Ski Tips #3: How to ski the best part of Goat’s Eye

In my humble opinion, having skied at Sunshine for 30+ years, there’s a chunk of Goat’s Eye that is vastly underutilized. It features, in my opinion, Sunshine’s best terrain, best big mountain experience and best powder retention. It’s not the easiest terrain on the mountain, but if you know how to get in and get out, in the right conditions it can offer blue skiers an opportunity to see what the big leagues are all about.

In the wrong conditions, however, it can be some of the nastiest skiing on the mountain. So you have to pick your days, and know your conditions. To me, that’s one of the things that separates the blue skiers from the black skiers.

I admire Sunshine for not changing run colours mid run (unless there’s an obvious access mid run, like Scapegoat, which is black above Sunshine Coast and blue below it). Many runs I’m going to talk about are double blacks, and if you take the “official” ways in, they might be triple blacks. But I’m going to explain how you can get to the part of the terrain where they are a dark blue under most conditions.

The reason I’m writing this is because I know and have spoken to a lot of riders who don’t know this stuff. They think this space is for extreme freaks only. They are wrong. With the right knowledge, I think any blue skier can enjoy this area, and will get some of the best skiing of their whole lives. It’s a space that offers heli skiing conditions for the price of your lift pass.

Here’s the area I’m going to focus on:

 

The Trail Map Version

Viewed from Tee Pee Town, the entrances shown

Step 1: How To Get In

There’s three ways into this space, shown by the arrows in the above photo. The first is via The Road (the gray arrow), the second via the Climbing Track (the green arrow), and the third is via the Cleavage Traverse (the yellow arrow).

The Road (the gray arrow in the photo above) is what the hill calls the short, flat cat track that leads from the top of the Goat’s Eye lift to the entrance to the Wildside Chute.

The entrance to The Road

This never opens early; this year it opened in late January. It’s flat as a pancake or slightly uphill. They run a cat along it occasionally, but it gets windblown and occasionally is gnarly where the track ends and the entrance to Wildside starts.

The end of The Road. Wildside just 50′ ahead.

From the end of the road, there’s three basic ways in. Carefully skirt the snowfences on the right in the photo above, and you get to the lip which is the official, most heavily used and most popular Wildside Entrance.

The Wildside Entrance on an easy day

The second way in? Traverse the chute, stay high, then take your skis off and climb about 15 steps and you get to the Farside entrance. My advice: don’t bother. But then I don’t like climbing.

A third, normally easier, less trafficked and usually better entrance is to turn right at the Caution sign at the end of The Road, and go down the first gully (it doesn’t have a name; Patrol calls it the R1 chute. I call it the first gully).

The top of the first Wildside gully

If you expand the photo above, you’ll see rocks on the left. It takes a lot of snow to cover these rocks. Generally stay right going in here and go slowly until you are below the rocks. The little bump in the centre of the photo is in actuality the top of a 75′ cliff. Drop into the gully anywhere below the rocks and above the bump/cliff; lower is usually better (to a point). This gully traps a lot of snow and get 90% less traffic than the main Wildside chute.

These routes can be fairly easy in the right conditions, but in the wrong conditions, it’s nasty where The Road meets the Wildside Chute.

The right conditions: a recent snowfall with light winds. The wrong conditions: when it hasn’t snowed for several days or more and it has been windy. The latter results in too much traffic unearthing rocks, and build way too many moguls in the narrow gully. Moguls plus rocks = black to double black.

The best part about this route in is that if you get to the end of The Road and don’t like what you see, you’re not committed. Turning around is easy, and the trip back to the lift another flat skate.

The Climbing Track (the green arrow in the photo above) is what the hill calls the walking trail up from the top of the lift.

The walking track. Don’t go.

This IS double black territory. If you head up here this post is not for you.

The Cleavage Traverse (the yellow arrow in the photo above) is the early season access to the space, and through most of the season is not much harder or easier than The Road as a way in. It is access from the Cleavage run. The Cleavage run (or at least the top of it) is one of the first runs the hill opens on Goat’s Eye. Turn right from the top of the lift. There’s a permanent snow fence that enables this part of Cleavage to open early every year (though in 2015 & 2017, they’re taking their time, and the Road opened first). This snowfence, like the one on Sunshine Coast at the top, builds huge drifts, and allows the hill to groom a track down. There are two distinct sections to the top of Cleavage: above the Caution sign and below it.

