Success (Finally) in the Southwest Couloir

When you hear Teton skiers talk about skiing the Southwest Couloir, you most likely would think of the southwest couloirs on the Middle Teton or Mount Moran , which are well known (as far as ski descents go) here in the Teton Range. Early this season though, I somehow got the itch to explore the southwest aspect of the South Teton and coincidentally got an email from Thomas Turiano inquiring about the identity of a ski line in a photo of his that was unlabeled. I love this kind of stuff, trying to name and identify lines on peaks, and somehow I nailed it on the first try and was now destined to ski it. It was the Southwest Couloir on the South Teton.


This is the photo that Thomas Turiano sent me of the
lower section of the Southwest Coulir on the South Teton.
Click all photos for larger images.

Skiing the bigger lines in the park has been tricky this winter, since most of the weather has been unsettled and it has taken me a total of five attempts (all just this season) to ski this line. The first attempt was in early January on a freezing cold and windy day in the hills wiht minus My partner’s and I made it to about 1k’ below the summit of the South Teton, before we turned around because of the cold. My second attempt was a couple days later and much warmer, but I lost motivation and stoke lower on the mountain due to what looked like wind hammered and thin conditions on the route.

On the third and fourth attempts, and after endless research looking at photos, maps and Google Earth, I decided to approach via Garnet Canyon. This would be faster and easier than going via Avalanche Canyon and hiking up the route directly. Both of these missions got turned around going up the south fork of Garnet due to deteriorating weather and visibility. One of them at a prominent 20’ tall rock that is now completely buried by snow. What a year!!!


Pretty good sized slide (and clouds) in Cave Couloir.

Anyway, over the weekend I got out with Dustin Lemke to give it a try again. The weather forecast was looking promising (maybe a little on the warm side), the snowpack more stable, and with more snow now in the high-country, any cruxy sections in the line would most likely be filled in and skiable. A 4am departure from Jackson had us skinning from the Bradley/Taggart trailhead (which is melting out quickly) before 5.

Valley to mountain lows hovered around 40 to 32 degrees, which was just enough to freeze up the snow pack for easy travel and we skinned non-stop to just before “the meadows”. After sunrise, it as instantly quite warm at lower elevations and we knew it would be hard to get good conditions on both the higher elevation southwest aspect of our intended route AND the long easterly exposure of the exit out Avalanche Canyon. In these cases, I usually opt to ski the higher elevation stuff when they are frozen, so the there will be more enjoyment skiing softer snow down low.


Mount Moran, Grand Teton Middle Teton and Teewinot summits.

Things went well on approach, some clouds rolled in and it even snowed a little bit. We made it to the summit in 5hours, with two stops for food on the way. Trail-breaking was quite challenging on the final bootpack to the summit, with every step punching through deep and crusty snow. I was pretty tired, as this was something like my 6th day skiing in a row and my quads were tender to the touch at the trailhead, nevermind now on the summit of the South. I was glad to be at the top.


Dustin wonders what’s next before he heads
back out to sea as a merchant marine.

Conditions looked pretty good. The rocky section off the summit was well filled in and frozen, and there appeared to be some nice chute-like slots we could ski through. Lower down the route rolled over a bit so we couldn’t see the crux, but I was confident that it would be manageable, either on or off the skis. We didn’t linger on top for too long and we were soon skiing towards the southwest. We waited for a few minutes for the sun to pop out so we could get some good pictures before really dropping in, but it never did, so we just made due.


Well this could be fun!
Looking down the Southwest Couloir of the South Teton.

After about 500’ we arrived at a rocky section and poked around for a way through. Cutting right seemed to be the best option and we side-stepped and zig-zagged past it. Now in the meat of the upper sections of the couloir, conditions changed a bit for the better and the snow softened up and gave the fillings in our teeth a rest. This was short lived though and things firmed back up quickly as the aspect moved back more the southwest and clouds continued to build in the sky.


Skiing towards the cruxy section.

Finally entering the lower couloir and where I had already skied on the first attempt to ski this route, I started to get psyched that I had finally skied the darn thing. The skiing was challenging though, with frozen chickheads and avy debris littering the slope, and we couldn’t party just yet. Soon enough though, we found ourselves on the more open slopes as we made our way towards Snowdrift Lake.


Dustin above the lower section of the couloir.

Clouds began to roll in from both the east and the west, and we wondered how our exit to lower elevations would fair. The skiing was primo at first, but then transitioned to mushy isothermal snow down low. To be expected, really. Skiing out to Taggart Lake went better than expected and after 8 hours, 14 miles and about 6k’ of elevation gain/loss, we were back at the trailhead. And I did walk over my first section of bare ground, which was a bad sign of things to come.

11 Comments

11 Responses to “Success (Finally) in the Southwest Couloir”


  1. 1 Lucius May 16th, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Great TR Romeo- beautiful,aesthetic route!

  2. 2 randosteve May 16th, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Thanks brotha! You kind of have to get off the beaten path to see the route. I think i got interested in this line after a descent of the SW Couloir on the middle all the way to icefloe lake. We toured under the SW side of the south on the way out of avalanche canyon.

  3. 3 Jared Inouye May 16th, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Hi Steve. Nice line! Here is a link to a picture of the South Teton from Buck mountain:

    https://picasaweb.google.com/jaredinouye/20110514BubbleFun#5607032086189176386

    Did you do this on Saturday? If so, I think we followed your tracks out Avalanche Canyon. Mushy eh?

  4. 4 CasperSteve May 17th, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Awesome route Steve! Congrats to the both of you. It’s nice to live vicariously through your photos though I wish I could be there to ski with you. I was out there in Jan this year, and you were right about the cold. Holy shit!

  5. 5 Dustin May 17th, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Another great day in the mountains! Thanks man!

  6. 6 randosteve May 17th, 2011 at 9:55 am

    jared…thanks for the link. great shots and congrats on BFC!!!

  7. 7 randosteve May 17th, 2011 at 9:56 am

    caspersteve…long time no see. hope all is well.

  8. 8 Jarad May 17th, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Nice work on this aesthetic line. Nate Brown mentioned to me a few years back that he skiied this line; in case you are wondering about any history on it.

  9. 9 randosteve May 17th, 2011 at 10:07 am

    thanks j-rad. i heard b-dan skied it as well. hope you’re having a good spring…see you in the hills!!!

  10. 10 AKWY May 17th, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Wow Steve what a sick line and monster day! Inspiring. You’re keeping my hopes up for eventual spring conditions here in the North San Juans. June and July should be prime for some high peaks…

  11. 11 randosteve May 17th, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    keep your finger crossed AKWY!!! :cool:

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