This post is part of our 2018 Winter Road Trip.
Very few things are worth delaying a road trip a week for. Consecutive double-digit snowfall days in Jackson, WY is one of them. (So is getting over the flu, the boring yet grimy details of which I’ll spare you from).
We spent our first 2 days in Jackson cutting across the corner of Idaho to ride at Grand Targhee Resort. It reminded us of Vail’s back bowls but steeper, with a fourth of the people and for a third of the price (via Liftopia). Highly recommend. Then we spent 3 days at Jackson Hole, using our one additional Mountain Collective day there. On 2 of those days, we waited over an hour for avalanche control to finish and get second/third tram around 10:15am. Each of those days had us riding through auto-refill powder.
[Our introduction to Jackson Hole– low viz, 40 mph wind conditions down Rendezvous Bowl right out the tram. “If ya don’t know, don’t go.”]
And so it wasn’t a total surprise when the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center posted the following image as part of their daily advisory on the morning we wanted to find some of our own turns.
The slide occurred in Glory Bowl as part of the avalanche mitigation along Teton Pass. It required construction trucks to dig out the road from under 8 feet of snow. 8 feet. Of snow.
With that, a HIGH avy danger warning, and multiple recent local slide reports in mind, we planned our backcountry day with two objectives:
- Make only ultra-conservative decisions.
- Find ultra-fun and fluffy low-angle turns.
Being visitors, we asked Google and a Jackson friend where to go for a safe and quick tour since we had 7 hours of driving to do afterwards. A few areas in Grand Teton National Park turned up and after assessing their terrain on CalTopo, we decided on 25 Short for its woodsy ridgeline options and relatively straightforward navigation. Fun fact: the area gets its odd name from the peak’s elevation of 9,975 feet, i.e. 25 feet short of 10,000.
We showed up to a moderately busy mid-January, Saturday morning Taggart Lake trailhead (empty by Front Range standards). The small crowd quickly dispersed across the various ski/snowshoes/nordic trails and we found ourselves alone for the first ~2 miles, strolling through quiet trees and past one quiet, distant moose.
We eventually hit an open meadow where various skin tracks, and the people on them, coalesced. We saw skin tracks continue straight up the avalanche drainage (bold…) as well as along both of its bordering ridges. We went up the looker’s left ridgeline because it had more tree coverage.
Here, the real climbing starts. Of our day’s 2000 feet, most of it was gained in this last mile. We ended up trading trail-breaking duties with two others groups who were also down for a conservative tree skin up and ski down.
By the time we got to our intended transition point and went into downhill mode, the weather went all in on being a bluebird powder day. I excitedly strapped in, dusted snow off, jumped 90 degrees so my nose pointed down and…… nothing…. Fun tip: if there’s skin glue stuck to your base, don’t try haphazardly scraping it off while it’s warm and leaving it there. I probably would have been better off leaving the thicker streaks of glue in place instead of spreading the gunk around like butter on toast. After a few rounds of furiously sliding my board on the snow and scraping off whatever collected on the base, enough glue came off that gravity worked again.
And, woooo! Wooooo for the turns and fresh tracks we made! Wooooo for the well spaced trees! Wooooooo for the sugar crystal snow!
Temptation did get the best of us at the end. Below the skin track out laid a mellow, untouched meadow. We discussed how reconnecting with the skin track would be a struggle but hopped into it anyway. In retrospect, the few pristine turns we did get were not worth the thigh-high bootpacking and creek crossing required to get out. We were greedy and it was miserable. For other backcountry travelers out there, I want you to know that this happens more often than you think even if it never shows up in our highlight reels.
We eventually clambered our way back onto the skin track. Unfortunately, it was a little too flat and roll-y and my board still too sticky so we had to skin out. But with a clear views of the Tetons peeking out at us, we were happy to take our time and enthusiastically enjoy them as we did our day and overall week in Jackson.