The backcountry off Teton Pass is heavily trafficked, but you would be surprised how concentrated that traffic is around the closest tours. I guess it isn’t that surprising considering you hike less and ski more downhill with the closer lines, but I enjoy the touring part of ski touring. So I will often head out to the Claws, or even further. This weekend, since both Rob and I were recovering from the Jackson crud, we settled for the Claws and Avy Bowl.
Early morning park adventures never get old, even in the bitter cold. Today was one of those bitter cold, wonder Wyoming windy days. We set off early, coffee in hand to drive out to the park to ski a peak called Wimpy’s. With the persistent slab, we planned to ski pretty conservatively, although there are some really cool couloirs off the backside. On the way in, we passed an early morning herd of deer and moose.
Skinning into Wimpy’s takes a bit more flat traversing than 25 Short ,and I took advantage of the time to get some skin track shots with the Tetons in the foreground.
Some days it is beautiful and sunny, and I am able to zone out for the skin track and cruise, and sometimes it is like today. Today it was bitter cold and windy. The skin track was blown in almost immediately, meaning that since rob was two switchbacks above me, we were both breaking trail. About three quarters of the way up, I needed to take a break. I took a knee to get a bit out of the wind and the steep soft skin track had obviously taken a tool on my hydration. Before I had a chance to get my water out, I had to put a hand on the ground to steady myself. Even though I wanted to take a longer break, the risk of getting chilled in the wind was too great, so I drank, ate a few bites of frozen pb&j and continued my slow motion slog to the top. That is the thing about backcountry touring. There is a fine line between too cold and sweating, between moving fast enough to be comfortable and needing to stop for food. Often, you can do a whole tour and wait until you get back to the car to chug some water and eat a ton, but that was not today.
At the top I grabbed another snack while transitioning and stashed some more calories in my pocket to snack on on the way down. Luckily, the way down was 100% worth the way up. Our tracks were the only ones out there.
Not only was the snow good on the way down, but the track out was a coast. Needless to say I took a long hot shower to warm up after Wimpy’s. Does that make me a Wimp?
Teton Park is the type of place where you can close you eyes and think you are in Europe. It is home to some of the gnarliest couloirs and steepest chutes, but also some of the best low angle powder runs. Since the avalanche conditions were a bit sketchy, we decided to ski the low angle tree on the east side of 25 Short. The skin up is a really long slog.
Once we were most of the way up, we dug a snow pit to test snow pack stability on the same aspect that we were about to ski. With a giant full-armed smack into an isolated column of snow we were able to get a propagated crack, but not a lot of energy. That was a pretty good indicator that we should make conservative decisions throughout the day. The snow, as Jake tested was balls deep and the snow type under the propagation was sugary shit. Those are all official terms, I swear.
At the top, we took a moment to enjoy the view, eat some oreos, rip skins off the skis and plan our descent. Backcountry skiing isn’t like inbounds skiing where you can mob down a powder field with all of your friends in tow – AKA party skiing. Instead, backcountry skiers mostly (the smart ones) go one at a time, with eyes on each other as they ski and stop one at a time at safe spots out of the way of the slope that you just skied in case an avalanche decides to rip one loose.
Luckily, There were no signs of slope instability on the way down, and the snow was so good that we felt the need to skin back up 1500 feet for a second run at it.
Once we were satisfactorily tired and had our fair share of the white fluff, we started the traverse out. In order to get out We had to go from the nice fluffy snow that was at high elevations and descend into some really thick, heavy stuff near the valley floor. There was enough shwacking to satisfy even the most hardcore New Englander. By the time we made it out to the car, six hours after embarking, a large pizza, and a nap was in order.
In the early season, it is important to find a couple of runs with enough snow coverage and shelter from the wind and sun, so when Jackson goes two weeks without snow, we can still find some good skiing. That is exactly what we found between two popular routes on Teton pass. After climbing the never ending boot pack stairway to the top of Glory, we skied some really nice turns during an early season powder drought.
Think Jackson is only a biking and skiing town? There are plenty of other things to do. That is, if you like climbing, hiking and in this instance, caving. There are the wind caves on the Idaho side of the Tetons and there is a five-mile long cave route that connects to the ice caves further along the cliffs. Rob and I didn’t do the whole cave, since it would require more equipment that we brought, but we crawled between chambers until the first mandatory rappel. Next time, we will need to bring harnesses, rope, wetsuits and more snacks!