Location: Convict Lake – Mammoth Lakes, CA
Elevation Change: 4100′
Recommended Map: Mammoth High Country – Tom Harrison
Laurel Mountain is more often referred to just by the names of it’s two signature and impressive, steep couloirs on it’s South Side: Mendenhall and Pinner Couloirs. I image some people go up there to summit a beautiful peak close to their car at Convict Lake and just slide around on that perfect 35 degree shin deep powder or corn snow and skip these couloirs. I should, but haven’t.
I waited for years to ski the steep south facing Mendenall Couloir above Convict Lake, even though the access couldn’t be easier and this line is constantly in conversation. It just looks sketchy. You won’t want warm conditions to wet slide, and your not going to be able to guess easily regarding new snow avalanche danger up high. So you want to let the line stabilize after new snow but not turn to windboard. And I don’t live nearby, so there goes my “feel” from just driving by and skiing nearby. You won’t want to wait for corn, because the snow will melt out in the center bulge and reveal a slab of snow to butt slide over somehow. I’ve heard there is no pro available in the rock. So I went up to ski it in-between both of those scenarios in April 2011. We got No pow, a little corn and had minimal butt Slide at the bulge. I have one friend who nailed it in super cold deep pow. He lives right there and knows what he is doing in general. Still, that sounds sketchy. Good news is you can climb the peak on the East flank and avoid most danger. You can also drop the Pinner Couloir as a 3rd option.
The Pinner Couloir is an anomaly, and nearly entirely visable from mini Morrison and Mono Jim Peak right across the way. These are just some of the alternatives you’ll love if conditions are not right to ski the Mendenhal couloir on Laurel Mountain. Grab the Greenberg/Mingori backcountry skiing guidebook from our store and you are all set to live near Convict Lake for an entire winter, and ski one amazing thing after another within a short drive to Mammoth Lakes.
You can ski the Pinner in pow for sure. It’s probably better than thinking this south facing couloir with high rock walls will ever produce skiable smooth corn snow. It could be perfect corn for sure, somewhere in it, but down low it will be bowling ball wet slide and up top it will be transitional winter snow or windboard. And you could just get rock hard snow in there or ice. Although it looks crazy steep and narrow in pictures from across Convict Lake, it’s actually only 35 degrees on average and at least 100′ wide. The upper entry rolls into 40 degree terrain for a minute in a wider path that could hide a week layer. I’ve heard of all kinds of crazy conditions, both amazing and terrible in the Pinner Couloir. So go and tell us how it is by replying to this post! You could ski both Mendenhall first and then hop back in your track to ski the Pinner on a really cold day with stable newish snow in about a 7000′ day.