The Conspirator: Noah Howell on The Chuting Gallery

“I’ve always been a slow reader, but I never imagined it would take me 13 years to finish a flimsy paperback,” Noah Howell wrote on his blog in 2011. Once a budding Utah-based skier and co-conspirator behind Powderwhore Productions with his brother, Jonah, Noah developed an interest in pursuing The Chuting Gallery’s lines that fueled his imagination and kicked off a lasting friendship and numerous expeditions with Andrew McLean. On April Fool’s Day 2011, after three unsuccessful attempts, Howell skied the northeast couloir of the Pfeifferhorn with McLean and Andy Jacobson, completing his Chuting Gallery quest. —Louise Lintilhac 

Andrew McLean rappels into the Pfeifferhorn’s northeast couloir on the day that Noah Howell completed his quest to ski every line in The Chuting Gallery. [Photo] Andy Jacobsen

First Impressions

I went to a slideshow at REI, an intimate gathering where Andrew presented on his new “guidebook,” The Chuting Gallery. At the time, I was just getting into backcountry skiing, and my focus was skiing wide-open powder bowls, so the book was a real eye opener. Honestly, it freaked me out. I was like, “What the fuck? Why would you want to ski this stuff?” But it excited me. I wanted to go check out these steep and mysterious new corners of the Wasatch and see if I could ski them.

I made it a goal to tick off all of the three-star lines, which are great, skiable descents. Then a friend invited me to go ski Devil’s Castle at Alta. It’s one of the more convoluted and bizarre lines in the book; it’s a traverse that sits above a 500-foot cliff. Afterward, as I checked it off in my list, I realized I was about halfway through the book, and I’d just notched one of the rowdiest lines. My OCD took over, and I decided to try and finish them all.

Friends in Steep Places

We did a segment with Andrew in one of our Powderwhore films called Masterpiste Theater, where we had him sitting in the corner of a fancy study smoking a pipe and talking about skiing the lines in his book. That was how I really got to know him. Then, later, we went skiing and did some big expeditions to Alaska and became friends.

Steep Legacy

It’s still relevant today because people are drawn in by Andrew’s humor, self-deprecation and lightheartedness about skiing scary stuff. I also think that the way he wrote it is fun; it still leaves a lot open to interpretation. It’s a horrible “guidebook” insomuch as you don’t get good directions or instructions, but that only adds to the mystery. He basically wrote just enough to draw you in, but you have to figure it out on your own—or give him a phone call like I did once from the slope when I couldn’t find the rappel in the Montgomery Chute.

Chuting Lessons

On one attempt of the northeast couloir of the Pfeifferhorn with Andrew, he dropped in first and disappeared out of sight. We waited and waited, then Andrew came booting back up and said, “Umm, it’s really steep and icy in the choke. I’m just not into it, but if you guys want to ski it, you can.” My brother and I looked at each other and said, “Hell no.” That’s like Rambo running away from a gunfight, saying, “Yeah, I’m out of here, but if you guys wanna go fight, feel free.”

I learned that having set objectives instantly influences your decision making and adds greater danger. You have totally different motivations when you have a goal versus just going out to ski what’s safe and in good condition. I also learned that Andrew is sick in the head, but that’s pretty apparent from reading the book.

Subscribe now and get your own copy of The Chuting Gallery:

Speak Your Mind