Note: This trip report is part of the TetonAT Trip Report Contest. Cameron is now in the running to win a FREE pair of Black Diamond skis based on viewer response and the TetonAT panel of judges! Good luck Cameron!!
Cameron Romero above the ‘Narrows’ on Teewinot. Circa 1989.
Rewind back to April of 1989
My good friends and climbing partners found ourselves back in the Tetons for our annual pilgrimage from Deer Valley Resort in Park City to close down the season with some laps on the Tram and some real beer drinking after spending the winter in Utah. Deer Valley is not exactly known as a breeding ground for ski mountaineers, but we were all seasonal employees in the summer with the Grand Teton Lodge Company and worked in various food & beverage positions over the past 3 summers of 86′ though 88′. I was fortunate enough to have a job working in the dining room at Jenny Lake Lodge and the normal schedule was that I did not have to be to work till 5PM, which meant I could climb every day. Being a climber and living at Jenny Lake, it was easy to always stay inspired to work hard at sending your climbing projects. The summer of 88′ was the year of the Yellowstone fires and it was an exceptionally dry season for climbing. We never got shut down due to weather that year and were able to send many of the classic lines on the major peaks. Earlier in the summer, I had gone for a peak bag of the East Face of Teewinot before work and on the way back down, had thought to myself about how much safer I would have felt on the steeper upper slopes with my skis on rather than just a ice axe in my hand. This is probably a feeling that most of us have experienced.
Rewind back to 1972
I grew up the son of a life long career Forest Service man and one of the mountain towns I was fortunate to spend some time growing up in was Jackson. My father had a part time job working for the National Ski Patrol and Bill Briggs at Snow King. I went to kindergarten and my first 2 years of grade school in Jackson. We lived in a trailer park, close to the base of Snow King that was in a position to offer a good view of the upper portion of the Grand…and where I could easily go skiing every day after coming home from school. When the weather was clear, my dad would always point out to me the summit of the Grand when he woke me in the morning for school. He would always say to me, “Look son, you can see the mountain today”. I grew up always thinking to myself that the Grand was the mountain and still do today. Back then, the talk of the town was about Bill Brigg’s recent ski descent of the Grand and whenever I was skiing with my father at Snow King, he would always make sure to point Bill out to me and tell me about his recent descent of The Grand. He would also tell me that the best skiers where the ones that could ski the steepest runs in any and all conditions. Parents should learn to be more careful about what they tell their children when they are young. Because of this, I had always held in the back of my mind that I would one day also ski from the highest points in the Tetons.
2 AM April 7th 1989
Ken Meeks, Mark Huster, Steve Yaworsky & myself find ourselves leaving Jackson for the park in Ken’s convertible Delta 88 Royal with the top down. All four of us in the front seat with the heat cranked listening to Joe Walsh. The back seat was reserved for 4 mountain bikes and all of our gear. After parking at the Bradley/Taggart trailhead, we hopped on our bikes and were on our way with plastic boots on our feet and fully loaded packs with skis on our back. We rode to a place where we were basically directly across from where the Lupine Meadows trail head was located on the road and ditched our bikes in the woods, and began the walk across the meadows. AT touring bindings, like Silverettas, were things that we had only heard about and never had even actually seen.
In an effort to go “light”, we chose not to bring the standard climbers fuel source of salami, cheese and tortillas. Instead we were bringing along these new school things called Power Bars. We were stopping for a break to get some much needed carbs back into our bodies. After pulling the Power Bars from the top of our packs and opening them up, we all about broke our teeth trying to eat them. Mental note to self for in the future, keep Power Bars close to your body if you want to have a chance at eating one when the temps are cold.
It was here just below the pinnacles know as the Worshipper and Idol that Steve, not being a climber, made the prudent choice that this is where his first Teton ski descent would start from. Mark, a very competent climber, but not confident enough in his tele skiing skills on slopes above 45 degrees, chose to leave his skis here but joined Ken and I for the summit push.
Booting up firm snow above the ‘Apex’.
After our frozen Power Bar buffet, firm conditions allowed us to make good time on the ascent. Things were starting to soften rapidly though, meaning that we needed to put our heads down and our ugly face on if we where to make it to the top with conditions safe enough for the descent.
We made it to the top before post holing became part of the game. The rapidly rising temperature meant that there was not going to be time for much of a summit break, but rather a quick transition out of our plastic boots and into our alpine ski boots. Mark tagged the summit and began his down climb immediately knowing that Ken and I would be able to catch up quickly once we had our skis on. Along with changing into my ski boots, I changed into my newest pride and joy. My first Gore-Tex piece of clothing, a North Face Scott Schmidt style one piece.
Cameron rocks the one-piece and red-beret on the summit of Teewinot.
After a very small amount of billy goating, Ken and I found ourselves in a position to begin our descent. The snow had already changed from al-dente corn, to more of a creamed-corn type of a surface. We need to move quickly, so there would not be much time for photo ops. It was easy to get an edge in the stuff, so we were able to ski the upper face with authority and quickly found ourselves at the top of the area know as the “Narrows”
Cameron gets down on Teewinot in the late eighties.
The “Narrows” is an area on the mountain that has about the same feeling to it as being at the tightest part of an hour glass with your skis on. I quickly learned that I was not going to be able to side slip my 207cm GS skis though this constriction of granite, as both my tips and tails where hanging up on the rock walls on either side. It was here, after spending the whole winter watching over and over the newly released “ Blizzard of Ahh’s”, that the solution came to me. Double pole plant, rock all my weight back, so that I could pivot from the tails of my skis and point it straight into the fall line. The acceleration was strong & immediate, with the brief amount of time that I was straight lining feeling like an eternity. Fueled with the imagery of Scott Schmidt’s patented “smear turn” in my mind, I quickly laid one of these full braking maneuvers down, linking it into another one and bringing myself to a stop. Ken followed suit with the same move, but looked ever more stylish due to his old school boot welding technique. Had we know at the time that previous skiers had died in this same spot, from perhaps taking it too aggressively, we may have opted for a different tactic.
GS race skis, stiff alpine boots, straight lines to linked smear turns, skiing with authority without hop turns. Could this have been an early incarnation of what is now called “Freeski Mountaineering”, a “new” genre of the sport. Blah blah blah …“ Traditional ski mountaineers never focused on high performance skiing, rather simply getting down the lines” Blah blah blah… How could anyone even make a statement like that? It’s just skiing, that’s all it ever is. Period.
Ken Meeks showing off his gaiters.
We were soon with Mark & Steve at the top of the Apex, where we had first split up and a splendid corn harvest was had by all. Back to the bikes for the ride to the convertible, where we went straight to Dornan’s for several rounds of bubbling carbohydrate recovery drinks to plan our next outing.