Above the Caution sign is almost always sweet and no harder than the the top section of Sunshine Coast, Gold Afterburner or Gold Freefall, all of which are blues. Yes, the hill let the drifts build, but they’re almost always really nice.

The top of Cleavage from The Road. Groomed on the right. Snow fence on the left. Well skied drifts next to the snow fence straight down

Below the Caution sign is a different matter. Scraped clear, steeper, narrow, fenced on both sides and almost always icy/super hardpack, this is the reason (I think) that this run is a black diamond. If you can master the next 100 feet, you unearth the paradise of which I write.

The Caution Sign. Things change here

How to Enter the Cleavage Traverse

The Cleavage Traverse ranges on a 1-10 scale from Bad to Miserable. It’s never better than “bad”, even on a powder day. It turns people off, but if you know how to do it, it can be at least tolerable. The following is the easiest way to do it no matter what the conditions.

  1. At the Caution sign, stay on the LEFT side of the run. The right side near the Caution sign will get exposed rocks first. Save your bases and stay left.
  2. Stop at the left fence just past the Caution sign. Look down below. Is there anyone in the traverse entrance? If there is, don’t move until the entrance is clear. This is a one lane road. If someone is there when you’re going in, and they don’t move, you’re in trouble. Wait. Be patient. Let others in a hurry go past, if necessary.
  3. When clear, go RIGHT over to the rope line. Stay RIGHT, and face RIGHT.

    The view from the right side. Scraped clear.

    Slide down, staying hard against the right side rope line until you are right at the top of the Cleavage Rock and at the base of the transmission tower. There’s a little flat spot here big enough for one person to stand in rock free safety. It offers a clear view of the traverse entrance and any natural hazards that should be avoided, so STOP HERE. Those two little ridges below the traverse snow fence can be rocky, but by the time you get to the top of them, you will barely be moving, and can easily avoid any exposed rocks.

    The hard part’s nearly over. Looking back from the flat spot.

    Looking at the traverse from the flat spot. You can go above or below the snow fence

    Plan your route in. In front of you is now the traverse snow fence.  You can go above it or below it, depending on where you are heading. Now drop into the traverse. Scoot along a short ways to make room for the next person coming in. Then stop. The hard part is over.

The view back from the traverse above the snow fence. Note the rocks on the right.

The continuation of the traverse. You’re safe now.

If you look down from here, this is what you see:

Vast expanses of white

If you ignore everything else remember only this: DON’T ENTER THE TRAVERSE EITHER EARLY OR HIGH. Unless you like spending money on base jobs.

Step 2: How To Get Out

Now your’re in, how do you get out? There are 7 basic exits from this space. From skier’s right to skier’s left, the first 2 are in this photo, with the traverse in black:

Routes down from the Cleavage Traverse entrance

  1. Go down and around the Cleavage Rocks to the right (the blue arrow in the above photo). Stay right. You’ll end up on Gold Scapegoat (the orange arrow in the above photo).
  2. Go down and to the right on the Cleavage run (the yellow arrow in the above photo), or straight down the Ewe First Run (the red arrow in the above photo). They may look different in the photo but when you’re in the space there’s very little difference between the two, and it doesn’t matter. You’ll end up in widely spaced trees on a really easy slope and pop back out onto Sunshine Coast near the top of Wildfire.

    The next set of exits, further to the left. These don’t have names.

