zone, we dug a quick pit.

The Itty Bitty Couloir
The Itty Bitty Couloir
The Crux

George rapped the full extent of the rope past a large rock in the middle of the couloir. Snow was stable. Time to go skiing. George skied the variable snow down the Itty Bitty Couloir and through the rock apron to the safety of the trees below.

The Itty Bitty Couloir
Passing the second rock
The Itty Bitty Couloir
George Ripping It Up
The Itty Bitty Couloir
Couloir Skiing

Next, Jeremy rappelled down. Then it was my turn to ski the Itty Bitty Couloir. The snow was sporty, but solid. It was an impressive sensation skiing beneath the towering rock walls of the Madison Range.

The Itty Bitty Couloir
Jeremy Rapping In
The Itty Bitty Couloir
Looking Up The Itty Bitty Couloir

When I reached the bottom, Jeremy pulled the rope and made his way through the Itty Bitty Couloir – making it look easy on his splitboard.

The Itty Bitty Couloir
The Itty Bitty Couloir

At the bottom, the whole crew was grinning. The Itty Bitty was a fun line to ski when the alpine terrain was shut down due to wind loading. The entire line is about 500-600 feet. After the rappel, it’s worth about 12 rounded turns, but fun none the less.

The Itty Bitty Couloir
Smiles all around
The Itty Bitty Couloir
Crossing Middle Basin with The Itty Bitty Couloir in the background

We transitioned again and started the trek back to the Beehive/Middle ridge. On the ridge we were once again greeted by some knock-you-over wind. Seeking shelter behind some trees we ripped skins and got ready to ski.

Spanish Peaks Weather
Sunny, Cloudy, Windy

Our route down was the Cerveza Chute aka the Going To The Bar Chute on the low saddle south of the Scour Zone. After a few variable turns, the snow became consistent. Pow turns for all to the floor of Beehive Basin.

Cerveza Chute
The Cerveza Chute
Cerveza Chute, Beehive Basin
George Getting Pow Turns In The Cerveza

From here it was the classic ski back to the Beehive Basin Parking lot. All said and done we covered 5.25 miles and 3100 vertical feet in 5.5 hours. I’m glad that we skied the Itty Bitty Couloir. It’s a short technical line that I’ve been eyeing for a while. Ticked that one off the list.


A few additional photos from skiing the Itty Bitty Couloir in Middle Basin:


See our route on Hillmap.

The Itty Bitty Couloir was skied on February 6, 2015.