Exploring the Tetons: 65 Ski Routes in one year
This past year, my first in Jackson, WY, I skied 65 routes, over 40 of which were in Grand Teton National Park. These routes would not have been accomplished without the partnership of new local friends who became great ski companions. I had just left my long time home of Telluride, CO in search of adventure and exploration in new areas, and as a newcomer to Jackson, I quickly learned that it’s an ideal community in which to find outdoor partners. Thanks to a rotation of members within this new team, we enjoyed consistent outings in the Teton Range from December through May. And each new line offered challenges, possibilities, and perspectives.
All photos copyrighted: Kim Havell
In December there was a lot of snowfall. We didn’t have to work hard to find powder skiing near, around, and on the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR). When January rolled in, the storms dried up for a short time and conditions were safer—the backcountry hunt for fresh tracks began. My partners and I headed out to Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) for adventure skiing and powder-snow foraging.
I kicked off my time in the park by building a road map with the classics—the vast array of five-star couloirs off many of the big peaks in the range. My new friends/ski partners Brian Warren, Patrick McDermott, Tigger Knecht, and a handful of others were also eager to ski exciting lines in good snow. Our list began with steep aesthetic runs like the Apocalypse Couloir, Son of Apocalypse Couloir, the Sliver Couloir, and the Northwest Passage.
During January, every day out in GTNP, conditions and weather continually lined up and immediately welcomed us back to the next objective. By the end of the month, our list of skied routes had grown to a significant size. Our team had also bonded during our long, fun days ski-touring around the big peaks with their hefty approaches. We learned to work together smoothly in serious terrain and, with these building blocks of solid partnership skills naturally constructed from time in the field, we started to dream bigger.
Wind and snow blew in over the next few months, making conditions trickier to evaluate. Diligent observation through daily snow safety assessments and weather forecasts dictated where we could ski and what lines were attainable. During this time, we turned back from numerous routes that we worked hard to reach. It was always as a team that we turned back, and I liked that our decisions were unanimous every time.
We also had to be flexible. With most Plan “A”s, we also lined up Plan “B” and in some cases Plan “C.” There were times we bailed on A, B, and C, and retreated to the comfort of Dornan’s Bar & Restaurant for big views of the park from the safety of a bar stool with a hot toddy in early winter—when temps were -20F for our 4 a.m. starts—and for a cold beer in the spring—when the sun would force us off the slopes well before noon.
Sometimes a certain line, wave, climb, or course speaks to your heart, and so began our next list of objectives. Big-dog routes lurked in the back of my mind, waiting for the perfect combination of weather and conditions. Slowly but surely, we skied our objectives. Our team finished its many missions with smiling faces, stomachs sore from laughter, beers at the parking lot, and an eager sense of hope moving us toward the next adventure. It was always a good time.
There is always risk in these mountains forays, but if you make careful choices with good people, through open dialogue and communication, you will maximize your team’s potential while maintaining your margins of safety. Meeting challenges, accomplishing goals, and pursuing our dreams fuels our lives, but in every check next to a completed objective, the best memories come from being with the right people, for the right reasons, and appreciating being outdoors together. And, ultimately, as the legendary climber and ski-mountaineer Alex Lowe once said, “Whoever has the most fun wins.”
Prospectors: The Apocalypse Couloir
The Apocalypse couloir is tucked away off a shoulder of Prospector Peak in GTNP and accessed through cliff bands from a steep notch. This ultra-classic couloir, which requires numerous rappels in the early season, was one of our first objectives as a team in early January. With a group of four, and a 4 a.m./-20F start, we dropped into this chilly, north-facing line to access its protected snow. Stability was good and our ski edges gripped solidly in the steep, soft snow. The team leap-frogged through each section, taking turns going first. We ended the day in the cold, dark meadow below, draining the last of our thermos’ hot liquids.
Skier Patrick McDermott
25 Short: Broken Thumb
In search of powder snow in mid-January, we headed over to this lesser-known route on the 25 Short. It’s easy to access but involves some technical elements and careful route-finding. We dropped in off the top of the ridge in deep powder snow, enjoying fast, deep turns down to the narrow entry of the line. From the top, after rappelling through the dog-leg/broken thumb, it was perfect powder all the way down to the wide apron at the bottom. Ropes and anchor gear necessary.
