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Skiing (Powder) On the Grand Teton555455709249

Words and Photos by: Ben Hoiness

Skiing the Grand Teton is one of the most sought-after ski mountaineering objectives in the lower 48. It is an incredible summit with wildly exposed skiing and not to mention the total descent is just under 7,000'. The route to the top of the mountain in winter involves tons of climbing with a mix of booting, skinning and some ice climbing through the Stetner and Chevy couloirs that connect to the Ford. This January conditions aligned to make this special descent even more special. Powder. Deep Powder.

Expert snowpack analysis is required when skiing the Grand in the winter because the weather and snowpack on the upper mountain are usually quite different and predicting the snow and stability up there comes from experience on the mountain. The local avalanche center bases most of its forecasting on weather stations and observation from weather stations 3000' below the skiing. So the correlation is pretty weak to say the least. I've been lucky to spend a lot of time up there over the past few years and have gotten to know the mountain well.

My good friend and fellow Exum Guide Tim Cohn sparked the idea of heading up there on this cold calm winter day and to be honest we had our doubt if it was the day.. Were we a day too early? The Tetons were just coming out of a small storm cycle that had left 20cm of new snow at 10,000' and not much more than a trace in the valley. The winds had been high but the wind station can be a poor representation of the high peaks but this was still our main concern of the day with the incredible amount of overhead hazard you have when ascending this route. We broke trail up the N fork of Garnet and stability was feeling reasonable for our objective. We crossed into the bottom of the Stetner and found incredibly calm conditions with incredible rime formations on all the walls. We were still skeptical but decided to keep assessing and head up. The breaking was deep and laborious but the snow was cold and without slab characteristics. We were psyched but tenuous. We continued up the mountain in light cloud cover with continuous deep breaking up the lower Ford and eventually onto the SE ridge where we were able to switch from booting to skinning and make our way to the summit. We were elated! The summit was calm enough to light a candle but cold enough that you wanted every single layer on. By my estimate, the temps were sub 0F. We took some time to celebrate!

Tim skied the first pitch ski cutting and kept a keen watch for moving snow, cracking and slab that we may have missed once we moved to the SE ridge. Nothing. Nothing but deep, blower snow. I skied down to him and committed to entering the top of the Ford. It was unreal... Skiing this deep of snow on the highest peak in the range in January. We leap frogged eachother down the Ford exchanging yips of joy and amazement for a descent neither of us quite predicted being so good. We rapped our way down the chevy and stetner working smoothly together to get down and out of the funnel as efficient as possible. We coiled our ropes. Took off our harnesses and truly cherished the rest of our descent to the valley floor enjoying every turn and the deep satisfaction of a good partnership in the mountains. One of the best days I've had skiing in the Tetons and I couldn't be happier to spend it with Tim.

Words and Photos by: Ben Hoiness


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