Going Down Big - Baffin Island
By Andrew McLean

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Originally published in Powder Magazine

It’s irrational, but while I might agonize over buying a new pair of shoes once a year, I think nothing of spending thousands of dollars if there is the slightest hint of a sexy, wild, remote couloir to be skied. Such was the case after seeing a few photos of the Eastern Fjords of Baffin Island in the Arctic Circle. There among all the vertical rock walls, it appeared were some stunning ribbons of snow that just might be skiable. With some cash from a Polartec Challenge Grant, a box of new gear from The North Face and Brad Barlage as the ever-eager partner, we set off hoping for the best and fearing the worst.

But we never expected it to be like this.

It was like we had hit a gusher, but instead of oil spraying out of the ground, it was an endless parade of perfect splitter couloirs – all you can eat, more than you can ski, too good to be true, powder filled, rock lined, Super Baby-Luv’in dream chutes. With only a month to revel in our discovery, we had to be picky. Anything less than 3,000’ that had any sort of blemish, such as a slight dog-leg or dirty snow had to be discarded. This was cherry picking at its finest – countless pristine chutes, ranging in size from 3,000’ to over 5,000’. For reference, that’s twice the height of Alta, three times the vert of Huntah Mountin’ and 23 times taller than Apple Mtn, MI. It brings tears to my eyes just to think of it. If Pamela Anderson were a chute, she’d be in the Eastern Fjords of Baffin Island. There’s just something about a couloir that starts on a knife-edge ridge and then maintains a constant 40-50 degrees for three to five thousand feet until it smacks into the frozen sea ice that makes me swoon. 

And now for the good news. When researching this untouched Mecca of ski mountaineering, we spoke to Alpinist Greg Child who estimated that there were “hundreds, no, gawd, thousands” of these gems up there. It was a good guess, but still off by a few thousand. Think of the number of Happy Meals the Big M Steak House sells and you start to get the idea. Tons. The only problem is how to cover the flat 3-5 miles between them without resorting to narcotics or Slayer’s Greatest Hits. Hmmmm… what to do?

Enter NASA traction kites, the Space Agency’s celestial gift to skiers. These compact wonders are akin to harpooning a flying Killer Whale – take a deep breath, pull the kite up off the ice and hold on tight. Weighing in at less than half a pound, they can propel you across vast stretches of terrain faster than a good rip down your favorite groomer. Not only that, they are a blast to use and Baffin is an epicenter of high winds and flat sea ice, which makes for perfect kiting. The harder you pull, the faster you go. With 24 hours of streaming daylight, it was often a tough choice to pick between a freeform kiting session or powder filled couloirs. 

In the end, we ticked off 19 new lines and left a few million more for your skiing pleasure. Of these 19, the top ten were the best lines I’d ever skied, or even hoped to ski. Christened with names like Polar Disorder, Crosshairs Couloir, Polar Star Couloir, Northwest Passage and the torturous Inquisition Couloir, they are in a league by themselves. All you need to enjoy them is a shotgun for Mr. Polar Bear, plenty of white gas, an expedition quality tent, lots of warm clothes, lip balm and sunglasses. The rest is easy – kite, climb, ski, eat, repeat.

Copyright - Andrew McLean Back to Writings Index