Bryan climbs a steep section at the top of Radio Tower Couloir.
Having trouble deciding if it’s safe enough in the high country last Friday, I decided to head up to Togwotee Pass and ski Radio Tower Couloir. This line’s proximity right next to the road and the Continental Divide make it a great way to get into some cool terrain with very little approach.
I’m kind of a morning guy, so I got Bryan Feinstein out of bed early for the drive to the pass in the dark. The forecast light snow overnight must have come late because at times it was kind of pretty sketchy driving and nearly a whiteout. Since all the signs are buried these days, the pass crept up on us and we had to backtrack a little bit before parking at the top. After digging out the elevation sign, I calibrated my watch before starting the day’s logbook.
The visibility was down to less than quarter mile and for about 15 minutes we wandered around, starting up at the clouds in search of the Radio Tower Couloir. I this area, snowmobile tracks can be good clues and we followed some in an easterly direction and what felt like the right way. Soon enough, some dark objects started to appear through the clouds and I knew we were in for a fun day.
A couple steep switchbacks brought us to below the couloir, noting some other cool lines on the way, and we ripped the skins and packed the skis for the short, 800′ climb. At times the snow was deep, but our progress was steady. A couple rollovers brought us to a steep pitch before the col at the top of the couloir. The ships prow on the eastern side of the couloir is overhanging and quite impressive…and very reminiscent of the terrain in the Italian Dolomites. The cold wind brought me back to Wyoming and I snapped some pics of Bryan coming up.
We scurried to the other side of the col and looked down into the more open terrain to the north. We thought about dropping in for a lap, but we had spied another south facing line on the way up that we wanted to investigate, so we hurriedly buckled down and bundled up. The weather was still quite unsettled and we timed our descent with the lulls in the wind to avoid getting blasted in the face with snow. A couple nice steep soft turns welcomed us into the couloir, before variable conditions quickly sharpened our focus on skiing.
A couple pockets ripped out on the way down, which I’m sure is an everyday occurrence in this couloir. Not enough to really hurt you, but a sign of what may be lurking higher up in the Tetons…only much bigger. Some relaxed power turns brought us to the bottom of the slope below the couloir and we chilled out near some trees. I felt like I had hardly gone anywhere, and we re-skinned to go and check out the other line we had seen on the way in. After a quick transition to boot, we started up a couloir…unsure of how high it would go.
The line was lookers left of the Radio Tower and was steeper and narrower. At one time the snow was crazy deep and I had to shovel the snow away with my hands to make progress. The twisted in a couple places, adding to the spice, but the crux came when the snow conditions changed dramatically and the snow was now icy hard and grey. We could see the line coming to a choke ahead, signaling where we would start the descent. I wondered if it was worth the few extra feet to ski the heinous conditions. Bryan was ahead, which made my decision for me, and I rallied up the final few feet to a nice ledge where we could get ready.
The sun started to pop out as we lined things up for the nasty, narrow and icy section to come. It made me feel better about the skiing and I made a couple turns and then side-stepped down with my tips and tails hitting the rocks. I wondered why I had left the Whippet in the van. Soon I was past the worst of it and found some soft snow to get the legs moving again before waiting for Bryan to come through.
The rest of the couloir was pretty good skiing. One small pocket the pulled out and created a nice powder cloud by the time it reached to lower slopes. The weather had improved dramatically since we had arrived, but snow continued to fall from the sky as we got back to the road. As I poled back to the car I wished all approaches where sometimes that easy.