cou·​loir kül-ˈwär How to pronounce couloir (audio)
: a steep mountainside gorge

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Couloir entered English in the 19th century from French, where it literally meant "passage." The term was originally applied specifically to steep gorges in the Alps and later to similar gorges elsewhere, especially ones used by skiers as passages down mountains. Because of their narrowness and steepness, couloirs can provide even expert skiers with some of the most challenging terrain they are likely to encounter-and they can be dangerous. In fact, journalist Jim Kochevar, writing of his experiences at the Telluride ski area for the Chicago Tribune in October 1997, declared (tongue in cheek) that "Couloir is French for 'cold, narrow place to die.'"

Example Sentences

at one point the steep, ice-encrusted walls of the couloir are no more than 50 feet apart
Recent Examples on the Web The view opened up over the other side of the col: the steep west face of Mount Helen and its northwest couloir, still packed with snow in early August, and the peaks of the east side of Titcomb Basin. Brendan Leonard, Outside Online, 14 Aug. 2020 Chin and Monod bootpack up a perfect couloir on Surprise Pass, Alberta. Grayson Schaffer, Outside Online, 14 May 2015 The search team located the bodies approximately 300 meters below the Joffre Peak couloir shortly after the search began, Sergeant Rob Knapton said. The Editors, Outside Online, 13 Jan. 2015 Working in the dark, rescue teams attempted to reach the pair from below, traversing the upper Reid Glacier and climbing up the couloir, but were met with extremely challenging conditions. oregonlive, 8 Mar. 2022 The couloir is a steep and narrow 1,600-foot tongue of snow splitting the rocky north face of the mountain. New York Times, 1 Feb. 2022 Sinking up to my armpits in a pocket of facets midway up a couloir only moments after digging a pit took spatial variability beyond the conceptual. Marc Peruzzi, Outside Online, 26 Feb. 2021 Matthew Brien, 33, of Jackson, Wyoming was leading a group through a narrow couloir known as the Broken Thumb on Monday when an avalanche broke off above him, park officials said. CBS News, 23 Feb. 2021 Brien had entered the narrow area of the couloir above the rappels when the avalanche occurred, the park service said. Joe Sutton, CNN, 23 Feb. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'couloir.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


French, literally, passage, from couler

First Known Use

1822, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of couloir was in 1822


Dictionary Entries Near couloir

Cite this Entry

“Couloir.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Feb. 2023.

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