It was a slow start to winter for resorts in the U.S. In order to find snow in the early season, for many passionate skiers, it meant getting creative.
Based out of the Wasatch this season, due to drier conditions, I decided to drive north for four to Jackson, Wyoming, to poke around the Tetons for a few days. Jackson temporarily offered more promise with snow depths that prevailed over many other locations in the West. After some great days skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, it was time to go exploring for some fresh snow in Grand Teton National Park.
With soaring peaks, protected canyons, and endless terrain possibilities, the park holds great promise for adventure. The 40-mile-long Teton Range is the youngest mountain chain in the Rocky Mountains with beautiful, jagged summits and long, aesthetic runs. This is a bountiful area for backcountry skiers.
Luckily, I was able to meet up with some expert local friends who accompanied me on a few fun backcountry ski tours. Steve Romeo, professional skier and www.TetonAt.com honcho, and Greg von Doersten, professional adventure photographer, both had time for some missions in the park.
Our team encountered a variety of conditions on our adventures with cold temps (-20F), big winds (50 mph+ gusts), and changing visibility, but we did find great snow on each excursion and that made the journey worthwhile. We skied lines off of three different high peaks: Teewinot, the Grand Teton, and Cloudveil Dome. Averaging roughly six to eight hours per route, we invested good energy in getting up high to scout out the best options for descent.
The first adventure took us to Teewinot Peak, which at 12,325 feet is the sixth highest peak in the range. The name of the mountain is derived from the Shoshone Native American word that means “many pinnacles.” With a 6 a.m. start, after climbing close to 5,500 feet, we dropped into its southeast couloir for some soft, silky turns down to the lower apron. The remainder of the ski we were gliding through fresh powder to the valley floor.
The next tour was up the Grand Teton for some fresh powder turns. The highest peak in the Teton Range and the second highest peak in Wyoming, at 13,775 feet, the “Grand” offers some of the most ultra-classic routes for ski mountaineers. On this particular day, our start in -20F temps kept us bundled through the early morning hours. As we climbed higher, we evaluated the snow pack and made the decision to search for the best powder turns in the area. A few hours later, we were skiing off the Grand’s flanks in knee-deep snow, kept light and fluffy from the cold.
Cloudveil Dome, 12,026 feet, was our team’s last ski adventure for the week. Sitting in the central portion of the Teton range. The temps were slightly warmer but the winds were 50+ mph as we slowly climbed towards the entrance of our last objective, the Sneaker Couloir. Dropping into the chute, we encountered wind-buffed snow and smooth skiing out onto the lowers below. Once safely at tree line, we made soft turns back down to the car.
Ski touring comes with hazards and this season’s lack of snowfall has complicated the backcountry conditions everywhere. Our team was careful in route selection and diligent about observations in our explorations. With good teammates and careful judgment, Steve, Greg, and I were able to tackle some bigger objectives in a successful and safe search for snow.
Text and photos by Kim Havell, Salomon Freeski International Team