One of the cool things about having this blog is all the interesting people it has allowed me to meet so far. I often get emails, like daily, from total strangers interested in finding out more about Teton ski conditions and specific route beta.
This past weekend, some skiers from Colorado and California were in town for some ski mountaineering and got in touch with me to get the inside scoop. One of the skiers was Chris Davenport, who many of you know as the guy who skied all the 14,000′ peaks in Colorado in one calendar year last season. (Learn more on Chris’s website) I admire Chris for accomplishing such a big goal…and in stellar style too, by skiing many rad couloirs and at least one first descent to boot.
I commend these guys for sending these Teton classics in ‘iffy’ weather conditions and a bit of fresh snow. While I was licking my wounds form two close calls with avalanches last week, they were getting after it. Congrats…good show boys..and great to meet you all.
Here is an account of their trip. I couldn’t fit all the photos in this post, so be sure to click on a thumbnail and view them all at full size. Thanks to Ted Mahon for the cool shots.
Neil and Chris discuss the Grand Teton while climbing the Middle Teton
First off, thanks so much for helping us out with the beta for this trip. Although Ted Mahon and I have both climbed the Grand before, both times were in summer, so that didn’t help us much when it comes to a ski descent. As for Neil Beidleman, although he has done firsts on Denali and climbed on K2, Makalu, and Everest, he hadn’t climbed the Grand either, so we were Teton greenhorn skiers by definition. We left Aspen Thursday morning and arrived in Jackson just in time to sneak in a “warm-up” run on Glory Bowl. Having followed the weather closely all week, we knew that the forecast was not in our favor, but we also knew that we wouldn’t get it done sitting in Colorado, so we had to give it a shot.
Neil Beidleman leads Team Cali-rado up the East Face of the Middle Teton
We met up with our friends Kip and Andrew from Squaw, who had skied the Ford/ Stettner on Tuesday, and skied into Garnet Canyon at 6:30 a.m. Friday morning for a recon tour, just to check the snow and get our feet wet up there, so to speak. As we past the meadows the weather closed in on the Grand, but we climbed the headwall to the Middle Teton Glacier anyway, just to get a little higher. At the base of the glacier there was a foot of new snow, and the skinning was perfect, so the five of us climbed up the Middle Teton Glacier, arriving at the Ellingwood Col around noon. We thought about skiing down the Dike Couloir from there, or dropping into the Ellingwood, but the summit of Middle showed herself, so we continued up. The East Face of Middle Teton was caked in new snow, and the stability was acceptable, so we kicked steps up to the notch between the main and south summits, and then hit the main summit just after that. Switching into ski mode we reversed course and dropped into one hell of a ski run.
The East Face had up to twenty inches of powder on it so slough management was key, but the skiing was incredible, and we all carved effortless powder turns all the way to the base of the glacier. I remember looking up at the Grand many times during the run, even though it was obscured by clouds, and wondering to myself if we might get a shot at it during this short trip. Our “recon” day turned into an incredible tour to a fantastic peak, and we arrived back at the car ten hours later, elated for having turned a simple tour into a wonderful ski descent of a Teton classic. Kip and Andrew left for California happy to have bagged the Middle and the Grand, and Ted, Neal, and I wondered what the Tetons might allow us to do next.
Neil Beidleman in front of a glowing Nez Perce
My usual “modus operandi” for skiing peaks I have never been on is to keep the expectation level low, and just put one foot in front of the other and see what happens. That mantra has served me well over the years and on countless big peaks. We spent Saturday resting and checking the weather forecast for Sunday every hour. Things didn’t look good, but we resolved to give the Grand a shot. We woke up at 1 a.m. Sunday morning to clear, starry skies, and fired up the brew. Arriving at the Taggart Lake trailhead at 2 a.m., we quickly went into approach mode and because we now knew the route, we made our way up to the Tepee Glacier in just four hours. Just below the Tepee Spire the sun rose and illuminated the Middle Teton in a sensory light that had us snapping photos for ten minutes.
Chris Davenport skis into the abyss on the Grand Teton
We made the Teepee Col and traversed into the base of the Stettner. Climbing up the Stettner was straightforward, even given the foot of new snow on the mountain. At the base of the more technical climbing we roped up and simul-climbed up over a bulge and into the Chevy Couloir. Neil led up the ice and snow of the Chevy, placing two screws along the way. Once in the Ford, things got easier, and although we were fatigued, we forged upwards through light snow and fog towards the summit. We could barely make out the Exum Ridge to our left, and could distinguish the rib of snow that Briggs skied on his first descent to the right. We summitted in a white out at 10:30 a.m., and within minutes the clouds broke and we got huge views from Jackson Lake to Snow King. That all-knowing grin appeared on our faces as we stood atop the Grand. Once on top we knew we had it.
Neil and Chris loving life at the bottom of the Ford Couloir on the Grand Teton
Unlike some ski descents where you worry about even making it down safely, all three of us felt super confident that the skiing in the Ford would be incredible and safe. So in a relaxed yet focused mindset we began the descent. The skiing in the Ford was superb. Powder snow abounded, and our slough ran right down the gut of the Ford, easily avoidable to the left or right. We were in and out of the clouds as we skied down to the first rappel anchors. Neil, a superb rock climber with excellent rigging skills, set up the rappels and we all descended into the Stettner, and then over to the Tepee Col. The skiing down the Tepee Glacier was insane, super deep powder for a thousand feet. By the time we reached the meadows our legs were screaming, but you would never have known it from the look on our faces.
Chris Davenport watches on as Neil Beidleman rappels the Chevy Couloir
For the second time in three days we had pulled off a great ski in the face of adverse weather. Back at the car after 13+ hours on the mountain we basically were shaking our heads, speechless in the face of incredible luck, amazing conditions, and two of the best ski descents of our lives. And I don’t say that lightly. Having skied all fifty-four 14,000′ peaks in Colorado, the Grand and Middle rank right up there with the best we have here in the Rocky Mountain state, if not better. I am totally inspired by the Tetons and the fantastic steep skiing opportunities they offer. Ted, Neal, and I drove straight back to Aspen that afternoon, arriving home at 1:00 a.m., twenty-four hours after setting off on our trip up the Grand.
Steve, thanks again for your invaluable info and motivation. We’ll be back this summer for sure. See you then.
Neil Beidleman, Chris Davenport and Ted Mahon enjoy some of Snake River’s finest