  3. Down to the left, the first route out (the red arrow in the photo above) takes you across a flat past the weather station. Not a great exit because (a) it’s flat, (b) it ends in an uphill climb back to either Eagle Creek or Sunshine Coast. Still, it’s a popular one, because the rest of the exits are affected by avalanche closures, plus the trees to right of the red arrow are a bit dense for most folks.
  4. The three accesses to the cat tracks, shown as purple arrows in the photo above. The right most one is a bit flat, but the others are not, and all three offer the opportunity to play in the powder in the trees. The avi rope blocking off the Wildside chute/fan can make it difficult to access the left most purple arrow route. Don’t cross the rope, but a hard left and deke through two trees at the rope’s end can put you onto the road.
  5. The Wildside chute/fan exit, shown as the green arrow in the photos above and below.
  6. The Farside chute/fan exit, shown in yellow in the photos above and below. THIS IS A BAD EXIT. The trees in the photo are deceiving. It looks like there’s a path, but there isn’t one. There starts being one, then it just peters out in a dense forest when you’re moving at a fair clip. It’s hard to get out of when you crash into a tree, which is pretty common. There’s no reason to use this exit, so don’t.

    The farthest left exits

  7. Tobacco Road, shown in blue in the photo above. This cat track comes all the way to the base of The Eagles and the edge of Eagle Basin. Tobacco Road is the exit for everything past Farside, and is the least tracked area over here. Those trees just before the road? We call them the Ashtray trees. Always sweet, and with a nice, gentle, perfect slope to glide through them, too.

Exits 3 through 7 all take you into the forest at a confluence of the Eagle Creek run and a short connector going back to Sunshine Coast. I love the Eagle Creek Cat Track, but find myself taking Sunshine Coast more often as it’s faster, there are fewer nutcases blocking the run and no flat bits.

Step 3: You worked so hard to get here. Now what?

From skier’s right to skier’s left, here are the delights that await. Remember that up here, there’s very little that differentiates the runs as you will see in the photos. The first three are best looked at in the first photo describing the first exits.

Best accessed by the Cleavage Traverse:

Routes down from the Cleavage Traverse entrance

  1. The photo above show the routes out to the lower section of Gold Scapegoat in orange. Gold Scapgoat is nice but you can get at it by traversing from Gold Afterburner which avoids the Cleavage Traverse entrance. It doesn’t get a whole lot of traffic, though, especially the side near Cleavage. Recommended for a first taste of the terrain.
  2. Cleavage proper, in yellow. Personally, I like the trees on either side rather than the treeless chute. The chute is the second most popular route off the traverse, meaning it gets tracked up early. Good if you’re in early on a powder day. The trees on either side are always better.
  3. Ewe First in red. The most popular route off the Cleavage Traverse, since it’s straight down from the entrance. Gets tracked first. Because it gets the traffic, and gets skied out fast, I don’t ski here that much.

    The Glades and Beyond

  4. Mother In Law, shown in purple in the above photo. Third most popular route. I like this except for the bottom, where the trees get very tight indeed and getting to the exit road is harder. I always end up on the flat by the weather station, and I try to avoid that. Note that the trees between Ewe First and Mother In Law (to the left of the purple arrow above) are far more dense than those to the right of the arrow. Patrol calls this run “Pam’s” after a patroller who slid in here doing avi work.
  5. Goat’s Head Soup, shown in green in the photo above. My favourite space in the trees. Wide open, an easy access, not that popular, I can find powder here days after a storm. Patrol calls this area “Buckies” after, yes, a patroller who took a slide doing avi work.

    Goat’s Head Soup on a powder day

    You can access this by taking the traverse (in pink in the photo above) to just past that snow fence, but the end of the traverse can be a bit rocky. So a better route in is to turn down a few turns in the Ewe First area, avoid the rock patch circled in black and pick a traverse route along the yellow line. It’s not a formal traverse but the trees are so sparse it’s easily done. There’s never any rocks on the yellow route.

  6. “The Fans”, boxed in orange in the photo above. The fan in that photo is the lower avi debris field of the Wildside chute, the top of which is accessed by The Road. The Farside chute has a fan, too.

    The right side of the Wildside fan

    Early season, when The Road isn’t open, accessing the Fans by the pink or yellow traverse route leads to utter heaven. The fans are roped off with an avi rope and either red or yellow signs. There are a couple of entry gates (one at the end of the pink traverse). So long as the signs are yellow (and NOT red) you are welcome to cross the ropeline anywhere, though patrol likes it if you use the entrances. If The Road is not open, the Fans attract virtually no traffic. If The Road is open, about 90% more traffic uses them than Goat’s Head Soup.

