There is in the backcountry ski – and I would expect the rock climbing – world a unique and exclusive phenomenon. A fantastic and spectacular distraction of such epic and arousing proportions that it is known to cause severe rubber necking, lane drifting and angry, frightened outbursts from any passengers you may have in the car with you: The Highway Line*.
What exactly is The Highway Line?
It’s fairly self-explanatory, but in short, it is simply a ski line that is visible from the road – any road. And the Wasatch Front is filled with eyebrow raising, heart thumping, wish-it-was-always-winter Highway Lines. Utah County in particular has some of the most ambitious and head turning lines: Provo Peak, the southwest face of Timpanogos, and other unnamed ridges and chutes off of Cascade Mountain and Lightening Peak, Loafer Mountain, Mount Nebo and Box Elder. The most famous of these Highway Lines is also one of the most famous lines in Utah period. – The Cold Fusion Couloir off of Timpanogos’ north face. 3,000 vertical feet of incredibly steep (60 degrees at the top!), iconic, amazing skiing. Or so I hear anyway. The closest I have come to the Cold Fusion is crossing its path while pedaling my mountain bike around Timpanooeke Road in the dead of summer.
*Just remember this: when scoping Highway Lines, it’s important to pay attention to the lines on the highway.
The best angle on the Cold Fusion** is found while driving south on I-15 at the point of the mountain, although you can catch glimpses of it from Sandy and Draper as well. Unless of course you drive up the south side of Suncrest – in that case, the couloir becomes so apparent, so bald faced, that one would have to actively try and ignore the mocking, tempting nature of the view. It’s magnificent. Especially so with its western, smaller counterpart, the Forked Tongue Couloir adding to the overwhelming sense of possibility.
**Aside from the top, looking between your skis.
In March of 1989 a University of Utah researcher named Stanley Pons announced that he and his partner had “produced energy with a fusion reaction in a benchtop apparatus at room temperature.” The process was called cold fusion. It promised a limitless supply of clean, cheap energy. The scientific community rushed to confirm and replicate the findings, but soon found that the claim was… suspect. Eventually Pons was derided into an obscure corner of the scientific world where he continued his cold fusion research until at last, the funding – and hope – all dried up. Today, those who continue to travel the path of cold fusion are known as “cold fusionists.”
I have no idea if the couloir on Timpanogos’ north face drew its name from the science of cold fusion. But the name holds a certain cachet, or rather the route itself lends its cachet to the name. I suspect it could be called the “FAIL couloir” and still be considered a Wasatch classic. Indeed, The Suicide Chutes, the Room of Doom and other so-named ski runs in Utah do not seem to be negatively effected by the monickers that fate, or probably more accurately, an underemployed ski junkie, gave them. Certainly being named for an embarrassing and failed scientific experiment is not hurting the reputation of the Cold Fusion Couloir.
There are other Highway Lines. Many of them spectacular. But none so much as the Cold Fusion. Which is why it’s on the top of my to-ski list. My Tick-List. And also why I am today, although perhaps of a slightly different nature, a self-proclaimed cold fusionist. That is, I will be – just as soon as I ski it.