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.'"

Examples of couloir in a Sentence

at one point the steep, ice-encrusted walls of the couloir are no more than 50 feet apart
Recent Examples on the Web For more than eight hours, rescuers worked to reach the hikers and lower them from the couloir. Daniella Segura, Sacramento Bee, 27 May 2024 While the walls of the steep, narrowing gully quickly rise to more than 100 feet on either side and the couloir is large enough to be rippled with a few ski lines, a snowball tossed from the top can nearly reach the bottom of the gully and the creek that drains it in winter. Christopher Solomon, Outside Online, 22 Mar. 2018 In August, 21-year-old Jadyn Weiss fell 300 feet to her death while descending a steep mountain gully known as the Flying Dutchman couloir. Anna Lazarus Caplan, Peoplemag, 2 Oct. 2023 That includes backcountry boarding and skiing with friends, ice climbing, snowshoeing, hiking and climbing couloirs. Chris Meehan, Popular Mechanics, 27 Feb. 2023 Rivulets and rocks made the couloir treacherous. Los Angeles Times, 28 Feb. 2023 Six members of the group were ascending the gulley, called a couloir, early Sunday afternoon when the lead climber triggered the avalanche, the sheriff’s office said. Gene Johnson, Hartford Courant, 23 Feb. 2023 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

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'couloir.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 24 Jul. 2024.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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