Best Accessed by The Road

  1. The true Wildside run is the upper reaches of the fan in the above photo, accessed The Road, and the route is shown in red. It’s steep up there, and can bump up very fast.

    The upper section of Wildside. Note the rock in the middle. It’s the trick to going farther

    In the photo below, the Red arrow is the main Wildside chute. The gully to the left of it is the “first Wildside Chute” (or R1) I talked about in the “How To Get In” section. You can see it’s actually a big chute, just as big as the Wildside itself. Going beyond the Wildside to the Farside up high at the level of The Road entrance is not for the faint of heart, and is beyond the scope of this post as I mention above in the section on “How To Get In”. For this reason, a lot of people don’t go past Wildside. Every chute past Wildside reduces the traffic by 80%, and by the time you get to lower Renegade, you’ll have the place to yourself. Note the base of the rock in the centre of the photo above. It is the key to getting farther.

    The first part of the world past Wildside, viewed from the Tobacco Road entrance.

  2. The Farside chute, shown in green in the photo above is past Wildside. Only the top most part of the main Wildside chute is visible in red above (the first chute, not marked, just to its left), which ought to give you a flavour of how much terrain there is over here. The trees between the Wildside and Farside are fun and don’t attract much traffic. To get to the Farside easily, take the Road to the Wildside, take about 10 turns in the gully, and take a hard left under the big rock in the photo above. A traverse (the black arrow in the photo above) gets you there with ease. Note: the top of the traverse is frequently the ONLY place you can cross the rocks. Sometimes, you have to carefully walk 10′ across a field of gravel. It’s all a function of snow coverage, but it is critical to STAY HIGH to get across and to GO SLOW. The blue arrow in the photo is the extension of the Cleavage Traverse, showing that you can get into the Farside Fan by taking the Cleavage Traverse. There’s not much point in going farther than the right side of the Farside fan on the Cleavage Traverse. You’ll get a few turns but not enough to warrant all that traversing. Still, the right side of the Farside Fan is pretty sweet and gets very little traffic.
  3. Take Wildside to the black traverse, cross the Farside, and you get to Think Again, marked in orange in the photo above. The visible gully is a real fun spot, with a powder filled 5′ drop as an entrance. If The Road is open, and the Wildside fan tracked out, this area still will be very nice.
  4. Keep following the black traverse past Farside and Think Again and you’ll get to the bottom part of Renegade (the yellow arrow). The ratio of turns to traverse means I often stop here and head down, but you can readily traverse farther. By now, you’ve left behind 99.9% of the traffic that comes to the South Side chutes, and can find powder tracks days after storms.

    It just keeps going…

  5. Next past Renegade is Stampede, the green arrow in the photo above. Note that the black traverse has now cut off all but the lower part of the run. This is why most people who ski this one and the next chute take the Climbing Track and start up high on that traverse shown in purple. Us mere mortals don’t do that.
  6. Finally you get to Saddledome (the orange arrow), or you would if you came in up high on the purple traverse. I have taken that black traverse all the way to the boundary fence (just visible in the extreme left side of the photo). Don’t bother.

Think Again, Renegade, Stampede and Saddledome all dump out into the beautiful area we call The Ashtray, which is where the last photo above was taken. The Ashtray features acres of fresh powder and the perfect gentle slope to enjoy it to the fullest, plus the wide open Ashtray glade at the entrance to Tobacco Road.

In summary:
  • The hardest part of the runs over here under most conditions is the entrances. Whether it be the entrance to the Cleavage Traverse or to the Wildside, once you’re in, you’re fine.
  • Under the right conditions, most of what I have described is dark blue.
  • Under the wrong conditions, most of what I have described is double or triple black
  • Best bets for powder retention: Goat’s Head Soup. Anything past Farside. You can find powder in both spaces days after storms.
  • Early season, take the Cleavage Traverse to the Fans (when they are open and the signs are yellow) offer the best skiing on the entire mountain and your best shot at fresh powder lines.
  • If you’ve made the work to get into the Wildside, please go farther on the unnamed traverse. You’ll love me for it.
This area rocks. Ski it safely. Don’t cross the ropes if the avalanche control signs are red. Have fun out there!
Read this far? Keep going. Read more about what you can do back here in this post.