Skier Brian Warren
JHMR Backcountry: Once Is Enough to Gothic
Snowboarder Cooper Kahlenberg
A classic link-up that is not for the faint of heart. Accessed via the backcountry gate from the top of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Once Is Enough is short, sweet, and serious. With a couple of steep, committing turns and/or a drop-in jump off the top, it requires solid footwork and a purposeful mind. Our group of four included snowboarder Cooper Kahlenberg, who rode over onto the steep shoulder and hit the fresh snow, sending a wave off the edge. On the next bench down, Tigger Knecht dropped a technical air and nailed the landing into a fast straight-line out of the tight couloir walls, charging out 200 feet below.
Skier Tigger Knecht
Middle Teton: Chouinard Couloir
It took me five attempts to ski this couloir. A steep and unusual line off the Middle Teton, there is much objective hazard on this route. I turned back four times with different partners because we did not like the conditions. Finally, in early April, with Brian Warren, we made it to the top of the line—perched for a transition to our skis in a narrow, icy, and steep couloir. The first turns were technical, and we were glad to have our whippets for possible self-arrest, but as we made it out onto the more open slopes, with big exposure above steep cliffs, we enjoyed smooth, luxurious corn turns down to the bottom of the line.
Skier Brian Warren
Skier Fred Marmsater
South Teton: SE Couloir
One of the steepest lines in the Teton range, the SE Couloir makes many top-ten lists. It includes summiting the picturesque South Teton and then dropping immediately down into a committing line that requires perfect conditions to make a worthy, safe descent. My partner, Patrick McDermott, and I headed up at 3 a.m. to ensure being on the summit to beat the heat of the morning sun on the east slopes. We dropped in and leap-frogged down the line with hop-turns off the top nearing 60 degrees. As we skied through the crux, the snow was warming rapidly, and we moved fast toward the exit col. By the time we reached lower Avalanche Canyon, beach-ball-sized roller balls were cascading off the surrounding peaks. Perfect timing.
Grand Teton: Otter Body
Kim made the first female descent of the famed Otter Body route on the Grand Teton on May, 15, 2013.
Mt. Woodring: Fallopian Tube
Off-the-beaten path, this couloir has one of the longest vertical drops in the Teton range—nearly 2700 vertical feet. The top of the col is at 10,600 and descends the north side of Mt. Woodring into Leigh Canyon. The approach through Paintbrush Canyon is exquisite, with beautiful views of the lakes below and the gorgeous northern peaks of the Tetons.
Skiers Jay Hause and Ben Weisbeck
We encountered challenging conditions in this couloir. The wind had abruptly swept through the evening before and, despite the confines of this line, the snow was not protected. But the beauty and adventure of a sustained, unknown route made for a fun outing for our team. It was a casual day with plenty of time to spare as we skinned back to the parking lot across the melting lake shorelines.
St. Johns: NE Ramp
My spring season in the Tetons ended with a few beautiful sunrises up in the high mountains heading north in GTNP.
Skier Danny Roth
The NE Ramp off of St. Johns is an aesthetic route that includes a steep entry into a tilting ramp on the sheer north side of St. Johns. We knew this route, protected from the sun, would hold better snow. Jonathan Selkowitz, Donny Roth, and I headed up early that morning to race the sun. We topped out just as the conditions grew isothermal and sloppy on the east face right below the summit ridge. Dropping into the ramp, we had great corn conditions down to the lower apron. We did our best to ski the patches of snow as far down to the lake below as possible.
Mt. Moran: The Skillet
The last ski of my Teton season was up another classic route: the Skillet off Mt. Moran. With 6000 vertical feet of climbing and skiing, it’s a lot of bang for the buck. Caution: there is some serious bush-whacking involved. Nothing quite like capping off an exciting season with a big group of friends.
With a 1 a.m. start, we were up on the snow slopes in plenty of time to catch the rising sun. And we bumped into our friend and legendary mountain man, Wild Bill, en route. Though mountains can be big, our world is small.
Skiers Chris Kitchen, Sam Green, and Patrick McDermott
Appendix of Routes Skied
Otter Body Route
Ford/Chevy/Stettner Route (2 descents)
Amore Vida Couloir
East Face to Glacier Route
The Skillet (2 descents)
East Face Proper (2 descents)
East Face to Buck Shot Couloir
Son of Apocalypse Couloir
Sneaker Couloir (2 descents)
The Nugget Couloir
The Sliver Couloir
The Red Sentinel Couloir
Mt. St. Johns
4 Hour Couloir
Cody Peak (area)
Once Is Enough
Twice Is Nice
Shady Lady Couloir
St. Patty’s Day Chute
Teton Pass Area
North Side Routes
South Side Routes