Couloir Median, Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Morocco offers several options for skiing. If you’re looking for couloirs however, there is only one place. Refuge Tazaghart is surrounded by many narrow corridors, all pretty easily accessible. One of the better couloirs in the area is Couloir Median which offers two variations. Looker’s right there is a very narrow couloir, nice and steep. I climbed and skied it on February 6, 2014, together with Jurriaan Huisman.

In order to ski couloir Median one has to go to refuge Tazaghart first. From Marrakech you take the one hour journey to Imlil, the gateway to the Atlas mountains. When you’re fit and carry all your stuff, you can make it in one day to refuge Tazaghart. In case you have porters who carry some of your stuff, you most likely have to make a stop at Azib Tamsoult because it will take too much time, at least for the porters, to reach Tazaghart in one day. From Azib Tamsoult it’s another 2,5 to 3 hours.

Once you have arrived at refuge Tazaghart you see a big plateau in front of you, the Tazaghart plateau. From this plateau a number of couloirs will lead you back to the hut. The first obvious one, not a narrow couloir, is couloir Tsoukine. The next one on the left is couloir Occidental and one more over you’ll find couloir Median. This couloir has two routes. The one on the left is the wider one with a couple of big rocks in the middle. The one looker’s right is much more narrow and a bit hidden and can be skied without any rappels. Both are referred to as the Median couloir. We skied this narrow variation early February.

the route of couloir Median, couloir Occidental is visible on the right

the route of couloir Median, couloir Occidental is visible on the right

Couloir Median is rated as a 4.2 / E3, indicating it’s between 40 and 45 degrees. All couloirs from the plateau are Northeast facing and completely protected from wind and sun. It might not be the best springskiing but at least conditions don’t change that much and avalanche danger is really low. The fact these couloirs are protected means there are always options when it’s windy around the hut as was the case during our visit. In the morning a blizzard seemed to ruin our day but the wind laid down a bit after lunch. We decided to give it a go and have a look in the couloirs. Soon we got into the rhythm of climbing and helped by a strong motivation to reach the summit and ski this beautiful couloir, we kept on going…

climbing couloir Median

climbing couloir Median

After an easy traverse from the hut across the valley, we made some zigzags to the entrance of the couloir. From there we decided to skin a bit more since it wasn’t too steep yet. At the next stop, we had to transition to bootpacking. A long narrow corridor awaited us but we were in a good mood with a promising reward after the climb. One by one we set the pace and we progressed slowly towards the top. A break was needed every now and then to drink some water and eat some sugar in the form of chocolate and “Snelle Jelle” (a Dutch sort of gingerbread). After a couple of hours climbing we reached the top of the couloir around 5:30 pm. At the top we found ourselves on a little plateau from where we had a great view. Nearby we could see multiple other couloirs and in the distance the Atlas mountains slowly faded away…

jumpturns in couloir Median

jumpturns in couloir Median

After a short recovery from the climb, time had come to descent. Before stepping into our skis, we had to carefully downclimb a short section. Once we had carefully done so, the fun could begin. Since the couloir was very narrow, we had to jumpturn almost all of the couloir. It was good practise and we enjoyed every single bit of it. In the middle section of the couloir there was what seemed to be a wind affected snowpack. This seems highly unlikely since the couloir is very well protected but I don’t know how to describe it otherwise. It made for more complicated skiing because we had to deal with an uneven surface. Other challenges in the couloir were caused by rocks where some careful navigation was required. In general though, the skiing was pretty good!

Skiing in Morocco might not be the first thing that comes to mind as a skier, challenging skiing in very aesthetic couloirs definitely won’t. Skiing such lines in the Alps is normally only possible at the end of the season when the sun gets stronger and temperatures are rising. Because of the Northern African climate this type of skiing is possible in Morocco in the middle of the season. Besides this advantage, the combination of skiing and exposing yourself to another culture is also a great benefit of skiing in this part of the world. Visiting the Tazaghart hut means you’ll visit a very remote area where rush is non-existent. You might find yourself to be on your own or there might be another two people or so. When you’re not skiing, life in and around the hut is like life in the mountains in general: simple and back to basic!

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