Teton Skiers: Choose Your Line Wisely

Good news Teton skiers! It looks like spring might finally be moving in to the Jackson Hole region next week. (Maybe?) I know it has been a snowy winter and most folks are chomping at the bit to get into the high peaks and hit that line they have been thinking about all season. And with the GTNP inner park road opening on Sunday, I know folks will be out skiing and taking advantage of the great snowpack we still have.

A very reactive snowpack on Tukarika this week.
Click all photos for larger image.

Not to get all preachy and what not, but since the BTNF Avalanche Forecast is no longer running, I just wanted to give a heads up about some recent Teton Range avalanche activity I have heard about. Please consider these events as you plan your next mission into the mountains and think about whether you want to be a bold ski mountaineer…or old ski mountaineer.

Within our current snowpack, there are a variety of different crust layers, both sun and rain, that seem to be rather reactive and I’ve been hearing of both wind and soft slabs pulling out from about 6-20” deep…depending on elevation. While there is some great corn skiing down low, things change pretty dramatically with more loose and wind effected snow once you move above 10k’. Most of the slides I have been hearing about have involved the easterly aspects. Here are a few that might be worth noting.

2,000′ slide path on Static Peak.

4/27, Mount Taylor-East Face. This slide was reported on the Teton/Targhee Conditions thread on TGR by HomeMadeSalsa, an extremely qualified avalanche expert. It was described as a 12-16” wind-slab, possible natural release, and it ran “pretty far.

4/27, Tukarika, East Face. This slide in Open Canyon was reported by word of mouth and email. It was described as an “up to 20” soft-slab”, triggered by a climber stepping off a ridge to get a look at the face and ran “nearly to the flats of the canyon”.

4/28 Static Peak, East Face. This slide was reported by email from a friend. It was described as a 6-20” soft-slab, released above a skier a few turns onto the face and ran about 2,000’. The skier was caught and slid about 1,600’ and ended up getting buried to about the knee with one ski and both pole missing. There were no injuries and all gear was subsequently found at the toe of the slide debris which ran down both sides of the knoll near the bottom of the face.

Anyway, I’m sure there have been a few slides that haven’t been reported (I heard rumors of a possible burial in Chicken Scratch on Mt. Glory this week) and while all of the events above might not produce a deep enough debris pile to bury you completely (but probably can at higher elevations?), they might knock you over and take you for a ride over some obstacles below you that very well might just do some damage to your body. Enjoy next week’s sun and snow folks, but choose your line wisely or give the white dragon some time to settle down before you ski the extreme. Ciao for now…and LIVE TO SKI!!!


14 Responses to “Teton Skiers: Choose Your Line Wisely”

  1. 1 Lee Apr 29th, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Good stuff Steve, thanks.

  2. 2 murph Apr 30th, 2011 at 5:58 am

    way to bold and old

  3. 3 randosteve Apr 30th, 2011 at 6:21 am

    murph…what exactly are you trying to say?

  4. 4 Chuck Apr 30th, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I assume most members of the community know about the dangers that await them, but like Church on Sunday, a little reminder about being mindful can’t hurt. Given all the bad news lately, it seems apropos.

    From JHU:

    On Thursday, April 28, Swiss alpinist and mountain guide Erhard Loretan died in a climbing accident while ascending Grünhorn in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps. Loretan was one of the greatest alpinists of the modern era, the third person to have climbed all fourteen 8000m peaks and the second to do so without supplementary oxygen. This remembrance was written by PlanetMountain’s Vinicio Stefanello.

  5. 5 Jared rgrs Apr 30th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Steve, thanks for the updates on the snow pack, good post. I was wondering if you have heard or seen conditions in the Apocalypse Col. I’m sure it’s filled in and I can/will see for my self, but a little beta never hurt. Cheers to skiing old and thanks for your time and TR’s.

  6. 6 ty Apr 30th, 2011 at 7:53 pm


  7. 7 Ted Apr 30th, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Set off a little wind slab (6-12″) myself today in a north facing Couloir just after seen you guys. Managed to stop before things got too scary.

  8. 8 randosteve May 1st, 2011 at 3:39 am

    jared…i heard tere was some activity in that general area mid-week.

  9. 9 randosteve May 1st, 2011 at 3:39 am

    thanks ted…didn’t know that was you we saw.

  10. 10 Matt May 1st, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Thanks for the post. I altered my plans today because of it and happy I did. Skied up in Laurel Canyon. Things seemed pretty stable there, but a couple of skiers triggered a very large slide on the East face of St. John. Looks like it went from the top of the East face to the bottom. Big and powerful. Skiers seemed ok. We saw them picking their way down the debris field. We also saw a slide coming off the south side of St. John into the LOC area.

  11. 11 JakeO May 1st, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Thanks for posting this stuff Steve. My partner and I triggered that slide Matt mentioned on St. John at about 8:30 this morning as we were booting up along the summit ridge. The crown varied from 6-24″ thick and it ran at least 2500 vertical feet into Laurel Canyon via the narrow more northerly couloir on the east face. Recent snow on sun crust. The debris pile was massive and there were branches and ice scattered hundreds of yards down the valley. Hope everyone makes it home safe today.

  12. 12 randosteve May 1st, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    matt/jakeO…whoa..what a day. jake…glad to hear you guys made it out okay.

    my partner and i climbed the south couloir on mt saint john today. topped out at about 9:30-10. things definitely seemed a little weird in the snowpack. first turn off the top kicked off a small pocket of snow that entrained some more. it ran for about 200′ before stepping down and then fracturing wall-to-wall in the couloir about 18-24″ deep. huge powder cloud and debris pile about 2k’ down. skied the bed surface and we did a transceiver search just in case there were people in hanging canyon. didn’t pick up anything and it looked like only our two up tracks coming up canyon.

    pretty touchy out there and i’m curious to hear how other people fared on other aspects.

    anyone want to go skate skiing tomorrow? :)

  13. 13 Matt May 1st, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Steve, happy to hear you are alright. We saw the snow plume from your slide as we were driving back from the String Lake parking law. Looked big. Same to you Jake. We were just about to do a transceiver search in that huge debris pile when we saw you all come out of the north couloir.

  14. 14 randosteve May 1st, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    thanks matt…need to start heeding my own advice.

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