Well, I think I need to have my head examined for not heeding my own advice to pull in the reigns this weekend due to a current questionable snowpack at the higher elevations here in the Tetons. Sometimes though, the lure to try and ski bigger, steeper and more exposed lines is just too great. Luckily though, my partner and I dodged a bullet today in one of the South Couloirs that come off Mount Saint John and drop you into Hanging Canyon, and I’m still here to tell the story.
Though we tried to stay in the safer zones of the couloir, we were occasionally
forced to crossed some more open sections.Â The snow pack now consisted of a few inches
of a melt-freeze crust, on top of about 8″ of softer snow, on top of
another rain/sun crust that was semi-supportable.
We thought about turning around and pulling the plug a few times, but the temps
were still cold and we though that we’d be able to make our way safely down the
skiers left side of the couloir, without any problems.Â As we got higher, summit fever
started to build and the stoke to ski was hard to ignore.
Now the fun part.Â Feeling pretty leery of conditions, we planned on being as cautious as possible as we made our descent, making ski cuts when we could, skiing one at a time and from island-of-safety to island-of-safety.Â On my first turn off the top though, a soft-slab 10-12″ deep, 10-20″ wide and about 50″ long pulled out and began moving down the upper face.Â It continued downward for about 200′ and then propagated another avalanche thatÂ fractured wall-to-wall about 18-24″ deep.Â It produced an impressive flow of snow that crashed into the lower walls of the couloir and raged over the broken rock bands below.Â We could see the powder cloud roar out from the bottom of the couloir and into the bottom of Hanging Canyon.
We were now pretty freaked out and really hoped no one was in the canyon as they for sure would have gotten nailed by the avalanche debris.Â We still needed to get down though and there was a bit of hang fire lingering on the upper face.Â We choose to ski the slide path of the first soft-slab that released, before we dropped over the lower crown line and where pretty much the whole couloir became the slide path.
The slide ran about 2k’ and though the debris was quite spread out, the majority of it ended up just above this last photo and maybe up to 10′ deep. About 2 minutes after we arrived at the toe of the debris pile, a group of three skiers came up the canyon. Thankfully they weren’t there 20 minutes earlier, or it might have been ugly.