Friday, February 23, 2007

Grand Teton President's Day Weekend Trip

After getting back from my early January trip to Alta with my dad, I kept waiting for it to start snowing in California. When the snow never came, I kept canceling ski trips and had almost given up on their being a California ski season this year. I signed up for my first triathlon of the season (Wildflower Olympic) a few weeks ago and had almost shifted priorities to training for that. Luckily my buddy John asked me to join him on a president's day weekend backcountry trip in Grand Teton National Park and my priorities are back where they should be.

I flew into Salt Lake last Friday afternoon. After spending the day skiing at Alta, John picked me up and we started the drive up to Jackson. I was expecting that arriving without reservations on President's Day weekend, we'd have problems finding a room. I was wrong. The town was deserted. After staying in Hoback Junction the first night, we split our time in Jackson between the Motel Six (an unbeatable deal at $40 a night) and a friend's condo. The only downside to the Motel Six is that it doesn't have a hot tub.

We met up with the rest of the group at 7 AM by a trail head near Taggert Lake on Saturday. We started off by climbing up "25 Short" and then skinning over to 10696. Due to high winds and wind-packed snow, we didn't go any higher than ~10,300'. From there, we skied down the ridge to the top of Maverick's. Just as last year, the first turns of the year in my AT boots had me wondering how I could ever ski in something so soft. But the wind-packed snow of 10696 eventually turned to soft powder when we got over to the tree protected east/northeast face of Maverick's. We had a beautiful run (2500' vertical) with 6-8" of powder on moderately pitched terrain through a mixture of trees and open fields. By the time I was a quarter of the way down, I once again had gotten used to my AT boots (Garmont G-Rides) and enjoyed every turn . The downside to skiing Maverick's from "25 Short" is that it requires an hour long skin out. We finished the day by enjoying a few pitchers of beer at Dornan's. If you're ever up that way, I highly recommend stopping there. The view of the Tetons (basically the same as the pic below) from the bar is absolutely stunning.
On Sunday, we decided to ski "Wimpy's", the next peak to the south of Maverick's. Initially, I was relieved to see that there was a skin track already put in. However, I was soon cursing Jim, the very old school owner of Norpine in San Diego, who insisted (when I bought my equipment last year) that I should just get straight skins. The skin track was obviously put in by people with fat skis and wall to wall carpet underneath. For every 2 feet that I went forward, it seemed like I'd slide back 1. (And that was after pushing as hard as I could with my arms to help keep from sliding back.) On the whole, the run down is a 2300' vertical mix of moderately pitched (25-35 degrees) trees and wide open meadows. For the first run, we skied down along the ridge to skier's left. If you go too far over, it gets pretty cliffy. The snow (6" mix of fluff and sunbaked slab on top of fluff) was decent on the first run. Right about the time we started skinning back up, it started snowing. By the time we started skiing down, there was a nice 3" of fresh snow. We skied more down the middle (to skier's right) this time and had a fantastic run. It seemed like every time we'd head into the trees it would open up to a sweet powder shot. The second run earned Wimpy's a big thumbs up. Another positive for Wimpy's is that you don't need skins for the ski out.
On Monday morning, we awoke to 5" of new snow (in the mountains..not in town) and set out to ski Albright...the next mountain south of Wimpy's. The access to Albright is the same (Death Canyon trailhead). When you hit the Valley trail, you stay on it past the turn off to the bottom of Wimpy's. We stayed on the trail until just before Phelps Lake when we started on our way up the south side of the ridge (still on the east facing part...just on the southernmost part of it) of Albright. It was a gorgeous day...sunny, low 30's, and 8-10" of soft snow. We topped out about 150' below the summit (~10,900')and ate a nice lunch while contemplating the untouched powder field awaiting us. I've said it before. But I'll say it again. One of the beauties of backcountry skiing vs. lift-serviced is that you can actually take the time to relax and enjoy the whole powder experience. For our first run, we had a beautiful 3300' vertical run sticking to the south side of the ridge (between our skin track and the main gully) through a mix of open meadows and thin glades. The snow was phenomenal. For our second run, we only went up about 2500' and then skied the same trees before finishing heading into the heart of the gulley about halfway down. The only trick to the gulley was to stick to the right side as the left (southeast facing) side was pretty baked. Towards the bottom, you need to head right to avoid a sizable (~20-30') cliff band.On Tuesday, it was just John and I. We headed back to ski Maverick's again. This time we approached it from the south using the same trailhead we used for Wimpy's and Albright. The only challenge was that the entire mountain was covered with dense clouds. So it made the whole process of actually finding the base of Maverick's from the Valley Trail a bit tricky. In the end we got lucky and guessed right. Besides lucking out in actually finding our way to the base of Maverick's, John and I also lucked out with the best skiing (by far) of the entire 4 days. Most of Maverick's was east/northeast facing (which meant it wasn't baked at all) and it didn't look like anyone had been there since it snowed on Sunday night. Due to the high winds, we only hiked up 1600'. But we did 3 full laps and got in my 3 best runs of the year. It was fairly steep (30-40 degrees) and full of surprises. You'd duck through a set of trees, catch air off of a lip and find yourself in a wide open meadow that was all yours to carve up.
Like all good things, our stay in Jackson had to come to an end. John and I drove back to Salt Lake on Tuesday night. But we got in a half day at Alta on Wednesday before John dropped me off at the airport. From the remnants of fluff we found at Alta, I can only imagine how great Monday must have been there.



Blogger powstash said...

sweet trip report! I agree, enjoying the powder experience isn't always so easy at the resorts.

2/28/2007 3:33 PM


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